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Steelers way of hiring can be frustratingly slow, but worth it

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By: Tom Fox

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh’s methodical (and slow) process has fans upset, but it shouldn’t.

Do you remember where you were on November 21 when the news broke? That’s the day the Steelers announced they had fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada. It was a day of celebration for many Steeler fans similar to the munchkins singing “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” in The Wizard of Oz. Finally, the Steelers could move on from a historically inept offense, and by making the move before the end of the season they would have the jump on the other teams in need of a new OC.

Fast forward to mid-January when the Steeler participation in the playoffs ended and those same fans were frustrated that the team hadn’t hired anyone yet. There was a report that the Steelers wanted to interview Rams QB coach Zac Robinson, but then Robinson was hired as the OC for the Atlanta Falcons without the Steelers even getting an interview.

The comment section here at Behind The Steel Curtain was on fire with angst. Were Art Rooney, Omar Khan, and Mike Tomlin moving too slowly through the process? A sampling of comments from this article on January 27 would indicate that fans sure think so:

We will get the leftovers. The bottom of the barrel!

The 3 Amigos need to hurry up their process

I can’t wait until we hire the assistant defensive lockeroom custodian from Our Lady of the Worthless Miracle University. (a little Naked Gun humor here)

The Steelers might want to speed up the interview process before we get beat to the punch on someone that we might really want. I’d love to see a new coach named by the end of the week, any later, I’d be worried that the Pickens might be too slim.

Gonna be a Dollar Store OC like Leftwich, Getsy, or Linus Van Pelt.

Thursday, they announced two positional hires, including Tom Arth as the quarterbacks coach (former Charges passing coordinator), officially forcing out Mike Sullivan the role, and Zach Azzani as the wide receiver coach… but it took them awhile to get there.

The Steeler way of hiring

Former Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith would be announced as the Steelers new offensive coordinator on January 30. It was 15 days after the Steelers were done with the 2023 postseason and officially looking toward 2024. However, the front office knew they had to fill this vacancy back in November. What took so long?

The slow and steady process should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the Steelers. In a league of impatient franchises, the Steelers change head coaches less often than Russia attacks neighboring countries. Knee-jerk reactions aren’t exactly what the Black and Gold are known for. We just witnessed this less than two years ago.

The Steelers announced on January 28, 2022, that general manager Kevin Colbert would be retiring at the end of April after the draft. Surely, the Steelers would identify the future hire and have their new GM on board throughout the draft process. Nope. The Steelers announced over a span of several weeks that they had officially interviewed 11 candidates and would bring six of those back for a second interview. Almost a full month after Colbert’s retirement date, the Steelers would announce that they stayed in-house and promoted Omar Khan to GM and they had hired Andy Weidl away from the Philadelphia Eagles to be the assistant GM.

In the words of Axl Rose, the Steeler fans “need a little patience. Yeah, yeah, yeah”.

Steelers assistant coaches in flux

Mike Tomlin promised changes at his end-of-year press conference, and by all accounts, the Steelers are new to the process of retooling the coaching staff. While rushed decisions may satisfy the impatient fan base, there’s an old saying that you should “hire slow and fire quick”. The Steelers just suffered through two and a half seasons of poor offense and may have learned the second part of that saying the hard way. This year, they took that to heart and cultivated a coaching staff full of outside hires, slowly, but at the very least, meticulously.

The Steelers have announced that WR coach Frisman Jackson will not be back with the team. Now-former QB coach Mike Sullivan is reportedly looking to find some “arrangement” with the Steelers to keep him in-house, per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Perhaps that’s not the end of the action, however, as many fans think the real coaching issue is offensive line coach Pat Meyer, yet he remains on the staff and is not connected to any openings around the league.

In addition to being new to this process, another reason the Steelers may be slow playing the coaching search is that until the Super Bowl is over, no team can hire any coaches from the Kansas City Chiefs or San Francisco 49ers… which could play into their search for an OL coach.

Let’s say the Steelers want to interview the 49ers assistant OL coach to replace Pat Meyer. By rule, they would need to wait until after the Super Bowl to interview him. The Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints don’t have an OC, although it is widely reported that 49ers passing game specialist Klint Kubiak will be announced for that job after the Super Bowl. There’s a chance the Steelers would like to talk with other members of the 49ers staff, but Kubiak may take them to the Big Easy and they need to wait and see about availability to interview. If he goes with Kubiak to New Orleans, the Steelers can look at their remaining options, including sticking with Meyer.

Here are some facts about that San Francisco assistant OL coach; his name is James Cregg. He’s been with the San Francisco 49ers for two seasons. As a college OL coach at USC, he worked with the Cowboys’ two-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith and Viking Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Kalil. Then at LSU, he worked with Seahawk four-year starting guard Damien Lewis and Bronco four-year starting center Lloyd Cushenberry. All four of those players were NFL starters the day they arrived, so it’s pretty likely that Cregg had a good bit to do with their development. That sounds like a guy you might want to talk with if you have a pending opening for an offensive line coach.

Why would a guy like James Cregg come to Pittsburgh? If he doesn’t follow Kubiak to New Orleans for a promotion to offensive line coach there, he could get that promotion with the Steelers. If you need a Cregg connection to Pittsburgh, it’s a bit of a reach. Tomlin and Kyle Shanahan were on Jon Gruden’s 2004 Tampa Bay staff, but that connection hasn’t paid off in any Shanahan-related coaching hires to date, so don’t hold your breath. Just be patient like Axl Rose implores you to be.

Slow hiring of coaches does not mean unqualified candidates

To put you at ease about the notion that the Steelers are too “late” into the hiring season to find any impactful coaches, take a look at the Baltimore Ravens. Last offseason they blew up their offensive coaching staff. They didn’t hire OC Todd Monken until February 14, and he was a college coach they could have hired a month earlier if they had wanted. They didn’t hire a RB coach until Feb 28. They promoted their WR coach to QB coach and didn’t hire a new WR coach until March 8. Surely waiting so long to fill out the staff meant they were getting the dregs of the coaching world and their offense would suffer in 2024. Nope. Ignoring the Week 18 game that Lamar Jackson didn’t play, the Ravens scored 30 points per game in 2023, which would rank second in the NFL.

Sing it for us, Axl!

Take it slow / it’ll work itself out fine / all we need is just a little patience

Originally posted on Behind the Steel Curtain – All Posts