I'll start by saying I have no intentions of discussing the intimate details of my vacation plans for this off-season. I will say I look forward to catching up with my family. They're enjoying Pittsburgh and I intend to do the same. As for evaluating the 2007 season, I needed a few days. I'm a competitor. We fell short of our goal, obviously, and that's to be world champions. There are positives; they are what they are. There are negatives. I look forward to '08 as we move forward with great optimism to be honest with you. I'm pleased with a lot of things. I'm dissatisfied with some things. We're going to address those things. But all in all it's been a great experience for me, as I sit here today, some 11-and-a-half months removed from my first opportunity. I'm better. I feel energized to be quite honest with you. I have more energy at this time of year probably than I ever have since I've been in this business. It's an awesome place. I'm looking forward to fighting the fight again, but needless to say we came up short.
Part of this is to address some injury issues: Ryan Clark, his status hasn't changed, you guys know his story; Dan Kreider's recovering from ACL reconstruction; Willie Parker's recovering from his fibula fracture, things are going well with him; Aaron Smith is recovering from his bicep repair, rehab and things are going well; Marvel Smith, his rehab is going well from his back surgery; Max Starks had a partial left knee tear, things are going well with him; Clint Kriewaldt had his left rotator cuff repaired and some other minor things, things are going well with him; Jerame Tuman is recovering from his lumbar/spine/nerve root situation.
Some things that have developed since the last time we talked: Hines Ward had successful surgery yesterday, he had a partial medial meniscus in his right knee repaired and the prognosis, of course, is very good -- I haven't seen a surgery where the prognosis wasn't great – but things are looking well, he's resting and it's going to require six weeks or so before he can get about his business of preparing for '08; Marquis Cooper is going to have some work done on a meniscus; Trai Essex is going to have some work done on some loose bodies in his right ankle; Andre Frazier is going to have some work done on what is perceived to be a sports hernia; Kendall Simmons is going to have some work done on his right fourth finger to get that thing fixed.
Some other guys are in some wait-and-see positions in terms of giving it some time to see how they progress: Willie Colon could potentially have some things done with his right knee in terms of clean-up; Grant Mason, right shoulder; Troy [Polamalu], right knee; Willie Reid, right shoulder; and Lawrence Timmons is progressing well from his left thumb fracture, which of course he played with. Those things being said, I look forward to answering any questions.
Troy might have to have surgery?
Not sure yet. We'll see with time. I think that rest may get it done.
Was this season a disappointment?
I'll always be disappointed when I don't win the world championship. I'll preface that by saying I'm not a melancholy personality, I'm just a football coach. I get singularly focused on a goal and I chase it. That's what these men do. So in that sense yes there is disappointment, but there are also a lot of things to be proud of.
Could you talk about those areas of disappointment?
Sure. Of course, our coverage units are one glaring thing that has to improve. The protection of our quarterback has to improve. We've got to be better in terms of rising up in moments late in football games. We got behind in some football games we lost. We fought our way back and we weren't able to close the door in terms of the energy in things and focus and ability to finish. We've got to run the football more effectively and more often and later in football games so we can wear people down and win games on our terms the way we like to. The list goes on and on.
Have you prioritized units or positions that you feel need to be addressed going into the offseason?
Yes. We need to strengthen ourself in our lines of course. We need to get better in the coverage units. We could use young, developing people in a lot of areas, but if I had to identify anything at this point I'd say we need some young, big people.
Will you meet one-on-one with your coaches and will you bring them all back next year?
I have met with every player besides a few who I'm saving – a few chosen ones – for last. I've met with most of the coaches at this point. At this point my intention is to keep this staff intact. Of course, things happen in this business. I'm aware of it. But those are my intentions at this point. Generally, I'm pleased with our staff. I think we've got a bunch of unselfish men who are willing teachers. Do we need to get better and coach better in all areas? Absolutely. Part of us being what we're capable of being is playing and coaching – we've got to get better. But generally I'm pleased. I think we've got a bunch of unselfish men who work well together, who are tireless workers, who are in this business for the right reasons and are very professional at what they do.
Why did the defense fail you late in the game so often?
That's a good question. Each one happens for different reasons. When you look back at it, we've got to execute better – we do – at crunch time. That's probably why we're not a great team at this point; we're a good team -- that's what 10-6 teams are. We've got to be great and we'll leave no stone unturned in search of that. We're all defined by crunch-time moments, coaches and players. All you can do is be on the details of routine everyday things to put yourself in position to seize those moments. Obviously we weren't enough, and that starts with me. That's why we failed in those situations, among others.
Is there enough cap room that you can go into free agency and maybe get a couple of players that really could help you for next year?
There is, but we always of course start with keeping the players that we desire as a part of our program. I think that that's our philosophy; that'll continue to be our philosophy. The bulk of additions to our team will be through the draft. But, yes, free-agency play is a possibility.
Is the door closed on bringing back Alan Faneca?
From my point of view? No. Ask Alan. But, no, we're well aware of the situation with Alan. Alan's a great player. Maybe the door is closing in terms of him being a part of this thing in the future, but it won't be from lack of effort, in terms of trying to get something done.
Are things teetering one way or the other?
The great thing about him: He's a tremendous professional. Once we got about the business of pursuing a championship and playing football in the '07 season, it was never an issue. You know our policy in terms of not negotiating during the football season. It was a non-issue. We focused ourselves on preparing ourselves to play and win games and it never was a discussion or topic or thought. Of course, it is a topic or thought at this time, as the season comes to a close, but while we were playing it was a non-issue. Our interactions were along those lines and the general interactions of getting to know one another from a player-coach standpoint.
What's it require to improve the offensive line?
We've got to play better. We've got to be better technicians. We've got to communicate better. We've got to coach better.
How about better players?
Certainly. That's part of it. Competition makes us all better.
Could you conceivably hire a free agent for that area?
I really haven't looked at what's available in the free-agent market. Quality? You've got to pay for that. I'm sure there's a possibility, but my first order of business is to get out of here and unwind a little bit. I'll be ready to answer those questions around the 1st of February.
Would you like to see Max Starks come back?
Yeah. Max of course did a very nice job. I complimented him personally on his professionalism in terms of how he dealt with his demotion, and every job that I asked him to do along the way he did it to the utmost of his ability with a great spirit about him. He was on the PAT/field-goal block team; he played tight end; he played right and left tackle. I liked those qualities in Max. We'll have some attraction there.
You said you'd like to get bigger. Would you like to get faster too?
That's always an element of football. I think every coach that sits at these tables in front of mikes has a desire to get younger, bigger, stronger, faster. That won't change. Does an offseason change a personality from that standpoint? Over time, yes, but we just got to get better. We desire to be great. We want to be the one that stands alone at the end and hoists the Lombardi. That's not us right now. So the things we do are going to be done with those intentions in mind.
How would you summarize what happened against Jacksonville?
I'm not ready yet. No, it was an emotional game. It was a gut-wrenching defeat. But every January defeat I've experienced has been the same. We turned the ball over, we got behind, we fought our way back into the football game, and we came up short.
Do you wish you had put the ball in Ben Roethlisberger's hands on that (next-to-)last drive in order to keep the ball and run out the clock?
Certainly I do, but hindsight is 20-15 sometimes. That's the nature of it. That's why we compete. I love that element of this business. In hindsight, if you had it to do over, yes, you'd love to do that because the result of the play that was chose was not the result we were looking for. We weren't successful.
Was your thought process at the time that you wanted to avoid an interception? Or what was the thought process?
We had been in a few rubber-meets-the-road moments leading up to that and had selected plays from that situation. We had a fourth and two-and-a-half or so, where we had hit Santonio (Holmes) on a slant for a touchdown; we had hit Santonio on another slant in a similar situation leading up to that. We were running out of options. We felt like we had an understanding of what they might do during that time. We anticipated potentially that we would get all-out pressure, particularly from the interior. We thought we could outflank them and get on the edge and get hats on hats and move the chains and at the same time let the clock continue to run. They were running out of timeouts. They were using timeouts. All of those things led to the decision to select the play that we chose. It just didn't turn out the way we would've liked.
How concerned are you about special teams? And are the mistakes correctable?
I believe they are. My concern with special teams is nothing new. I sat before you guys in the spring and in the summer when I got here and fielded a bunch of questions about why I had the attention to special teams that I had. I wasn't interested in throwing up a red flag and saying, ‘Hey, I'm worrying about special teams.' But obviously I was. A special-teams unit is comprised of about four or five core guys -- I like to call them four-phase guys – and a supporting cast. When I evaluated this football team and looked at what was done in the past and where we were going, I felt a void in that area for men who had those leading roles in the past. Whether you're talking about Sean Morey, Chidi (Iwuoma), Mike Logan, James Harrison – whose role was going to diminish for obvious reasons – it'd be the equivalent of losing seven, eight starters on the offensive and defensive unit when you're talking about that. That's why I gave it it's just due in preparation leading up to the season. I was looking for men to seize those roles and move forward. Obviously we were unsuccessful in that area. We've got to coach better. We've got to play better. We will leave no stone unturned in terms of making ourselves an elite special-teams unit. That is the standard because it's going to help us be world champs.
Could you talk about James Harrison's season?
That season speaks for itself. He's a Pro Bowl starter. He's team MVP. He's a great success story. But people that aren't in this business and around it on a day-to-day basis don't have an understanding of how it grows and develops. It's nothing mystical. It doesn't surprise me one bit his performance this year for us. Since the day I got here last winter, I'd run into that guy in this building in the morning more than any football player. He's a self-made guy. He's a professional. He'd love for you to believe that he's wild and it just happens for him. And I understand the persona: It's a work-hard, make-it-look-easy persona. But this guy is a tremendous professional. He has no bounds in terms of preparing himself, and it's good to see the results that happen for people that perform like that. And it better be a source of inspiration for others because those are the kind of efforts we're going to need individually and collectively to be world champs.
You said you needed four core special-teams players. How many do you have?
Again, I haven't stepped away from it, gone back and cut it up and looked at it. I think that I'll be ready to answer that question when I do that, but obviously at this point, not enough – not enough dynamic playmakers that you can build a core unit around.
Might you be inclined to get a special-teams standout if he were available?
I'd definitely be open to that. Do you know any?
You faltered down the stretch for a number of reasons. What do you think went wrong?
It's all inter-related. You guys know I'm not in the business of excuse-making. A lot of times reasons turn into excuses. Our performance was what it was. The reality is that as you dwindle down to the one that stands alone, teams are on the rise, teams are on the decline, the one that ultimately wins it is the team that's on the rise. We were moving in the wrong direction to be that team, and we're going to do everything within our power to make sure that's not the case as we move forward.
It's a challenging gig but I love it. I do. I couldn't have a nine-to-five. I'm not wired that way. My wife would not love me. At the same time what makes me tick is I think what makes a lot of these guys tick is the challenges, the urgency, the finality of it all, the fact that people care. Steeler Nation is a big source of energy and motivation for me. From the outside looking in, you respect it. I talked about it when I got here. Being a part of it is different. It is. You want to deliver for Steeler Nation. It's a driving force. It's one of the reasons I'm energized. It's awesome.
How do you evaluate your season?
I'm not big into moral victories. We did some good things. We won 10 games. We won our division. It starts there. But it wasn't as well as I like. The goals I've set for myself I'm not bashful about. One of the things that's bugged me the most since Saturday night are people with great intentions saying ‘Great start' and ‘Great year.' I appreciate it but I'm not wired like that. I'm not. Again, not that I'm a negative guy; not that I'm a melancholy guy; I'm a football coach. I appreciate that, but it's something that we're chasing here and we'll never cease that chase.
Have you looked back on your decision to go for two from the 12?
If I had it to do over I would. Sometimes after games are over I don't do a nice job of explaining reasoning for a lot of reasons. I'm hacked off. But it was simple, really, for me. If you look at how the game unfolded, we had a turnover to start the second half, we kicked a field goal and were down 11. They drove the field and scored and were up by 18. That created a little indecision in us in terms of maybe we're capable of consistently stopping them. We scored and cut it to 11. When we scored again I wanted to make it a field-goal football game, so we went for two, again not knowing if we were going to consistently stop them. We did. Great. We didn't get it. We were down five at that point. We go up by one. There's no need of going up by two. We desired to be up by three. That's just the way we played it.
Would you go for it from the 12 again?
I'd do it again.
Go for two again?
Yes. I throw caution to the wind. I play to win, babe.
Are you a 3-4 convert or is that just the way the defense is constructed?
I enjoy the way we play defense with the pieces that we have in place. Are we going to grow and evolve and search for a ceiling in terms of what we're capable of being? Yes. But I'm not willing to think about or disclose that at this time.
What are your expectations for Lawrence Timmons?
He's got to get better. This entire draft class has got to get better. We did get contributions from those guys in some areas, LaMarr Woodley, of course, being one of them. Daniel Sepulveda, I thought, had a very good rookie campaign. William Gay gave us some legitimate contributions. Matt Spaeth gave us some legitimate contributions. But they've got to keep moving upward and onward. This offseason is big. One season does not define a career. In terms of evaluating this draft, it'll be years down the line, in terms of me being willing to do that. In the short term it's my desire to drive these men, to push these men to be the best that they can be. Should their roles evolve and increase? They better, because we're bringing in a new cast. That's just the nature of this thing. But it doesn't define him, it won't define him. Whether they had great success or great failure they've got to be men on the rise. They've got to be poster boys for this offseason program. Those are some of the things that I talked to those guys about when I met with them. Time will tell. The Faneca-Hines Ward-Deshea (Townsend) draft? Great draft. But that's my mentality when it comes to defining this one.
Will you have more input in this draft? And do you expect the offseason to be more productive since the transition period has passed?
I wasn't dissatisfied with my input last year. I was knee-deep in it last year and I intend to do the same this year. As for the offseason, it's a natural thing. We talk about rookies being better from Year One to Year Two; I fall into that category. We as a football team fall into that category. There's more familiarity; there's less to know. There'll be more focused, detail work in terms of working on things that we're familiar with, but I won't take the process for granted. Every football team is different. We'll break it down and rebuild it with that thought in mind. This '08 team will be just as different from '07 as '07 was from '06. It is never the same. When you look around the league the results tell you that. Teams like Baltimore win their division and go the other direction. I won't take what happened from a positive standpoint for granted this year as we move forward. We'll start with the same slate that everybody else starts from. We'll respect the process and walk the journey on a day-to-day basis and understand that the reputation and resume from the past is just that. It doesn't matter in this business. It's a show-me business and we'll be about the business of showing ourselves.
What positions or areas of your team need the most infusion of talent before next season?
Again, I talked about our offensive and defensive lines earlier, in terms of our focus, because you always need big strong men in the interior on the rise. We're older in those position groups. We are. So that'll be our intention, along with all areas of course. But in terms of having the personality that we want to have, there's no secret we want to run the football and run it big time, we want to smash the run, so it starts inside and up front.
Will you talk about what your QB did this year and how important it is to keep him around?
He did a nice job of course. He's a Pro Bowler. He set franchise marks in some areas. He's an emerging big-time football player. He's very good. He's very professional. Aside from what happened inside the white lines inside of stadiums, I like the direction he's going in terms of taking the reigns of a leadership position. Is he a developing guy? Absolutely. He's still 25 years old. Look forward to what lies ahead with him.
[PR staff: Three more questions, guys.]
Does your playing surface affect free agency one way or the other?
Let's be real: Free agency's about dollars and cents. I've never seen anybody make a decision based on anything other than dollars and cents. All the other stuff – limo rides, hotel stays, grass – who are we kidding? That's today's NFL.
What would you recommend to ownership about the playing surface?
We're going to have those discussions. I don't want to disclose it at this time. I want to have an element of surprise when we have that discussion.
Where will Timmons compete in the spring?
He's an inside linebacker, specifically a mack -- some sub-package stuff, dime backer, things that he's been working at. He has shown to be a sharp guy. He had better be willing to have a get-in-where-you-fit-in mentality because he needs to get on the field and help us.
Did you expect more of an impact out of him this year?
I did, of course. I think you think about great impact from first-round picks when you draft them. But how it developed -- looking back at it -- is not surprising given the things that he went through in the offseason and in training camp. He gotta play. He gotta play, particularly when you're a young guy, particularly when you're 20, which is what he was when we drafted him. So from that standpoint it wasn't surprising. But again, it won't define him. It can't define him. We look for bigger and better things from him.
[PR staff: Okay guys, thanks.]
What about Sean Mahan?
Thank you. Have a great one.