Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Top Candidates to Replace Todd Haley This Offseason
by Mike Batista
Dec 5, 2013
The cries to fire Todd Haley quieted somewhat when the Pittsburgh Steelers won three straight games after a 2-6 start.
However, last week's 22-20 loss at Baltimore was a debilitating blow to the Steelers' playoff chances.
If the Steelers miss the playoffs for a second straight year, people will lose their jobs. The offensive coordinator likely will be one of the assistant coaches who takes the fall.
Several coaches both in-house and around the NFL should be on the Steelers' short list if Haley has to empty out his office after the season.
Considering Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 85 receptions this season, the Steelers' wide receivers coach should at least get a look. Mann joined the Steelers coaching staff this season. There are other internal candidates who have been with the organization longer, but Mann's resume can cover the length of a football field.
His first NFL coaching job was with the Colts—not the Indianapolis Colts but the Baltimore Colts in 1982. Before coming to Pittsburgh, the Aliquippa, Pa., native was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' wide receivers coach from 2002-2009. He and Mike Tomlin were on the staff that led the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory in 2002.
Andy Reid brought the 35-year-old Nagy with him from Philadelphia to be the quarterbacks coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. Alex Smith has 16 touchdown passes and six interceptions for the 9-3 Chiefs under Nagy's watch. But this is just his first year as quarterbacks coach, and Nagy might need a little more seasoning.
No. 5: Earnest Byner
Earnest Byner has accomplished enough as a running backs coach to shed the yoke of his infamous fumble in the Cleveland Browns' 38-33 loss at Denver in the 1987 AFC Championship Game.
Byner, 51, has served as a running backs coach in the NFL since 2004. He's currently in his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2012, rookie Doug Martin ran for 1,454 yards under Byner, No. 5 in the NFL.
The Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson (2009) and the Jacksonville Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew (2011) ran to rushing titles with Byner as their running backs coach, according to Buccaneers.com.
Byner has guided a running back to a 1,000-yard season in each of his nine years as coach, the longest such streak for any running backs coach in the NFL.
Hiring Byner as offensive coordinator would be a good way for the Steelers to get more out of their running backs.
Not that he can help it, but Byner would be ranked higher if he had any experience coaching quarterbacks.
*My personal choice for Haley's replacement*
No. 4: Frank Reich
San Diego Chargers quarterbacks coach Frank Reich is best known for two historic comebacks, one as quarterback at Maryland and the other as quarterback of the Buffalo Bills.
In 1984, Reich led Maryland back from a 31-0 deficit to beat Miami 42-40.
Then in 1992, Reich orchestrated the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history. Starting in place of an injured Jim Kelly, Reich rescued the Bills from a 35-3 deficit in an AFC Wild Card Game against the Houston Oilers. The Bills won 41-38.
In San Diego, Reich has overseen a Philip Rivers renaissance after two down seasons. Rivers is on pace to throw for a career-high 4,844 yards. He's thrown for 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions and has a passer rating of 104.4 after two straight years in which his rating was less than 90.
Reich, 52, was the Arizona Cardinals' wide receivers coach in 2012. Before that, he was an offensive assistant with the Indianapolis Colts. He's worked with big-name players such as Peyton Manning and Larry Fitzgerald, which would help him if he's calling plays for Ben Roethlisberger.
No. 3: Bill Lazor
Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor should be considered because of the emergence of Nick Foles.
Foles is 5-1 as a starter this season with 19 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
New Eagles coach Chip Kelly hired Lazor as quarterbacks coach during the offseason. Lazor spent three years as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Virginia. The Cavaliers were last in the ACC in total offense the year before he arrived, and in their first season under Lazor, they improved to third in the conference, according to CBSSports.com.
Virginia also went from 105th in the nation in passing to 25th in Lazor's first season as offensive coordinator.
A 1994 Cornell graduate, Lazor also has served as quarterbacks coach for the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks.
Lazor ranks third because he can put "offensive coordinator" on his resume, even if it was at the college level.
If the Eagles keep winning, Lazor will be a hot commodity.
No. 2: Kirby Wilson
Were it not for a house fire that burned nearly half his body, Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson would be their offensive coordinator.
According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via Pro Football Talk, Wilson would have been the successor to Bruce Arians, who stepped down in January 2012 when he wasn't offered a contract.
Wilson was in no condition to take over for Arians because the house fire happened earlier that month. But he recovered and returned to work in 2012.
The 52-year-old Wilson is ranked second because being on the staff gives him an advantage over other applicants, but his stock as an offensive coordinator candidate has dropped because of the Steelers' lackluster ground game over the past two seasons.
In 2012, the Steelers were 26th in the NFL with 96.1 rushing yards per game. Jonathan Dwyer was their leading rusher with 623 yards, the lowest total for their top running back since Merril Hoge's 610 yards in 1991.
Le'Veon Bell, who missed the first three games, needs 95 yards to reach that total this year. The Steelers are 31st in the league with 76.8 rushing yards a game and 30th with 3.3 yards per carry.
If those numbers don't improve over the last four games, Wilson might not survive the purging of the coaching staff, much less be a candidate for offensive coordinator.
No. 1: Randy Fichtner
Quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner, 49, likely would be Ben Roethlisberger's top choice to replace Haley.
When the Steelers were searching for Bruce Arians' replacement in 2012, Roethlisberger might have gone to bat for Fichtner, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
Considering Haley wasn't Roethlisberger's choice, it wouldn't be a bad idea for the Steelers to let their franchise quarterback have some say in choosing Haley's replacement.
According to Scott Brown of ESPN.com, Roethlisberger has asked Fichtner to stay in Pittsburgh when he's been mentioned as a candidate for college coaching jobs.
"I would never want another quarterback coach," Roethlisberger said.
Fichtner has been the Steelers' quarterbacks coach since 2010. During Roethlisberger's first three years with Fichtner as his position coach, he threw 27 interceptions. That's the second-fewest among any quarterback with at least 40 starts during that time, according to Steelers.com.
This season, Roethlisberger hasn't thrown an interception in three straight games and is on pace to throw for a career-high 4,500 yards.
Another plus for Fichtner is the fact he's coached multiple positions for the Steelers.
Before becoming quarterbacks coach in 2010. Fichtner was the Steelers' receivers coach from 2007-2009. He oversaw the quick development of Mike Wallace, who led AFC rookies with 756 receiving yards in 2009, according to Steelers.com.
Fichtner was the offensive coordinator at the University of Memphis before Mike Tomlin hired him in 2007.
In 2004, the Tigers were ninth in the nation in total offense and 10th in scoring. They went to three straight bowl games from 2003-2005.
Memphis accomplished all this with a spread offense installed by Fichtner, another reason Roethlisberger would advocate hiring him to run the Steelers offense.