Steelers begin search for Arians’ replacement
Let the search for Ben Roethlisberger’s next mentor begin.
Bruce Arians, 59, the Steelers’ offensive coordinator the past five seasons, retired Friday, throwing uncertainty into an offensive unit that is considered to have underachieved much of this past season.
Despite having one of the top quarterbacks in the league and a young, up-and-coming receiving corps, the Steelers averaged fewer than three touchdowns per game this season and ranked among the league’s bottom third in offensive output. Their struggles were magnified against top defenses and could not carry the team past the wild-card round of the playoffs.
“I’m grateful to Bruce for his contributions and wish him nothing but the best in retirement,” said coach Mike Tomlin in a statement. “I appreciate his efforts over the past five years for helping to lead our offense.”
In choosing a new coordinator, the Steelers are likely to consider how a new offensive architect will handle Roethlisberger. The quarterback often vocally praised and supported Arians, whom he considered a friend. Arians, it has been argued, became too close to Ben and relied too heavily on Roethlisberger’s arm rather than build a reliable ground game — something Steelers president Art Rooney II asked Tomlin to resurrect a few seasons ago.
Arians could not be reached for comment yesterday. Tomlin’s was the only statement released by the Steelers.
The Steelers likely will interview quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner, partly because the organization historically has promoted from within. Arizona coach Ken Wisenhunt and Arians were Steelers position coaches before being elevated to offensive coordinator.
This time, though, the Steelers could hire an outsider, such as former Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell, Green Bay offensive coordinator Tom Clements and former Kansas City coach Todd Haley.
Whoever the Steelers choose, he will inherit an inconsistent and injury-plagued offensive line that allowed 42 sacks — 40 against its $102 million franchise quarterback. That tied for ninth most in the league, and only two other quarterbacks were sacked more often than Roethlisberger. The Steelers allowed 43 sacks in 2010 — eighth most in the league.
Questions also surround the running game. The Steelers averaged about 119 yards per game — good for 14th in the league — but there is uncertainty about how effective starter Rashard Mendenhall will be after knee surgery.
What’s more, all three backup quarterbacks are unrestricted free agents. The Steelers yesterday signed former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith but still could be in the market for a reliable backup.
Steelers coaches, including Tomlin, will be at the Senior Bowl in Alabama next week scouting players for the 2012 NFL Draft. The Senior Bowl is also recognized among coaches as an unofficial job fair, and Tomlin could search for Arians’ replacement there.
Despite myriad injuries this season, the Steelers posted a 12-4 record and were 12th in the NFL in total offense (372.3 yards per game). They failed, however, to consistently score touchdowns, tying for 21st in scoring (20.3 points per game).
“Every year we set out to win the Super Bowl, and every year we don’t it’s a disappointment,” tight end Heath Miller said. “We have to get better next year.”
Tomlin had said he expected Arians and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to return next season. However, on Tuesday, Rooney suggested senior-level assistant coaches could retire and pinpointed the offense’s inconsistency as something that needed improving during the offseason.
Arians became offensive coordinator when Whisenhunt took the head coaching job at Arizona. He had spent three seasons as the team’s receivers coach. Under Arians as offensive coordinator, the Steelers won a Super Bowl and appeared in another.
Arians, though, couldn’t distance himself from constant criticism, particularly this season. Despite having two of the league’s best deep threats in Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, the offense stalled against some of the league’s best defenses. The Steelers scored a combined 20 points in road losses to playoff qualifiers Baltimore (35-7), Houston (17-10) and San Francisco (20-3).
Here are some possible candidates the Steelers likely will consider for their offensive coordinator opening:
Randy Fichtner: Team’s quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator at Memphis before joining Steelers in 2007.
Jim Caldwell: Fired Indianapolis coach, led Colts to Super Bowl two years ago
Tom Clements: Once considered a candidate for Penn State job, might become offensive coordinator in Green Bay if Joe Philbin lands Miami head job.
Todd Haley: Former Kansas City head coach who is considering a move back to Arizona, son of former Steelers player personnel director Dick Haley.