Monday, January 30, 2012

The Bruce Arians Situation

Basically, Art Rooney II dropped the ball.

Originally, word came out that Bruce Arians had "retired" as offensive coordinator, which led many to assume that the Steelers were being nice and decided to let him retire in peace instead of firing him.  That was Friday, January 20th.  Over the weekend and into the early part of the next week, it came to light that he was told his contract wasn't going to be renewed, then it was announced that he was retiring.  By Friday, January 27th, Arians was officially back in play and the jig was officially up: The Steelers wanted to fire Arians, but they didn't. Within a couple of days, he was named offensive coordinator for the Colts.

I've never been the man's biggest fan and, on a number of occasions, I've called for his head.  But, the thing that I've been saying about coaching changes since the first time someone suggested firing Cowher still holds true.  Before you fire a guy, you need to make sure that there's someone better out there.  Before you fire him, you need to make sure that his replacement will get hired before he finds a new job.  Basically, you need to think about how quickly another team will grab him as soon as he's in play.  Arians only lasted a couple of days after it was discovered that he still wanted to coach.  With all the other veteran coordinators and former coaches that are offensive specialists that are out there, it speaks volumes for Arians that Chuck Pagano filled his coordinator position with Bruce as soon as his availability was confirmed.

In the week and change since Arians "retired" I've started to re-think my opinion on him.  There were issues in the red zone all season, with the Steelers finishing 12th in total yardage, but 21st in scoring offense.  His decision to throw the ball more than run it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but I have to say I agree with that decision.  The offensive line has struggled with run blocking since 2008 and it's been clear for a while that Ben Roethlisberger is the most talented player on offense.  Given the talent they have at receiver, why run the ball for three or 3.5 yards a carry when throwing gets you seven or 7.5 yards an attempt?  Struggles in the run game led to struggles in the red zone.  Going back to Super Bowl XLIII, it's been clear that the Steelers knew they couldn't get a yard when they absolutely needed one.

In 2011, they didn't finish well in the offensive rankings, but they also went 12-4.  It's true that they played a pot pourri of absolutely awful quarterbacks, but they also played a lot of solid defenses: Cleveland, Cincy, and Baltimore twice, Kansas City, San Francisco, and even the Seahawks and Jaguars.  With the level of defenses they played last season and given the fact that they had half an offensive line all year, it's actually pretty impressive that they finished as well as they did.

So, I think I judged Arians too harshly.  He's in a new city, with a new coach, getting a fresh start with one of the highest rated college quarterback prospects of the last 30 years.  I hope it works out for him.  Last night, my brother texted me to say: "Arians now coordinator for Colts.  I hope Luck throws for 50 TDs next season."  Not only are Steeler fans re-evaluating Arians as a coordinator, they're hoping that he succeeds in spite of the Steelers.

At this point, it's done and can't be undone.  The biggest issue now is that the team doesn't have an offensive coordinator.  And the heir apparent is currently recovering from serious injuries.  And Art Rooney II looks like an idiot.  Actually, that's a lot of big issues, but I think the fact that Rooney dropped the ball is the biggest one.

If he had called Arians into his office on the 20th and said, "Bruce, it's my team and I want to run the ball more.  You don't want to run the ball more.  That puts us at an impasse and it's been that way for a while.  You're fired.  Maintenance came in today and specially calibrated all the doors so that they wouldn't hit you on the ass on the way out.  Have a nice day."  If he had said that and announced it, everyone would be happy that Arians was gone, that the Rooneys had finally listened to their petitions for his removal, and that a new era was about to begin.  Instead, we're re-evaluating Arians, thinking it was a mistake to let him go, and we're hoping he does well in spite of the Steelers.

It's Rooney's team.  If he didn't want Arians to be involved anymore, he should have severed ties and been done with it.  He didn't, so the Steelers look dumb and the search for a replacement continues.

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