Todd Haley Knows You Can\’t Script Improvisation

By Matthew Marczi

The fire and bluster that incoming offensive coordinator Todd Haley was supposed to be bringing to the Pittsburgh Steelers was a major storyline within the national media a season ago. Haley was supposed to be yelling at Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines every time he broke the pocket, regardless of whether or not the play was ultimately successful.

As it turns out, based on several interviews given by the players—and Haley himself—there was an inkling of truth to the storyline that Haley did not have the greatest rapport with his offensive unit.

Of course, the truth still fell well short of the fiction, but it is interesting to hear the players speaking about how much better the relationship with their offensive coordinator is entering the second season of the new offense.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the angst within the locker room between the offense and Haley was influenced by the team’s poor performance during the year, which, obviously, finished with an 8-8 record in 2012. Still, as the season progressed, so too did Haley’s relationship with his players.

As he told 93.7 The Fan recently, as the year went on, “the players were getting more comfortable”. He added, “I just think that comes with time, and there’s no way to really expedite that when there are new parties involved”.

Many of the things speculated about in the media regarding Haley have indeed turned out to be false. The most absurd argument, however, was that Roethlisberger’s improvisation would act as a char cloth to ignite Todd Haley’s temper.

Because networks repeatedly aired clips of Haley shouting at former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, many just assumed that that was simply Todd Haley: an angry guy who refuses to tolerate players not going by the script. But Ben Roethlisberger is not Matt Cassel, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are not the Kansas City Chiefs.

Every team and every player has different strengths and weaknesses, and a good coach knows how and when to get up and down on a player. Haley understands the difference between a Ben Roethlisberger and a Matt Cassel. And Haley is fine with Roethlisberger making his own plays.

After all, why wouldn’t he be? Simply because he didn’t draw it up on paper that way? Haley is a smart man, and he knows that one of Roethlisberger’s greatest assets is his ability to improvise on the fly under duress. He also understands that you can’t script improvisation.

Haley is a results-oriented guy. He understands that a quarterback improvising the team to a win reflects better on an offensive coordinator than a quarterback failing precisely the way it is drawn up. As long as Roethlisberger gets results, Haley is in favor of his maverick playing style, and he knows not to take it for granted.

I’d take an elite quarterback any day of the week. I’ve been in places where I haven’t had one. I’ve been lucky enough to have been with a couple, but Ben is at the top of the list and I think there are even better things to come. It’s one of the unique qualities he has that helps make him great—I think he’s great as a pure drop-back passer, but at the same time, when things break down, I don’t know if there’s anybody better at keeping plays alive and making big plays when you need it most.

Now that the offense as a whole seems to be on the same page and everybody is healthy, year two of the Todd Haley offense should go much more smoothly than year one, especially if Roethlisberger can stay upright for 16 games. Haley’s job is simply to keep Ben healthy, and to keep him sharp.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • VaDave

    Another fine article Matt. After watching the 2011 and 2012 seasons more than a few times, I got to tell you, Haley has brought a lot of improvement to the system. There is still a good bit of BA left in it, but he has made it much more consistent.
    I’m really excited to see how the new ZBS is going to open up the rushing lanes. When you look at the last couple of games from last season, when we were down to our last offensive linemen, Both Cinci and the Browns crammed a lot of guys in the box and blitzed like crazy. If they try that this year, the won’t for long.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Indeed, seeing the outside zone implemented may be the single biggest thing I’m looking forward to seeing this year. It’s a system I’ve always admired, and with the right personnel it could truly be vicious. Of course it will only be but a portion of the playbook, but that variety should really open up the offense’s repertoire by keeping the defense guessing. Thankfully reports on Ramon Foster have been good so far with respect to his ability to pull off the zone.

    Of course, I can’t wait to see some of it myself next Saturday.

  • Brendon Glad

    I’m a Haley OC guy. Not a HC…but really like him as an OC. Feel like I’m in the minority, but that’s the spice of life.
    The key thing with me is that he soothed my single-most OC pet-peeve in all my years as a fan. I HATED the nearly automatic running play on first and goal from the 5+ yard line. If it doesn’t score, then the yards gained merely tighten the space for the subsequent 2 passes to follow. So I got GREAT pleasure in watching the 10-and-in offense play better…and in my mind, a lot of it had to do with Haley throwing the ball on first and goal far more than many of the previous OC’s did.
    Has he won a SB? No. So several of them have the trump cards. But last year was a joke (someone needed to burn a little sage at the Immaculate Reception Shrine or something). Had little to do with Haley. It was all about the injury report.
    I still think they were the best team in the league. If they have that many injuries (…no…even 75%) on both sides of the ball THIS YEAR…then I am going to find some bigger household items to destroy.

    I predict Ben will have 1 or 2nd best statistical season of his career. (If he plays 14 to 16 games). And unlike years past, I think it actually will translate to wins. (He has a weird stat thing going where 2 of his 3 worst stat seasons ended in SB trophies…and his best years were lesser in victories)…I really think that is a coincidence. It should get broken this year.

  • Dan

    In terms of efficiency, Roethlisberger’s three worst seasons were 2006, 2008 and 2011. In every other season, his passer rating was in the high 90’s or the 100’s.

    His 2005 season was definitely his worst in terms of volume statistics, but that’s because he missed four games between two knee injuries, and Bill Cowher was still keeping a lid on the passing game.