To Haley, or not to Haley?
Yes, that was the question. The Steelers chose the latter. So far, this has been the biggest story — and most impactful — of this young off-season. Terry Bradshaw, one of Pittsburgh’s biggest instigators, brought the question back to the forefront last week.
The true answer as to whether the Steelers made the correct choice will play itself out soon, as it always does in the NFL.
Now, if you ask Steelers fans, the answer to the question when it comes specifically to offensive coordinators is almost always to get rid of them. Seriously, can you remember one that was ever loved?
Joe Walton, Ray Sherman, Kevin Gilbride, Ron Erhardt, Bruce Arians? By comparison, they actually made Haley seem loved. A few got out of here with their scalps – Mike Mularkey, Ken Whisenhunt, and Chan Gailey – but that’s probably only because they left early for better opportunities. Given time, the pitchforks and torches would have arrived.
There’s nothing more readily available for Monday Morning QBs to criticize than play-calling, so it’s really a thankless job. There’s never been a perfectly-called game, so it’s the easiest aspect to criticize after a game, or season. Nobody escapes this wrath—unless, I suppose, you win Super Bowls as often as the Patriots recently have—then you’ll get that pass on the occasional flubs.
But for those other teams, it’s often open season on the OC’s scalp as soon as your season inevitably comes to an end, as the Steelers’ season did at the hands of a particularly obnoxious bunch from Jacksonville.
Now, I’m not saying Haley deserved to stay. But I can’t say for sure that he needed to go, either.
Yes, the failed fourth-down calls versus Jacksonville were horrendous. Though, I’d suggest the bigger mistake was going for them so early in the first place. Punting and pinning an opponent, even one with a big early lead, is never a bad idea, especially with a Blake Bortles-led team. In hindsight (being one of those Monday Morning QBs!), punting there instead of giving great field position might have won the Steelers the game.
I don’t think that was Haley’s decision.
However, the decisions not to have Roethlisberger QB sneak or run Le’Veon Bell up the gut were stupid calls. Blame Haley. But, the other two fourth-down plays turned into long TD passes! So, shouldn’t we credit Haley there? Those seemingly impossible plays actually made Haley 2-for-4 on fourth downs in that game – two bad fourth-down calls, and two great fourth-down calls.
Which brings us to another truth of these situations. When the plays work, you’re awesome. When they don’t, you stink. No matter how “stupid” or risky the calls might have been.
The Steelers put up a record amount of yards versus a Jacksonville defense that was supposedly daunting, throwing for 5 TD passes and laying 42 points on them. Bad fourth-down calls and all, it’s hard to blame Haley for losing that game. And, overall, his offenses have consistently been Top-5.
This was Bradshaw’s point, too.
But, of course, a decision to fire a coach doesn’t come down to a single game. It’s the accumulated record you must dissect in making this decision. It’s been many years since the Steelers made the Super Bowl (in “Steelers years” anyway), and sometimes a change will do you good (thank you Sheryl Crowe). Because the Steelers’ offense is a highly skilled unit in its prime, there’s the feeling that this ability is all just being wasted. You can’t say there weren’t times this season when the offense sputtered without good explanation. Easy games were made difficult, especially considering the team’s offensive talent.
Then, there’s the off-the-field stuff. Yes, Haley and his wife have had some awkward moments off of the football field as well, going back to their days in Kansas City. Rather than recount them, let’s just say they were a little bit weird and embarrassing—bizarre even.
Lastly, there’s the supposed riff between Haley and Roethlisberger. Is it real? I don’t know. You hear all kinds of gossip, and who knows whether or not to believe a rumor? There have been denials and such, so I don’t really know, and, besides, we fans of the Steelers all know Terry Bradshaw hated Chuck Noll, right?
Four Super Bowl wins later – did you care they weren’t pals? Not me.
Anyway, Cleveland is now the proud employer of Todd Haley, so we will now have the opportunity to regret, or relish, the firing of Mr. Haley two times per season.
Ben Roethlisberger thus gets his (supposed) buddy, Randy Fichtner, to be his new Offensive Coordinator. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time finding anything that would resemble evidence as to why he’d make a great coordinator. I see a QB coach and a WR coach in his background. Oh, then there’s also some brief college offensive coordinating in his past at Memphis – but is that impressing you? That’s about it. And he’s not super-young, like a Josh McDaniels, who’s “up-and-coming.” Maybe, he was a great quarterback coach and a great wide receivers coach, and perhaps the surely smarter-than-me Steelers’ brass and Mike Tomlin see him as a gifted play-caller.
Surely, his fourth-down calls will be better — right?
They had better be, because the torches and pitchforks that Steelers fans just threw down for the season need only a bend of the back to pick right back up again.