By Christina L. Rivers
Rarely do I write outside the bounds of a strictly news-based article filled with facts, stats or interviews. However, with the addition of Todd Haley as the new offensive coordinator for the Steelers, a lot of talk has been spreading around the sports world as to whether Haley was the best choice for that position or not. The truth is, that remains to be seen.
John Mehno of The Altoona Mirror called Haley\’s hiring “unusual for (the) Steelers”. Haley, a Pittsburgh native, has a reputation across the league. The biggest rap he\’s been laden with is that he has a difficult time “getting along”. Tensions in Kansas City between Haley and general manager Scott Pioli blew up to the extent that there was no working relationship, but not everyone blames Haley for the breakup. Sources say that Pioli was inflexible. It is obvious that Haley is emotionally involved in football and his team. Emotion on the sideline can get heated for any coach, but Haley has been tagged as an irate and unmanageable sort.
In contrast to Haley, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin has often been seen as serene on the sideline. Sometimes his lack of emotion has brought forth questions about his intensity as a coach. Don\’t underestimate Tomlin. The man is passionate, even if he isn\’t known for emotional outbursts or sideline tirades.
On Tuesday, Arizona Cardinals reporter Kent Somers joined Starkey, Seibel and Miller on Sportsradio 97-3 The FAN to talk about Haley. Somers admitted that even Haley\’s best friends have wanted to knock him out, but that they get along and respect each other. Haley expects a lot out of his players, and even those stars he has coached have admitted they enjoyed working with him for the most part. Kent Babb said that the portrayal of Haley as “paranoid” while with the Chiefs was founded on the fact that the organization was poorly run.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald played under Haley – the offensive coordinator (2007-08) – and said, “I think Todd is a great coach. He\’s fun to play for. Everybody says he\’s a hard ass and this, that…but at the end of the day when Todd came in the locker room he\’d give you the biggest hug. He wanted it so bad for us. He prepared so much and he pushed us. I remember after the NFC championship game, he was in tears. Those moments are what I\’ll remember.”
The Steelers may just benefit from a \’good cop, back cop\’ routine between Tomlin and Haley. The Steelers have the potential to go to the next level, especially on offense. Expecting your players to give their best on the field and off of it shouldn\’t be a negative. While Roethlisberger is upset with the loss of Bruce Arians, he may find that Haley is a more hands-on coach who is not only more involved, but attentive to details that Arians seemed oblivious to. Like a good parent, Tomlin and Haley can be friendly with their players, but not always the best of friends. It\’s a business relationship, and players will need to get on-board, even if that means walking on eggshells until they get to know how Haley and Tomlin work together. Tomlin is impressed with Haley, and the fact that the Steelers organization was willing to bring him on as a coach speaks to the fact that Haley is effective.
Some of the best coaches have been ones who were often painted as volatile or who expected too much from players. Expectations for the Steelers have always been to be the highest caliber of team possible in the NFL. While their 12-4 record was a success statistically, there were times when the offense slumped during the 2011 season. Haley\’s intensity matched with Tomlin\’s calm resolve may be exactly what the Steelers need to see their overall performance improve.
Haley isn\’t the only coach in the NFL to have “enemies”. Mike Tomlin, Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll all had times in their careers where players openly spoke out about them. Frictionless relationships between players, assistants and coaches are nearly impossible.
The idea that Roethlisberger will pack up his cleats because of the change is ridiculous. Roethlisberger loved working with Arians, but that doesn\’t mean that after he and Haley sit down and seriously work out the plan for the Steelers\’ offensive future he will simply give up. Roethlisberger admitted, “It\’s going to be definitely different for us…we\’ll just have to see where we go from here.” As competitive as Roethlisberger is, he may just find Haley to have an ambition that matches his own, and the grit to get the job done right.
Haley and Tomlin both coach to their team\’s strengths. Haley allowed Kurt Warner to throw in Arizona and focused on the run in Kansas City. Rooney has hinted that he wants the offense to be more balanced, and Tomlin tried to do so with Arians to no avail. With the pairing of Tomlin and Haley, Roethlisberger may find that the plays coming in will highlight the strengths of all of the Steelers\’ offensive weapons. If Ben can grit his teeth and play on a bad ankle, if Rashard Mendenhall can get healthy and the “young money” receivers can learn a tweaked offense – well, who says that Tomlin and Haley can\’t strike Super Bowl gold once again in 2012. Time will tell.