It's all about the QB

Jim Wexell believes he has a handle on what the Steelers want in their next football coach. He must be right, since it's the complete opposite of the general consensus in Pittsburgh.

It's normally not the radio station I prefer, but the loud, funny guy who does the sports was so wrong about Monday's big college game that I had to hear him the next day.

His prediction Monday morning had been "Mini Ditka 68, Florida 2," or something like that. But on Tuesday morning, after Ohio State lost by 27, it was "the quarterback's fault" and "the system's fault."

And then the loud, funny guy who does the sports skidded right into Steelers draft talk. His preference is USC's big receiver, Dwayne Jarrett, in the first round because "Ben needs more weapons."

Of course. Ben. You don't ever want it to be the quarterback's fault; not when you need him to appear on your show. But it fits the thinking around Pittsburgh these days. On Sunday, two metro columnists also called for the hiring of Ken Whisenhunt as the generation's next coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.


Altogether now: "Ben."

"Roethlisberger clearly is comfortable with Whisenhunt," reasoned Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette. "Big Ben gives the impression he's not much for welcoming change."

Oh, boy! We wouldn't want to upset Big Ben, now, would we?

"Whisenhunt has nurtured Ben Roethlisberger since the latter's birth as an NFL quarterback. He guided Roethlisberger through his baby steps," wrote Joe Starkey of the Tribune-Review. "To sever the relationship at such a critical juncture, with Roethlisberger entering his fourth season, would be a monumental risk."

So would allowing Roethlisberger to continue to run amok.

If I'm Art Rooney II, I want to know what's going to be different in the handling of Roethlisberger. Seriously.

I mean, here's a guy who's regressed as a quarterback. In his third season, Roethlisberger threw twice as many interceptions as he'd thrown in his first two seasons combined. He also flattened a two-year passer rating of 98.3 with a dismal 75.4 rating this season.

Now, I know what Ron Cook's thinking: "But the motorcycle accident and the appendicitis n 'at."

And I agree -- to an extent. I'm not a heartless bugger, but I've grown weary of excuses. My advice to the guy I'm interviewing is that it's time to move on. I want to know what's next for this quarterback, and the last thing I want is to hear a prospective coach tell me he'll uphold the status quo, because here's the status quo:

Of Roethlisberger's 15 starts in 2006, six were against top-10 defenses and his won-loss record in those games was 1-5; his passer rating 54.0. In the game he won, he threw 17 passes. That may be Bill Cowher football, but it's a clear sign that Roethlisberger has not advanced beyond the status of "game manager," and that's a shame for a player so talented.

After two years of successfully leaning on his base instincts, perhaps Roethlisberger doesn't feel the need to possess command of the offense. Well, it shows, particularly against top defenses. There was little chemistry between Roethlisberger and his receivers this season, and it was particularly evident in the biggest game of the season against the Ravens at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger was a non-factor in that game.

Am I supposed to hire my next coach because he's coached this franchise player up into a non-factor? No way, man. I'm looking for a guy to explain how this regression will be reversed.

The last time the Steelers made a hire with one player in mind, they allowed Kordell Stewart (off a passer rating of 75.2, mind you) to help choose Ray Sherman as his next offensive coordinator in 1998. Surely, the Rooneys learned from that disaster. In Sherman's only season, the Steelers went 7-9.

Not that I believe Whisenhunt is at fault here. That lands on the desk of the great player's coach, Cowher, the guy who unabashedly took it easy on his favorites. Still, I can't absolve Whisenhunt completely. In fact, it forces me to take a closer look at Russ Grimm. He's a no-nonsense guy who'd certainly monitor Whisenhunt's progress with Roethlisberger, something that couldn't be done vice-versa.

This line of thinking also gives credence to hiring one of the two outside candidates. Both are defensive coaches, so it's doubtful they'd have patience for a quarterback who might be in the throes of wasting a once-promising career.

Of the two, it's likely that Ron Rivera is nothing more than a token interview of a "hot" assistant from a contending team. That's why I believe Mike Tomlin, the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator, has the edge. Team sources call the soon-to-be 35-year-old "classy" and "intelligent." Tomlin was recommended to the team by Tony Dungy, his former boss at Tampa Bay. Team sources also say that Tomlin's background as a "cover two" defensive coach will not hurt him in his bid to coach the zone-blitzing Steelers. They believe he's young enough to respect his elder – Dick LeBeau – and smart enough to listen and learn. In other words, he's a young Dungy.

Tomlin will be on the hot seat Wednesday and the big question I'd ask him is this: What can you do to make sure that our franchise quarterback remains our franchise quarterback?

And if he gives the wrong answer, or even an answer that's not right, I pass the scissors to Russ Grimm. He has an umbilical cord to cut.

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