By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Many share the frustration over an inconsistent Steelers running game this season; Steelers president Art Rooney II has done something about it.
He talked to coach Mike Tomlin about changing the Steelers' philosophy about the run, and they agreed it will be a point of emphasis heading into the 2010 season.
"I think Mike and I certainly agreed coming off the season that we need to run the ball more consistently to get to where we want to get to," Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday. "So that's part of the thinking in the offseason: We need to figure out how to get better running the football."
Rooney said his coach has conveyed that to offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "Mike has talked to Bruce about that."
The Steelers ran only 42.2 percent of the time in 2009, although their 112.1 yards a game were nearly seven more than their Super Bowl season of 2008. However, Rooney's point is not so much those statistics, but the inconsistency throughout the season.
"We have to get back to being able to run the football when we need to run the football, and being able to run more consistently than we have in the past season," he said.
That is one reason, he said, they changed offensive line coaches. Mike Tomlin hired Sean Kugler, who most recently served with the Buffalo Bills, to replace the fired Larry Zierlein, although Rooney said that "there's no one person you can put it on."
As for the many reports that the front office tried to get Tomlin to fire Arians, Rooney said, "Not true."
"I never went to Mike and said we have to fire Bruce," Rooney said. "Mike never came to me and said we have to keep Bruce under any circumstances. We talked about every member of the staff. Mike was comfortable that we needed to make some changes, but that wasn't a change we need to make. And I'm certainly comfortable with that. I think we've had good success under Bruce.
"There was never any tug of war, 'Let's fire Bruce' or anything like that. It's one of those things: There are certain positions that take the heat in any season that goes wrong and offensive coordinators are always fair game, and Bruce knows that."
Rooney said he is satisfied with the job Tomlin has done over the past three years, although he thought the final three games of the 2009 season were crucial both to the coach and the organization after a troubling five-game losing streak.
"It was a rough stretch, it was very disappointing," Rooney said of the losing streak. "It basically cost us a chance to defend the title.
"If you look at the positive side of it, I did think that it was important we turned it around, finished the season winning three straight. I think it showed our guys still had fight in them and that Mike still had the ability to get them ready for games."
Rooney and Tomlin have had long talks since the season ended Jan. 3 in Miami with a third consecutive victory that left the Steelers 9-7 but losing all the tiebreakers to make the playoffs.
"I think that was important for the organization and it was important for Mike to show everybody that he's the kind of coach who is not going to lose his team and [who will] keep them in the right direction all the way down to the end," said Rooney.
"I think we learned something about Mike, and what we learned I think is positive for the future."
Tomlin has since fired several coaches.
"I'm certainly satisfied with Mike's approach after the season," Rooney said. "He wasn't just sitting there and saying we were just dismissed. He was upset, he wanted to make changes, he wanted to talk about what we could do to get better. As far as I was concerned, he had the exact right attitude for what we needed to do."
There will be no large makeover, no rebuilding job this year.
"I don't think we're in a blow-it-up, start-over mode," Rooney said.
"We feel like we still have a very good nucleus of a good football team and a good coaching staff -- and making some changes -- but I don't think we're looking to do anything drastic. We're sticking with the program."
The Steelers' president said management's age-old philosophy regarding the pursuit of players in free agency and in the draft will not change, even if 2010 proves to be an uncapped year and spending freely becomes permitted.
"We'll approach it similar to what we have in the past," Rooney said. "In terms of committing the amount of dollars it will take to put a good team on the field, we're prepared to do that and we will do that. But we've never believed in just throwing a lot of money at a roster; I think it's been proven there's no magic to it. You still have to build your team the way you've always built your team, and that's how we'll approach it."
Rooney acknowledged that the team's defense is showing age, but expressed optimism that younger players on the roster will begin to contribute there.
He believes the Steelers will contend for a Super Bowl in the 2010 season.
"I don't see any reason why we can't be a contender," he said. "We certainly felt like going down the stretch here, winning those last three games, that if we had gotten into the playoffs we were a team that could have won some games.
"So we're going into next year with the thought that we're a contender, and we're going to do what we need to do to put ourselves in position to, No. 1, win the division and go from there. Same approach we always had."