The Answer Man

We here at call him the smartest football man in the city of Pittsburgh. Outsiders call him the Answer Man, because his identity, for obvious reasons, must remain unknown.

Q. OK, let's start with the end of the season, down the stretch, what went wrong?

AM. The offense. After the Giants game I really thought that this was coming. I thought that this was a team that was going to contend. Defensively, early in the season, the third-down conversions were awful. The Oakland game was just awful. But the defense was starting to come around and you could see that it was – if not the takeaways and the sacks the way you like them – at least it was getting back to being stingy. The offense, you win at Cincinnati late in the game by eating the clock away. The Giants game, I thought, was a decisive win. At 5-3 you had the Chiefs coming up, the Ravens at home – here we go. And then Ben [Roethlisberger] got hurt. OK. You deal with that. But then when he came back, the offense was gone. Whatever had been built, developed – whatever word you want – through the first nine games, was gone. They never got it back. The offense, to me, was the problem. And the game that ended your season was Cincinnati at home.

Q. I understand why a coach wouldn't want to use injuries as an excuse, but can't the media? The fans?

AM. You can say whatever you want. I just think that as an organization you've got to start to figure out why this is happening. Why is this happening year after year after year? I mean, Sean Kugler will leave here now after three seasons. Has he ever been able to start the same five guys five games in a row? So this is now a three-year issue with at least one position. I need more answers than ‘bad luck.' I don't know that it's necessarily the fault of people who are kissing things off, but I think it could have something to do with what you do in the off-season, in terms of conditioning or getting yourself ready for the season. We've heard Tunch Ilkin say it: The offensive linemen are too big. And too big doesn't necessarily mean too fat and out of shape, it means too big for their body shape. [Willie] Colon's a classic example of that. Torn tendons and now knee problems say your body is too big for the frame. All of that friendly fire, with guys getting rolled up on, it's not the guys who are getting rolled up on who are at fault. It's the guys who can't stay on their feet and are getting thrown around. It's their fault. So why are they getting thrown around? That's why I need more than just ‘bad luck.' I've got to have more than that for my $120 million in salary-cap money every year. I've got to have more than ‘bad luck.'

Q. Do you have your guesses as to why it's happening? Or do you look for answers from someone else?

AM. I'm no doctor, and that's what I'm interested in, because, who knows, conventional wisdom could be what's dragged you to this point in the first place. So, again, I'm not saying that anybody is kissing anything off or that these guys aren't working hard in the off-season or anything. But are they working in the right way? Are they doing what they need in order to survive 16 games? Obviously not, because it hasn't happened. I just think that needs to be examined a little bit – in a scientific way, let's say. And if changes need to be made there, so be it, because in that respect what has been going on here for the last three years hasn't worked.

Q. Are changes in the offing for the training staff? Strength and conditioning?

AM. I don't think it's a fire-able offense. Maybe we've got to re-think how we're doing some things. I don't know that it's incompetence, so, no, I'm not firing any trainers or the conditioning coach because, hey, you don't have very long with these guys anyway. Open gym doesn't start – that's Tomlin's phrase, ‘open gym' – but you're not allowed to have open gym until mid to late March. You can't introduce a football into the equation until after the draft, into May. Your ability to impact these guys anymore is not very real. It's just not. So, to expect your conditioning coach to have a big impact on them is delusional. I think you have to work with these guys, and work with who's working with these guys, to get them to understand you don't have to be 340. You don't. Or, if you are 340, you're probably not going to make it through the year. So what's the point of that?

Q. Reports the other day had the offensive coordinator interviewing in Arizona, and then not interviewing. What's going on there?

AM. Ah, I don't know anything. But – and I'm not Todd Haley's father – but if I were Todd Haley's father I would just warn my son to be very, very careful of the next head coaching job that you take, because the next one you take, if you get fired from that, you're done in terms of being thought of for that position. This is my opinion. So, I don't know that Arizona is a real good spot for Todd Haley right now. I just don't. They have no quarterback. They have no a lot of things. They're not exactly an organization that has ever distinguished itself in terms of doing whatever it takes to win consistently. I don't want to call them incompetent but, um, it's different from here, let's put it that way. I understand it's a promotion. I understand it will be significantly more money, but again, if I'm Todd Haley's father I'm saying to him, look, you're not destitute financially, the job you have is not paying you peanuts, get yourself in a position where you can go somewhere to coach a team maybe with an organization that's a little more conducive to helping the head coach succeed. I don't think the Cardinals are that. That's why they're the Cardinals. That would be the way I would look at it. Now, is going to leave? I don't know. One of the things I thought might happen is he might just kind of delay it long enough so maybe they would get hot on someone else and go in another direction. I don't know if you want to be the guy who's turning down these interviews regularly because then people forget about you. If they like you and offer you the job, well, you almost have to take it then. So based on what I said earlier, I thought maybe he would try to finesse it and get out of it as opposed to having to say no. So who knows what's going on in the conversations in Arizona? Maybe he's saying these same things to Michael Bidwell. Who knows? I hope he doesn't leave. Really. I hope he doesn't leave. I know that things weren't perfect this year, but I kind of liked what I was seeing – through the middle of November anyway.

Q. On the same day the cap manager, Omar Khan, was interviewing with the Jets. What's your take on that?

AM. Same thing. I mean, the owner there just threw his support behind Rex Ryan, so you'd have that guy breathing down on you and questioning every decision you wanted to make. And you have no quarterback. And you're in New York with all that pressure. I must be missing something, but isn't this a pretty good place to stay?

Q. What about the offensive line coaching position?

AM. Nothing. Nothing. And I don't think there's a timeline. Maybe you want to see what happens with Todd first.

Q. I've been pushing for Tunch. What's your opinion of him as a line coach?

AM. Honestly, I think that ship has sailed. I think it sailed back when he had the chance to coach for [Bill] Cowher. No one here knows him. By that I mean, Cowher played against Tunch. He knew something about him. But Tomlin really doesn't. No one here does, and that's usually where that kind of thing starts.

Q. Tomlin doesn't know a lot of people in the coaching fraternity, does he?

AM. Hey, sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes these guys bring in their cronies out of a sense of obligation. I will say this about him: Every time he's hired a new coach, the new coach has been better than the old one. Kugler was better than [Larry] Zierlein; Al Everest was better than [Bob] Ligashesky; Carnell Lake's better than Ray Horton; and Haley's better than Bruce Arians. I know that last one's not the popular opinion right now, but I'm convinced of it.

Q. Other than the line coach, will there be any other new assistant coaches next season?

AM. Well, I hope there's a new special teams coordinator. I don't think you can stick with what you went with last year. Obviously that wasn't good enough. I think you need to bring in someone there.

Q. OK, what about the free agents? We know who the main ones are. What do you see on that front?

AM. Man, I see they better get a lot of work done before March 12, because that's the day you've got to be under the cap. Art [Rooney II] said the other day $10 million over the cap ‘was on the low end.' So that's a problem. I've got no answers for that. They've got a lot of work to do. And I don't know what the strategy with, say, Mike Wallace is going to be. Do you let him go out there and see what he's not worth first? One of the standard Dan Rooney-isms of all-time is that you don't want to give them the offer that they take and then shop. You've done all the work and they get 50 cents more and leave. I don't know where they were last year with numbers that [Wallace] found unacceptable, but if you're asking me right now I would probably let him test it. The [Rashard] Mendenhall thing, him to me, that not showing up for the game, I can't get over that. I just can't, so I'm parting with him. Keenan Lewis I would like to keep, but let me ask you: If you sign Keenan Lewis for whatever it costs, are you certain he'll hold off Cortez Allen for the starting job next training camp?

Q. I would assume so, but I can't be positive.

AM. No. I don't think anyone can be. And to tell you the truth, I like his ball skills. I might want to take the five to seven interceptions he's likely to give you. You're not going to get many, if any, from Ike [Taylor], and Keenan is a lot like Ike in that regard. So I'm not sure Keenan's as automatic a priority as people seem to think he is, particularly with the cap problem. As for Ramon Foster, I would hope he sees that he has a home here and doesn't feel he has to take a few more bucks elsewhere with the promise he'll be a starter. It doesn't always work out that way and this is a guy who's making a pretty good name for himself here. He may not be identified as a starter, but I think he's proving himself each year, kind of the way Max Starks did. And you can make a pretty good living here even with a minimum-wage contract.

Q. What about the draft? Do you have a position in mind? Or is it just Best Player Available?

AM. Other than quarterback, I don't care what position he plays as long as he's dynamic. I want someone even you, all the way up in the press box, can look down and say, ‘Wow, that's a dynamic player.' I don't want some guy the coach has to say, ‘Let me look at the film,' to tell me if the guy had a good game or not. You're picking around where Darrelle Revis was picked, so if you're picking a cornerback, that's the kind of guy I want. If you're picking a receiver, I want a Santonio Holmes, because that's about where he was picked. I just want a dynamic football player, no matter what position he plays, because in five years he's going to be a team leader. That was the problem this past season: The team leaders, the so-called stars, the guys who are supposed to be the dynamic players, didn't do much at all.

Q. On the field, the big questions to me are the offensive line and the running back. Who do you see blocking for whom next season?

AM. I don't see anyone on the roster as it currently stands being that guy they're blocking for. I just don't. Every one of those running backs had a chance to step up and take the job last season, and frankly none of them did. As for the line, you've got Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert for four of the five spots. Where they play? I don't really care. Let the new coach figure that out, but at least he has four of the five guys to play with. The other guy? Like I said, if Colon can get down to 310, 315, great, give him the job. Otherwise you could have Foster at left guard, or even [Kelvin] Beachum. I think he's versatile and competent and certainly he's smart enough to start for you.

Q. Well, do you still see this team as a contender? Do they just need a few tweaks? Or do they need to blow it up and rebuild?

AM. No. As long as you have No. 7, you're a contender. This league is all about offense anymore, and he gives you that. Now, he needs a few pieces in place, but I have no doubt this team can get back there and even win it. I have no doubts at all.

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