Leadership: The Missing Piece In 2012

By Jeremy Hritz

Before the 2011 Steelers season even began, a gaggle of random acts of immaturity unrelated to anything on the playing field raised serious reasons for concern. LaMarr Woodley ran off at the mouth on the NFL Network that Joe Flacco would not win a Super Bowl “in his lifetime;” Rashard Mendenhall foolishly shared an insensitive personal perspective about 9-11 on Twitter; James Harrison bashed his teammates in Men\’s Journal, not to mention Roger Goodell, who honestly, probably deserves some of it for his crusade to sissify a man’s game. Throw in the revered veteran Hines Ward who celebrated his Dancing with the Stars victory a bit too much and earned himself a DUI and what you had was a cluster of distractions that could derail a less-storied NFL team. Considering all of these things, on the heels of a Super Bowl loss and the misdeeds of Ben Roethlisberger two March’s ago, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that the Steelers were able to finish 12 and 4. Dejean Kovacevic, columnist for the Tribune Review and a guest on the Terrible Podcast this year, stated in a piece earlier this week that the Steelers were never able to find a “spark.” A sparse amount of turnovers, lack of a true signature win (maybe New England), lack of a complete game (no, a second quarter in the second matchup with the Bengals doesn’t count), and too many close victories against what were inferior opponents (Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City), mark the 2011 Steelers as less than inspiring. While it is difficult to define what the missing spark was, it should have been something initiated by one of the many leaders on the team. However, when your leaders are too busy making poor decisions and dealing with the consequences, is it truly a shock? Essential to the Steelers making a serious run next year in the playoffs is not just to avoid key injuries and to earn at least one home game by winning the North, but also to make sure they do not bring any negative attention to the organization that has seemed to be expected over the past few years, something that may have to be done through subtraction sometime after March 1st.

While many of the Steelers are young men and are still learning their way through the world, they need to understand the impact that their behavior can have on the focus of the team. Even as recent as this Sunday after the embarrassing loss to the Broncos, Maurkice Pouncey popped off at one of his Twitter followers, finding it necessary to respond to a fan’s criticism. Now I understand that every man has his limits when being poked and provoked, as Pouncey was on Twitter. But it’s just that, Twitter. And it begs the question: would behavior like this occur if there was better leadership on the team?

This is a very important offseason for the Steelers for the success of the next seven to ten years of the team, and not just because so many entrenched players have probably played their last snap. It is important because head coach Mike Tomlin and the Rooney’s need remind those players who will return to next year, and those who will be joining the team as free agents and rookies, of what is their purpose is, and that is playing Steelers football and winning championships. And while 12 and 4 was definitely a successful year, it could have been greater with a few less distractions and a bit more leadership.

  • Pghkid68

    All the things you mentioned had nothing to do with the season or how it ended. I enjoy you’re articles and insight, but I think you’re off on this one.

  • RW

    Actually, I’ve got to agree with you on this one. Jamison Henseley (who I despise) wrote on this before the season even started. I happen to think injuries played the predominant role in shaping the season, but more than anything, leadership was missing. They had a chance to take the division lead back twice and came out flat both times (particularly against the 49ers) in what should have been die hard games. There was also mention of Mike Wallace quitting on some plays in the playoff game (in fact, he’s been doing it for the last 4 or 5 games as well); this kind of stuff just doesn’t happen on teams with excellent leadership. It’s too bad, too, because I (with bias included) think that the Steelers are the most complete team in football.

  • Pete

    I’ve been searching for reasons also. Having an “inspiring” season does not guarantee a Super Bowl victory. Look at the NE Patriots. They have not won a SB since the 2004 season. That’s 7 years ago. Even their undefeated 2007 season did not end in a SB victory.

    I don’t believe in the least that the incidents mentioned had anything to do with the way the 2011 season played out for the Steelers. I think they simply had too many injuries to overcome in 2011. The injury bug finally caught up with them. Nothing more complicated than that.

  • Dgh57

    Lack of leadership had its role in the way this season played out! Check out the post put up on this blog towards the 1st few weeks of the season! Reports of players not going all out or not giving full effort! I remember Hood and Woodley as 2 of among other names mentioned! How can you have leadership with that going on?!!

    Injuries didn’t help either. This season had to be the worst I’ve seen in many years! Especially with the O-Line and LBs!

  • Kenneth Wilt

    The team needs a vocal guy on the defensive side of the ball to provide some leadership. On the offensive side of the ball, we need to get back to just “making plays”. I get tired of the points for first downs, the posturing, etc. Just play the frickin’ game. I do think the team lacked an identity this year. I am not sure why, just that they did. Maybe that was injuries, but this is the quietest #1 defense statistically that I can remember in a long time. On offense, we lacked any kind of combined purpose after the NE game.

  • Stewart John21

    Why does Tomlin continue to escape scrutiny? There are huge questions, IMO, about his ability to make tough decisions that are in the best interest of the team. It is one thing to sit down a young Mendenhall or Gilbert because they didn’t prepare well. It is another to tell Ben he needs to sit for the 2nd half of the SF game and the Cleveland game. He allows the players to decide and if you are a veteran, you have a long rope. Well with so many veterans who are not playing at the level they once were, will he make the tough decisions? And these are tough! He didn’t do it last year and he doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction for next year (Arians back; LeBeau back; Ward wants to come back; Farrior back, etc.) Leadership starts at the top. I’m tired of the PC soundbites. Take some action.

  • BatRon

    Rashard’s point of view was neither foolish nor insensitive. And the rest of the article is terrible as well.

  • Steelerfan

    @Stewart John 21,

    I noticed that you left out Tomlin’s decision to basically sit Ward for the 2nd half of the season. Would you say that that decision was the same as sitting a young Mendenhall or Gilbert? Gimme a break.

  • Fu-Schnickens

    I too agree that the incidents weren’t as much at fault as just plain poor play from the o-line and not enough emphasis put on getting penetration in the pocket. In addition, if Tomlin has anywhere near the kind of flatline approach that he takes with the fans and the media, then that explains most of it. Sometimes, I think that they might want to check his back for a hole where a pupeteers hand would go what with the endless coachism’s and what seem like wooden, laconic answers that we’ve all heard a million times. If I were a Rooney, I’d get on the horn and light a fire under Tomlin’s arse, and tell him to put up or get the F out. There’s no excuse for the lax level of play this year – a 12 and 4 team from the AFC North should not be exiting the playoffs in a wildcard round especially by pooping the sheets they way they did for the bulk of that game. Oh, and save your whiny tripe about how we expect too much and we’re spoiled as Steelers fans – of course we expect a lot and we should and the players should want as much.

  • Fu-Schnickens

    BatRon, lay down the crack pipe and seek some help. Really?!?! You’re going to back up Rashard after he kept stepping over and over in the same pile of poo? I guess, then, that you agree with him that he had an incredible year this year too, huh? Give me a break…that guy hits the hole slower than molasses in the middle of Winter and as light and sweet as your grandma’s lace doilie once he finally gets there.

  • Wdmason

    We need another Joey Porter. I can still visualize him before the play firing up his defense. We have no leader on defense and we have lost the intimidation factor partly due to the NFL fines I think. Some of our players like Harrison and Ryan Clark are forced to hold back… but Ray Lewis still gets away with everything.

  • Hoosiergirl

    Amen brother!!

  • pghpatriot

    just as charity begins at home, leadership begins with the head coach! it is his job to display it, instill it, and insure it is adhered to.