Tom Bradley

Steelers Drop OC Randy Fichtner

On Thursday morning the team announced that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner will not have his contract renewed. The same goes for offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett and defensive backs coach Tom Bradley

I want to thank all three of the coaches for their commitment and dedication to the Pittsburgh Steelers,” said head coach Mike Tomlin in a statement. “They have all played integral roles in our success and I am appreciative of their efforts. Personally, Randy and I have been in Pittsburgh since I hired him in 2007, but our relationship began well before that. He has been a friend of mine for years and wish his family nothing but the best, and I am eternally grateful for our relationship both on and off the field.”

Fichtner worked his way up the Steelers’ ranks to serve as the team’s OC for the last three seasons. Things went well enough in his first year as Todd Haley‘s replacement, but the wheels came off in 2019 and 2020.The Steelers finished last in the NFL this year with 1,351 rushing yards. The previous season wasn’t much better — they placed 29th in 2019 with 1,447 yards.

Meanwhile, Fichtner and Ben Roethlisberger seemed to have a falling out. The Steelers waited a bit to make it official, but Fichtner’s dismissal doesn’t come as a huge surprise.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Rumors: Rodgers, Steelers, Bears

Tasked with adjusting to a new offense for the first time in his tenure as an NFL starter, Aaron Rodgers showed a bit of resistance to Matt LaFleur‘s new attack this week. At least, the Packers‘ future Hall of Fame quarterback does not want to be limited at the line of scrimmage. The first-year head coach’s system does not feature the same kind of pre-snap flexibility Rodgers previously enjoyed.

I don’t think you want me to turn off 11 years. There’s stuff that not many people in the league can do at the line,” Rodgers said during an interview with NFL.com’s Michael Silver (Twitter link). “That’s not a humble brag. That’s just a fact.

LaFleur said earlier this offseason the plan will be for Rodgers to either run the called play or switch to one alternative, and Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel anticipates some pushback on this. A detailed story this offseason examined Rodgers’ checkered history with Mike McCarthy, so the Packers are facing a crucial season — one in which their two-time MVP turn 36 — so getting their passer and head coach on the same page figures to be essential. While LaFleur said this week he does not want to minimize Rodgers’ penchant for off-script brilliance, it does appear the Packers have some sorting out to accomplish.

Here is the latest news out of the North divisions:

  • Although Teryl Austin‘s title with the Steelers is senior defensive assistant/secondary, the former Lions and Bengals DC will have another key game-day responsibility. Austin will be Mike Tomlin‘s unofficial replay-review coach. Austin said, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he will watch every play that generated a replay review from the 2018 season to prepare for his new role. Tomlin has won just two of his past 14 challenges, dating back to the beginning of the 2016 season, Dulac notes, adding the 13th-year coach is 0-for-12 on fourth-down challenges during his career.
  • As for Austin’s role instructing Pittsburgh’s secondary, the Steelers have deviated from a plan that meant for their new hire to coach one position and secondary coach Tom Bradley another. They are sharing responsibilities leading that unit, per Dulac.
  • Antonio Brown‘s exit leaves the Steelers perhaps the biggest void in the NFL, given his production as the team’s top wide receiver for most of this decade, and the Steelers may have to fill the JuJu Smith-Schuster sidekick role as a group. But among the James WashingtonDonte MoncriefDiontae Johnson contingent, Ben Roethlisberger (via Ray Fittipaldo of the Post-Gazette) singled out Moncrief as having the best offseason. Still just 25, Moncrief posted 668 yards for the Jaguars last season.
  • Another North-division surprise factor: large Bears tight end Bradley Sowell. The converted tackle’s switch to tight end appears legitimate, with Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com called the 6-foot-7, 312-pound veteran a legitimate threat for regular playing time — rather than this being a gimmicky or in-case-of-emergency position change. Sowell played tight end on 30 snaps last season but may be working toward a usage bump.

Coaching Rumors: Ravens, Lions, Steelers

Dean Pees‘ retirement from the Ravens didn’t last long as he became the Titans’ defensive coordinator less than a month later. The about-face took Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti by surprise.

I’m a little shocked,” Bisciotti said (via Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com). “He’s 68 years old. It’s hard to give it up, I guess.”

Bisciotti didn’t come right out and say it, but it sounds like Pees went to the Titans in part because they were willing to employ his son, Matt Pees, as a quality control coach.

I wish Dean all the luck,” Bisciotti said. “I understand he got his son in; I think that was a big point of his. We have a nepotism rule that may have prohibited that from happening in the last few years.”

Here’s more from the coaching world:

  • Following Carnell Lake‘s resignation from the position of Steelers secondary coach, Pittsburgh’s brass reached into the college ranks to fill the post. UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will leave Los Angeles to become the Steelers’ new DBs boss, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Bradley is a Pennsylvania native who spent 33 seasons on Joe Paterno’s staff — from 1979-2011. He coached the Bruins’ defense for the past three years. The 61-year-old Bradley will be on an NFL sideline for the first time come 2018.
  • In addition to formally announcing former Boston College defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni as their new defensive coordinator and keeping Jim Bob Cooter on as offensive coordinator, the Lions have also named several other members of new head coach Matt Patricia‘s staff. Chris White has been hired as Detroit’s tight ends coach, while former Miami head coach Al Golden will remain on staff as the club’s linebackers coach (he’d previously coached tight ends). Most of White’s experience has come at the collegiate level, but he did serve as the Vikings’ assistant special teams coach from 2009-12. The Lions also officially announced several other coaching hires that had been previously reported, including George Godsey (quarterbacks), Jeff Davidson (offensive line), and Brian Stewart (defensive backs), plus one that hadn’t in David Corrao (director of football research).
  • A 49ers defensive assistant for the past three years, former NFL DC Jason Tarver will become a coach outside of California for the first time in his 20-plus-year career. Tarver agreed to take the defensive coordinator job at Vanderbilt, per Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. The Raiders’ DC from 2012-14, Tarver enjoyed two stints with the 49ers — the first from 2001-10. He coached alongside current Vanderbilt HC Derek Mason in 2011 at Stanford.
  • Speaking of the Commodores, the SEC program also announced former Browns assistant Shawn Mennenga will oversee Vandy’s special teams units in 2018 (Twitter link). The Browns let Menneaga walk after he served seven seasons under previous ST coordinator Chris Tabor.

Sam Robinson contributed to this report.