View Full Version : In lieu of overhaul, Tomlin retools

01-11-2010, 03:18 AM
Starkey: In lieu of overhaul, Tomlin retools

Sunday, January 10, 2010
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 61482.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_661482.html)

Mike Tomlin walked into a unique situation when he was named Steelers coach three years ago.

Typically, a new coach will form his own staff. Much of Tomlin's was ready-made. He had his pick of incumbents, including revered defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Tomlin retained most of Bill Cowher's defensive assistants and adjusted his philosophy to match theirs. That made sense. Those men had won a lot of games together, and the Steelers' personnel was geared toward the 3-4.

Offense and special teams were another matter. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and line coach Russ Grimm were off to Arizona. Tomlin did not retain quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple.

Jobs were available and Tomlin made some curious choices in filling them.

First, he promoted Bruce Arians from wide receivers coach to coordinator, even though Arians' only other stint as a NFL coordinator was an unproductive one in Cleveland. The Browns finished 26th, 19th and 29th in scoring under his guidance, from 2001-03.

Larry Zierlein was hired as line coach, even though his only previous NFL experience in that role was with Arians in Cleveland, and then an extra year, and the Browns finished 31st, 23rd, 20th and 23rd in rushing.

Bob Ligashesky was hired as special teams coach, even though his most recent units at Pitt and with the St. Louis Rams had done a terrible job covering kicks.

Ken Anderson was hired as quarterbacks coach, even though he'd mentored two prodigious Cincinnati Bengals busts in David Klingler and Akili Smith and had achieved no great success as Byron Leftwich's position coach in Jacksonville.

Some of us wondered what in the world Tomlin was thinking. I remember writing a column under the headline: "Steelers' moves hardly inspiring."

Three years later, the verdict is mixed.

Anderson, who retired this week, appears to have helped Ben Roethlisberger. No doubt, the quarterback has progressed in the finer points of the position, including his lethal pump fake. How much Anderson had to do with it is hard to say. He certainly didn't do any harm.

Zierlein was fired Tuesday. I think he did a respectable job given the talent on hand.

Remember, Zierlein walked into a difficult situation. He had an embittered Alan Faneca, a beat-up Marvel Smith and a chronically injured Kendall Simmons. Jeff Hartings had retired and was replaced by one of the worst acquisitions of the Kevin Colbert era Sean Mahan.

When the Steelers opted to let Faneca walk, Zierlein was left with a bunch of low-pedigree players and a progressively pass-happy scheme.

Is it any wonder the run blocking was below par?

As for all the sacks the Steelers have surrendered 156, including playoffs, in the past three years refer back to "low-pedigree players." Also, recognize that Roethlisberger likes to hold the ball and that the blitz picker-uppers (hello, Mewelde Moore) are not perfect.

If the Steelers want a better offensive line, they should get better offensive linemen. And I'm not talking about allocating mid-round draft picks to the likes of Tony Hills and Kraig Urbik.

Ligashesky, fired Wednesday, earned his Super Bowl ring last season, but his disastrous kickoff-coverage units helped torpedo the 2007 and '09 seasons.

As for Arians, here's hoping that Tomlin, in lieu of replacing him, has chosen to refresh him on the importance of balance and how it can relate to red-zone production and quarterback health.

Everybody understands that Roethlisberger loves to throw the ball. He's very good at it, too. But if you're calling 150 more pass plays than run plays and that's the way we're trending here No. 7 isn't going to survive. And if No. 7 doesn't survive, Heinz Field might as well shut down each fall.

This was Tomlin's first real chance to overhaul his staff, coming off an embarrassing season. He chose merely to retool it. His decision assuming it was his will go a long way toward defining the next few years.

Three years into his tenure, Tomlin's resume includes a bright, shiny Lombardi Trophy and two underachieving seasons that did not net a playoff win. If the latter becomes habitual, people will want more than just the offensive coordinator's head.

They'll forget about that bright, shiny trophy real fast.