Steelers' Search Is On

The search for the Steelers' next offensive coordinator is underway. Here are the thumbnail sketches of Jim Wexell's top contenders for the job:

I woke up early today because I couldn't sleep. I was tossing and turning over criticism from a customer.

And you know the reason why anyone would take such criticism to heart? When it happens to be true.

The search for the next Steelers offensive coordinator just started within the last couple of days after coach Mike Tomlin returned from the Senior bowl. But a customer blasted me for not having anything in story form, as in: Who are the top candidates for the job?

I've made my opinions known, but in scattershot fashion through blog entries and tweets and message-board answers, so the customer made a good point. In fact, it was an excellent point. And right now I'll try to rectify things by reining in all of my previous commentary and summarizing all of my knowledge on the topic for you this morning.

In other words, this won't take long.

Top candidate: Jim Caldwell.

A day after Caldwell was fired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, the leak surfaced in Pittsburgh that OC Bruce Arians was on his way out. Putting 2 and 2 together, I looked into Caldwell's past, and, yep, he had worked with Tomlin previously, and, yep, the two had become friends in spite of a 17-year age difference.

The Tribune-Review has also kept its eye on the Tomlin-Caldwell relationship and apparently spotted the two eating food and talking together at a downtown restaurant this weekend.

Can't say I'm much of a Caldwell fan, though. He's never held down an OC position. He's been a head coach at Wake Forest (one winning season) and Indianapolis (one losing season). Other than that, he's only been a quarterbacks coach. But that is what this team needs if it hopes to add pocket polish to Ben Roethlisberger as he heads into his 30s.

For those who say Roethlisberger will never change, he had better. We got a glimpse of thirtysomething Ben when the 29-year-old played hurt down the stretch this past season, and it wasn't pretty.

Adapt or perish is an age-old axiom for all levels of competition in all areas of life, and that's the axiom Roethlisberger must grasp right now.

Fallback candidate: Randy Fichtner.

The intelligent Steelers beat reporter would froth publically over Fichtner in the hope that Fichtner will do for them what Arians did for them: talk, talk, talk and talk.

Well, I'm not that intelligent Steelers beat reporter.

Don't get me wrong. I like Fichtner personally. He's helped me with my work whenever I've asked, and he's done so with enthusiasm and intelligence. But I can't let my appreciation get in the way of my opinion, which is that I don't think he's ready for the job.

Now, Tomlin knows much better than I whether or not I'm close to the truth concerning Fichtner. But I just see a guy who'll continue to enable Roethlisberger's lack of discipline in the offense. From the outside at least the relationship appears to be built on a dynamic that's the opposite of respected teacher and erstwhile student.

Favored candidate: Tom Clements.

As noted in an earlier blog entry, this guy has a sparkling resume and is perfect for the job. In order, he's turned the following mediocre talents into high draft picks, starters, Pro Bowlers, Comeback Players of the Year, and Super Bowl MVPs:

Rick Mirer, Jake Delhomme, Elvis Grbac, Kordell Stewart, Tommy Maddox and Aaron Rodgers.

Not that Rodgers is a mediocre talent. I hope you get my drift.

Clements is a Pittsburgh native. He came out of Canevin High in the early 1970s and was recruited by both Notre Dame football and North Carolina basketball (yeah, a bit of an athlete). He led Notre Dame to a national title in 1973 and went on to become one of the all-time greats of the Canadian Football League. He coached Steelers quarterbacks from 2001-2004 and went with Mike Mularkey to Buffalo to become Mularkey's offensive coordinator. The important point may have been that Mularkey had asked the Steelers for permission to interview Ken Whisenhunt for that position, and the Steelers said no, but they said yes to letting Clements go.

During his time with the Steelers, not only did Clements enjoy success as a coach, but the the 58-year-old also displayed something that Arians could not, and it's something that may have played a bigger role in Arians' departure than anyone is reporting: Clements kept his mouth shut with the media.

Clements is quiet and controlled. He's rigid but without being Frank Kush about it. He's the perfect coach for the Rooneys and he's the perfect coach for Roethlisberger. But, alas, Clements appears to be next in line for the vacant Green Bay Packers OC position, a position he's earned by spending the last six years turning Rodgers into the best player in the league. And who knows whether Clements harbors any ill will toward the Rooneys for his brief exile to Buffalo.

Best of the Rest: Todd Haley.

The Steelers aren't going to hire a college coach over Fichtner. This is a tight staff, one that gets along well with the head coach, and so there's little chance that Tomlin will upset that chemistry.

Also, the Steelers aren't going to convince another offensive coordinator in the league to make a lateral move. Even if they could, it's unlikely they'd convince that coordinator's boss to permit an interview for the lateral move. As for low-level assistants, I'm presuming Tomlin has a better list than I.

So my only other candidate is Haley, the former Steelers ballboy, the son of the great Dick Haley who was a big part of the personnel team that built the dynasty in the 1970s.

Haley was hired by Whisenhunt to be the OC in Arizona, and then left to become head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009.

But that's when it all began to fall apart for Haley. He fired his offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, after three preseason games and assumed playcalling duties for that 2009 season. At 1-5, Haley suspended and then released running back Larry Johnson for making critical remarks of the coach on Twitter. The Chiefs finished 4-12 (including an overtime win over the Steelers) but rebounded the following season to make the playoffs.

That wasn't enough for the Chiefs, who started strong in 2011 but lost quarterback Matt Cassel with an injury. Haley was fired after the team plummeted to 5-8.

At the end of the season, Haley accused the Chiefs of bugging rooms at their practice facility and tampering with his cell phone. The Chiefs responded by saying the former coach was "losing it." Last seen, Haley was back in talks with Whisenhunt to find a place for him again with the Cardinals.

At this point, it's a flawed list. The hope is that Tomlin has a greater network of friends and colleagues in the field than the above spells out. We'll learn the answer to that big question as the search unfolds.


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