Is it a coincidence that Chairman Emeritus Dan Rooney comes back to Pittsburgh, and the team hires its third coach in two years who hails from Pittsburgh?
Out went wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery, accepting a similar position with coordination duties at his alma mater Duke. Richard Mann, a Quip and a 28-year coaching veteran in the NFL, was hired in March as the Steelers face perhaps their most crucial training camp for the development of its wide receivers in Mike Tomlin's tenure.
Mann will stress fundamentals, fundamentals and after that, he may stress some more fundamentals.
"I've been coaching a long time, and I'm a fundamental technique guy," he told the team web site when he was hired. "If I'm teaching something, I have a lot of tape from over the years of different guys doing the same thing so I know it works. The bottom line is if the player has good fundamental technique, along with his athletic ability, he can be a productive player."
Out went special teams coach Amos Jones, replaced by Danny Smith, a Pittsburgh native the team wanted to hire back in 2010. Smith had a respectable run in Washington, where he served as the special teams coach for the last eight years.
Smith was on the staff at Central Catholic High School, helping to guide future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino in 1977-78.
The one new hire who doesn't have direct ties to Pittsburgh is still the most important addition. Offensive line coach Sean Kugler accepted the head coaching position at UTEP (his alma mater), and the Steelers hired Jack Bicknell Jr., who could be just what the doctor ordered to get the most out of the young, athletic offensive line.
Haley is from Pittsburgh, and was hired last season, giving the Steelers' staff a distinct flavor of locally-bred coaches. How intentional that is, and the reasons behind their selection, are likely more varied than simply the municipality in which they grew up, but the changing up of multiple components of a coaching staff that led a team to a .500 record last year can't be ignored.
The Steelers receiving group had a very underwhelming 2012 season - Haley's first in charge of the unit, and obviously, Montgomery's last. The group that had been hailed as the future of the franchise was broken up somewhat when Mike Wallace left for Miami. While Antonio Brown (expected to be a big contributor in 2013) has his long-term deal, the jury is still out on Emmanuel Sanders, the third part of the group formerly known as "Young Money."
How Haley and Mann will build and utilize a receiving corps as diverse in age as well as size is still to be determined. The 31-year-old Jerricho Cotchery and 36-year-old Plaxico Burress are the only members of the corps over the age of 26, and both of whom will have to compete for a roster spot in what could be the most open position on the team. While Cotchery might be a better route runner right now, his height and wingspan pale in comparison to Burress.
The offensive line is clearly in need of a new coaching philosophy, and it wouldn't be surprising to learn Kugler's exit was more a response to a notice that he would not be retained after the 2012 season. With the amount of young talent the group has and the frustrating, general lack of consistency - both in skill and health - their future seemed bleaker than it should have been with their pedigree. Bicknell employs an outside zone running scheme that Haley and Kugler tried, at times, to implement in 2012, but flat-out failed to get it moving.
The addition of Smith fills a gap the team looked to fill in 2010, when their request to interview Smith for their open position was denied by the Redskins. The Steelers had a strong season off the leg of kicker Shaun Suisham, but punting and coverage units were mediocre at best. If not for a 63-yard punt return touchdown by Jacoby Jones of the Ravens in Week 11, the Steelers could have won that game, and possibly reversed their playoff fate.
It's a critical year for Tomlin and his new Pittsburgh-flavored coaching staff. How far the new additions will take them remains to be seen, but clearly, the message was sent to the coaching staff; 8-8 is not acceptable, especially when the King of Pittsburgh, Dan Rooney, is back in town from Ireland for good.
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