Mike Tomlin

How much Steelers’ drama falls on the shoulders of Mike Tomlin?

Tomlin likely to return, but what about Bell and Brown?

“Change is going to be a part of moving forward. What those changes will be, we are in the process of gathering information and plotting out a course. We are not going to be resistant to change in any facet.”

Those are a few of the noteworthy quote from Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin during his end-of-season press conference. While most of the quotes concerned Antonio Brown and his absence during the team’s final game, the one referenced above was actually more interesting to me. That is because they seem to indicate that coach Mike Tomlin will be back next season.

I guess that’s what we should expect from the Steelers. After all, Tomlin is only the organization’s third different coach since 1969. And while I have been conflicted about whether Tomlin deserves to be back, I’m certainly not surprised to find that he will. Elsewhere in his quotes was the idea that he would be more of a disciplinarian going forward. That brings to mind the age-old adage about an old dog and new tricks. Can Tomlin actually change his style of coaching?

That’s only one of the questions hanging over the Steelers offseason. They must also decide how exactly to handle the Antonio Brown situation. And while Tomlin may be coming back, there were some cryptic quotes that led me to believe that a major shake-up to his staff could be on the horizon. If recent quotes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are to be taken seriously, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner should be retained. And there is the fact that Pittsburgh finished 4th in total offense and 6th in points scored.

Then again, when it comes to Big Ben’s passive-aggressive, drama-filled ways, who knows if we can even take anything he says at face value anymore. For the moment though, I’m placing Fichtner in the “to-be-retained” category. One assistant who may not be so lucky is defensive coordinator Keith Butler. With the quality of coaches that are available on the defensive side this offseason, combined with the fact that the Steelers defense ranked 16th in total points allowed and 29th in turnovers forced, and you can understand why he could be on the chopping block. Plus, listening to Tomlin’s quotes, I get the impression he may have been told he’d have to sacrifice some of his staff in order to save his job.  

But the elephant in the mink coat, I mean room, is Antonio Brown. Following his well-publicized benching during the season’s final week, Brown has been the talk of the Steel City. Without rehashing all the details, just know that Big Ben and Brown don’t seem to get along too well. In fact, word is that they can no longer coexist. Getting rid of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who seem to have the respect of 99% of the locker room doesn’t sound like a move that any reasonable franchise would make. If Roethlisberger is untouchable, then obviously, Brown is the one who must go. Bringing him back at this point would undermine Tomlin and Roethlisberger.

Trading Brown this offseason means that Pittsburgh will incur a huge salary cap hit in 2019. It also removes an elite playmaker from the roster. The Steelers should swallow hard and bite the bullet on both fronts. With Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster and James Washington, plus a quality group of tight ends, they’ll still have an elite group of pass catchers.

Lastly, the team must decide what to do with Le’Veon Bell. Most NFL fans thought that Bell would become a free agent, and therefore his saga was over. Pittsburgh does, however, hold his rights and could decide to use the transition tag on him. This would afford them the opportunity to match any offer he then received from another team.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Will removing Bell and Brown restore balance in the locker room?

Keep in mind though that James Conner emerged as a viable starting back in this league and rookie Jaylen Samuels showed flashes as well. Armed with one of the top offensive lines in football, I think that Pittsburgh would be just fine without Bell. And removing Bell and Brown sure does go a long way toward restoring balance in the locker room.

As for whether or not Tomlin can change his stripes and become a strict disciplinarian, that’s another story altogether. It sounds like a tall order, but if he can, this is a team that should be able to win 11 or 12 games next year— in which case will forget all about how Tomlin almost lost his job. But if he fails, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the Steelers hire their fourth head coach in the past 50 years.



Tom Hoggard is sports director/media consultant at East Carolina Radio. He hosts the Outer Banks Sports Report on 98.1 The Score Monday through Friday from 7 to 9 a.m.

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