Mike Tomlin

Steelers Likely To Retain OC Matt Canada

While the search for a new quarterback, and, eventually general manager, are the dominant storylines in Pittsburgh for this offseason, news has come out with significant implications for the team’s offense. In his end-of-season press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin stated that offensive coordinator Matt Canada will likely return in 2022. 

When asked about the offense’s struggles this season, Tomlin expressed confidence in Canada, saying “I’m optimistic about Matt and what he’s capable of doing” (Twitter link via NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala). While he added, “I acknowledge we took a step back [on offense]. There’s some obvious tangible reasons why that occurred”, along with an intention to get better on that side of the ball, he is comfortable with giving Canada a second season at the helm.

Mark Kaboly of the Athletic notes that Canada took over as OC this year knowing the team’s emphasis had been placed on an improved running game. With major changes to the playbook, a vastly different offensive line and the drafting of Najee Harris, the team saw a minor uptick in production on the ground. Still, the Steelers ranked 29th in the league with an average of only 93 rushing yards per game.

As for the other elements of the offense, a notable regression took place across the board. The team’s averages in at least 10 major categories saw declines of varying degrees compared to the 2020 campaign. Perhaps the most significant one was the drop in points per game from 26 down to 20.2 – something which contributed to a total of 16 fewer offensive touchdowns being scored than last year, despite there being a 17th game this season.

The unit’s performance in the playoff loss to the Chiefs, which is widely expected to end up being QB Ben Roethlisberger‘s final NFL game, proved the need for drastic improvement going forward. That fact wasn’t lost on Tomlin, who also said, “I am not acknowledging satisfaction with any component of what we did”. He still used the word “attractive”, though, to describe the 50-year-old’s scheme, which he demonstrated in a successful college coaching career and helped him earn the OC role after one season serving as the Steelers’ QB coach.

Regardless of who the starting quarterback is for the Steelers in 2022, then, they will at least have an offensive coordinator with a year of experience and a vote of confidence working with them.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers HC Mike Tomlin Denies NCAA Speculation

Despite some speculation from talking heads that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin could leave Pittsburgh for the NCAA, the head coach made it abundantly clear today that he has no interest in pivoting to college football.

“Hey guys, I don’t have time for that speculation,” Tomlin said when asked about the rumblings. “That’s a joke to me. I have one of the best jobs in all professional sports. Why would I have any interests in coaching college football? That will be the last time I address that and not only today but moving forward. Never say never — but never. OK? Anybody else have any questions about college jobs? There is not a booster with a big enough blank check.”

Mark Kaboly of The Athletic provides a great explanation of how we even got to this point. A handful of pundits had previously connected Tomlin to jobs at USC and LSU, and Kaboly opines that the whole story was a “media creation.”

As Kaboly writes, Tomlin’s connection to neither the USC job nor the LSU job made a whole lot of sense. He has no connection to the schools, he’d be taking a proverbial step back in terms of job status, and the salary improvement would be insignificant. However, even if there was no truth to the “rumors,” those whispers got loud enough to warrant a question at a press conference.

Tomlin has spent 14 years in Pittsburgh, making nine playoffs and winning one Super Bowl.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Give Mike Tomlin Extension

After guiding the Steelers back to the playoffs, Mike Tomlin received another extension. The 15th-year head coach agreed to terms on a three-year deal Tuesday, one that ties him to the team through the 2024 season. This marks Tomlin’s sixth Steelers extension and his first three-year re-up since 2012.

Tomlin’s most recent contract ran through 2021. The Steelers, who famously have only had three head coaches since 1969, will continue their run of stability into the mid-2020s. Tomlin’s new deal comes shortly after the Steelers and longtime GM Kevin Colbert agreed to terms on another extension. Colbert’s new contract runs through 2022.

The Steelers managed an 8-8 record in 2019, doing so despite Antonio Brown‘s messy departure and Ben Roethlisberger‘s early-season elbow injury. They improved upon that mark last year, starting 11-0 and going 12-4. The Steelers led the NFL in sacks for a fourth straight season, powering the team back to the postseason. While the team endured another disappointing playoff exit, Tomlin has continually placed the Steelers in the NFL’s upper echelon. His next challenge may be daunting as well.

Pittsburgh has lost a few starters and has yet to formulate a true post-Big Ben plan, redoing their 18th-year quarterback’s contract ahead of his age-39 season. Roethlisberger struggled down the stretch and committed five turnovers in the wild-card loss to the Browns. The team ranked last in rushing and is retooling its offensive line, with multiple starters — including perennial Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey — moving on. Tomlin will also have a new offensive coordinator in 2021. The Steelers replaced Randy Fichtner with Matt Canada.

Tomlin’s new deal will allow him to coach into his 50s, should he choose to do so. He will match Bill Cowher this season, by coaching the Steelers for 15 years. While Tomlin has a ways to go to match Chuck Noll‘s 23-season tenure, he remains on solid ground.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Mike Tomlin Has COVID-19

Unfortunate news to pass along, as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been diagnosed with COVID-19, sources told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link).

Needless to say, Tomlin is now away from the facility as the team gets ready for free agency and draft prep. It sounds like there may have been something of an outbreak on the staff, as Rapoport notes that the team confirmed numerous personnel execs and coaches were sent home after multiple positive tests came up.

One of those positives was Tomlin, who despite having coached Pittsburgh for the past 14 seasons is still on the younger side of NFL coaches at 48. The pandemic wreaked havoc on the league all season, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change in the offseason even without games being played.

With almost everything related to the draft and free agency virtual these days anyway, this hopefully shouldn’t hinder the Steelers’ process too much. All of us here at PFR wish Tomlin a full and speedy recovery.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Kevin Colbert On Contract Situation, Mike Tomlin Status

Coming off an upset playoff loss, the Steelers have one of the NFL’s most difficult cap situations to navigate. Ben Roethlisberger‘s status is uncertain, and the team faces the prospect of losing several longtime starters in free agency.

GM Kevin Colbert is tasked with leading the franchise out of this predicament, but his status is not locked in for the 2021 season. With the Steelers since 2000, the Pittsburgh native’s contract expires in May. The Steelers gave Colbert an extension by this point in the 2020 offseason, having signed him to a one-year deal on Feb. 5, 2020.

Colbert did not provide assurances he will be back with the Steelers in 2021, though he indicated that discussion with ownership would come.

Quite honestly, that’s all I deserve because we have to continue to prove ourselves year after year,” Colbert said of his lack of a long-term contract, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Joe Rutter. “We didn’t do good enough. That is the evaluation I’m making on myself. Art (Rooney II) and I will discuss it at the appropriate time.”

The Steelers hired Colbert after he spent every 1990s season with the Lions. Rumblings of Lions interest in rehiring the 64-year-old GM emerged early this offseason, but nothing developed on that front. The Lions agreed to terms with former Rams college scouting director Brad Holmes to succeed Bob Quinn.

Pittsburgh resides in an unusual place, having overtaken Baltimore in the AFC North but seeing its season end after a disastrous wild-card outing against Cleveland. The Steelers have endured upset losses in their past two playoff games, with the loss to the Jaguars three years ago ending a 13-3 season. And they turned an 11-0 record into a 12-4 finish this past season. The Steelers are more than $30MM over the projected $180MM cap, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, Mike Hilton and James Conner are free agents. Maurkice Pouncey retired last week.

Coach can only do so much with the players he’s given,” Colbert said of the state of the team’s Mike Tomlin-led roster. “I can provide him with what I think are the right fits. When it works, great. When it doesn’t, we both know we weren’t good enough.”

Tomlin is signed through the 2021 season, and the Steelers have a team option on their coach for the ’22 season. Tomlin has coached the Steelers for 14 seasons. He is one season away from matching Bill Cowher and becoming the third straight Steelers coach to enjoy a 15-year tenure. Tomlin, Cowher and Chuck Noll have been the franchise’s only coaches since 1969.

The Steelers have been to the playoffs eight times under Tomlin, winning Super Bowl XLIII and losing in Super Bowl XLV. But they have only advanced to the AFC championship game once in the past 10 seasons, marking a downturn for the six-time Super Bowl-winning franchise.

Mike Tomlin has done so much more good in this league than not good,” Colbert said. “Mike is an excellent NFL head coach. He’s won a Super Bowl. He’s been to two. Have we had the success we wanted to have recently? No, that’s a collective ‘we.’ We’ll just continue to work to make sure (a downward trend) doesn’t happen.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching Notes: Steelers, Cowboys, Giants

The Steelers made a key staff change last week, promoting Matt Canada to replace offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. But the team will not part ways with DC Keith Butler. The longtime Pittsburgh coordinator agreed to terms on a one-year extension Wednesday, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter). Butler has overseen Pittsburgh’s defense since the franchise split with Dick LeBeau in 2015, and while Butler’s units as a whole have not measured up to his predecessor’s Super Bowl-winning crews, the Steelers have led the NFL in sacks in each of the past four seasons and have ranked in the top three in DVOA in each of the past two.

Here is the latest out on the Pittsburgh staff and other coaching groups around the league:

  • Although the Steelers are coming off another home playoff defeat, Mike Tomlin does not appear to have moved toward a hot seat. Steelers ownership is not believed to have any desire to move away from Tomlin, per The Athletic’s Ed Bouchette (subscription required). Tomlin had the Steelers at 11-0 this season and managed to have last year’s largely Ben Roethlisberger-less team at 8-8, leading to Coach of the Year consideration in both cases. However, the Steelers lost five of their final six games this year and have lost home playoff games three times since 2014. Tomlin is signed through the 2021 season.
  • The Giants became the second team in two years to call on Dave DeGuglielmo as a late replacement as an offensive line coach, but the arrangement looks to have been temporary. Like the Dolphins last year, the Giants will not look to retain DeGuglielmo for a second season. They are searching for a new O-line coach, Dan Duggan of The Athletic tweets. DeGuglielmo came to New York on an interim basis to replace Marc Colombo, whom Joe Judge fired this season.
  • The Panthers will turn to a legacy name to help out their offensive line. Carolina intends to hire Tony Sparano Jr. as assistant O-line coach, according to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports (on Twitter). The son of the late Tony Sparano, Sparano Jr. worked as the Jaguars’ assistant O-line coach for the past four seasons. Despite being 34, the second-generation coach has worked in the NFL since 2011.
  • Jim Harbaugh will poach one of his brother’s assistants. Ravens linebackers coach Mike MacDonald will become Michigan’s co-defensive coordinator, with Yahoo.com’s Pete Thamel reporting former Cowboys defensive backs coach Maurice Linguist will move to Ann Arbor, Mich., to share in that responsibility (Twitter link). Macdonald, 33, was with the Ravens for seven seasons — the past three as linebackers coach. Linguist has spent much of his career in the college ranks but was on Nolan’s staff in Dallas this season.
  • Another of Quinn’s Cowboys staffers became known Wednesday. The Cowboys hired Aden Durde as defensive line coach. Durde will follow Quinn from Atlanta, where he was most recently the Falcons’ outside linebackers coach. Durde, who spent time with the Cowboys as part of the Minority Fellowship Program from 2014-15, will join Joe Whitt Jr. in following Quinn from Atlanta to Dallas.
  • Arthur Smith‘s first Falcons staff will not include offensive line coach Chris Morgan, according to SI.com’s Albert Breer (on Twitter). Morgan worked with the Falcons for six years, initially serving under OC Kyle Shanahan. Given that offensive scheme’s presence in a few NFL cities, Morgan profiles as an interesting coaching free agent.

AFC Notes: Tomlin, Big Ben, Ravens, Texans

The Steelers announced Tuesday that Mason Rudolph will start in Week 17 against the Browns as Ben Roethlisberger rests up for the playoffs, but that isn’t the only quarterback question lingering over the franchise. Big Ben’s play fell off dramatically after the early part of the season, which has understandably led to some questions about the 38-year-old’s future. We heard just last week that Roethlisberger was planning on returning for 2021, the final year of his contract, but it might not be entirely up to him. Interestingly, head coach Mike Tomlin “will play a critical role in however Pittsburgh moves forward” at quarterback, sources told Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has indicated he could be headed for retirement soon, potentially giving Tomlin even more power here. La Canfora writes that the team is putting off these questions to the offseason, but while he cautions the team isn’t talking too much about Roethlisberger’s decline internally, it sounds like a lot of it will come down to what Tomlin wants to do. Obviously Tomlin and Big Ben have a close bond, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll immediately toss him aside, but “he will have a significant voice in the composition of the quarterback room in 2021,” La Canfora writes. Assuming Roethlisberger comes back, that could mean that Tomlin has more of a direct role in acquiring a potential successor. The 25-year-old Rudolph was serviceable at times last year, but also struggled mightily at others. He hasn’t shown much to inspire confidence that he can be a franchise quarterback. It’ll be a very interesting offseason in Pittsburgh.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • The Ravens dealt with a brutal COVID-19 outbreak in the middle of their season, and the league has determined they were partially at fault. The NFL has slapped Baltimore with a $250K fine for protocol violations, as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk writes, although they were not docked a draft pick like the Saints were. New Orleans lost a seventh-rounder, Las Vegas forfeited a sixth-rounder, and the Titans were fined $350K, so this is actually on the lighter side of COVID punishments. In a separate piece, Florio writes that strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders was the previously unnamed coach who was suspended for his role in the outbreak. Saunders is now back in the building with his job back after serving a suspension of about a month.
  • The Texans have a lot of work to do this offseason, most notably finding a new coach and GM after the firing of Bill O’Brien. Houston owner Cal McNair reportedly wants Deshaun Watson‘s input on who the next coach will be, but the team apparently isn’t in any rush to make a hire. That’s because the Texans do not intend to take advantage of the new NFL rule that would allow them to interview head coaching candidates currently on staff with other teams before the season ends, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports. Instead Houston is sticking to their plan of hiring a GM before a coach. They have however been interviewing candidates not currently with a team, including Marvin Lewis and Jim Caldwell recently. There have been murmurs that Watson would like Eric Bieniemy, who obviously is still currently employed by the Chiefs, so that interview won’t be happening immediately.

Latest On Steelers, Ravens

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin canceled Friday’s practice, per a club announcement. The Steelers are currently slated to face the Ravens on Sunday afternoon, but they don’t have much confidence in the game actually taking place. 

Four Ravens players tested positive for COVID-19 on Thanksgiving, including star quarterback Lamar Jackson. Before that, the Ravens were forced to shelve nose tackle Brandon Williams, defensive end Calais Campbell, and running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins on the reserve list. Other Ravens staffers were also kept away from the facility, leaving the NFL to bump Steelers-Ravens from Thursday night to early Sunday afternoon. All in all, the Ravens have placed ten players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including eight starters.

At this stage, it would be a surprise to see the two teams square off on Sunday. The league may compel the Ravens to forfeit the game, which would declare the Steelers as the winner by a score of 2-0. And, per the terms of the NFL’s agreement with the NFLPA, the teams would not be required to pay its players for a forfeited contest.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Bears, Packers, Tomlin, Browns

The Bears became the latest team to work out Jamon Brown, with SI.com’s Albert Breer tweeting the guard was in Chicago for an audition. The free agent guard, a Falcons cut last month, has already worked out for the 49ers. Brown was a full-time Rams starter in 2017, but a 2018 suspension derailed his momentum. The Rams waived him shortly after he returned from that ban, but he ended the ’18 season as a Giants first-stringer. The Bears are returning four starters from last season and have been trying ex-Seahawks right tackle Germain Ifedi at guard.

Here is the latest from the North divisions:

  • The Steelers will let Mike Tomlin enter a contract year. Signed through 2021, Tomlin will not be extended this year, Art Rooney II said (via The Athletic’s Ed Bouchette, subscription required). The Steelers gave Tomlin his most recent extension last July, and he managed an eight-win season despite the largely Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers ranking 32nd in offensive DVOA. Rooney said he plans to address the contracts of Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert, who just signed a one-year extension, in 2021.
  • One of the league’s healthiest teams last season, the Packers may be down a starter in Week 1. Billy Turner suffered a knee injury during a scrimmage and is uncertain for Green Bay’s opener, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com notes. Turner played guard for the Packers last season but is competing with free agency addition Ricky Wagner at right tackle this year. Lane Taylor, who missed all of last season, is expected to play right guard opposite emerging talent Elgton Jenkins on the left side.
  • For the second time in three weeks, the Browns brought in Cody Parkey for a visit. The veteran was part of a kicker group to work out for the Browns in August, though it was reported at the time the team was organizing a COVID-related emergency kicker list. Parkey briefly kicked for the Titans last season.
  • Bears training camp coaching intern Henry Burris will stay on the team’s staff all season, Matt Nagy announced. Known mostly for his 17-season CFL run, Burris also was a Bears quarterback for a short time in the early 2000s. This will be his first NFL coaching gig.
  • Vikings linebacker Cameron Smith underwent successful open-heart surgery recently, according to the Associated Press. Mike Zimmer said the second-year defender, who landed on Minnesota’s IR list, will remain in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future to recover.

North Notes: Ravens, Amos, Steelers

Rumors of the Ravens becoming the latest team to execute a tag-and-trade transaction have not surfaced in months, and Matt Judon is not expecting to be dealt. The franchise-tagged outside linebacker signed his tender Thursday night and expects to be with the Ravens this season, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Although the Ravens acquired All-Pro defensive lineman Calais Campbell, they did not make a big move at outside linebacker this offseason. They will need their top 2019 edge defender back to anchor their pass rush.

Here is the latest from the North divisions, continuing first with more news out of Baltimore:

  • John Harbaugh said (via Childs Walker of the Baltimore Sun) cornerback Jimmy Smith could see some time at safety. The veteran cornerback re-signed earlier this year and is set to play a 10th season in Baltimore. The Ravens have Earl Thomas and the recently extended Chuck Clark at safety, so it will be interesting to see how they deploy Smith this season.
  • The pectoral injury Adrian Amos battled in the playoffs did not require surgery, and the Packers safety said he is back to 100%, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, on Twitter. Amos played all but four of Green Bay’s defensive snaps during the regular season but was unable to finish the NFC championship game.
  • Two of the league’s most influential decision-makers were against the fourth-and-15 proposal, which the NFL tabled Thursday. Both Steelers owner Art Rooney II and HC Mike Tomlin, the latter a member of the competition committee, came out against the proposal — one that gained steam from last year to the point where ownership was split on it. “We’re open to thinking, ‘Is there something we can do with the kickoff in more of a traditional setting that might allow onside kicks a better chance of happening? But this one was too much of a gimmick,” Rooney said, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “(Tomlin) and I didn’t like the idea.” Rooney said interest remains in finding an alternative to the current onside kick setup, which has hindered comeback efforts since a recent rule change prevented kicking-team players from running starts prior to the kick.