Hines Ward to Barstool Sports on Steelers current situation: ‘It is embarrassing’
Another former Pittsburgh Steelers player is speaking out about the franchise’s current start of affairs during Super Bowl week.
In an interview with Barstool Sports , Hines Ward was highly complimentary about “The Patriots Way” as New England prepares for its ninth Super Bowl appearance over the past 18 years – and he expressed dismay that the Steelers not only missed the playoffs but have a cloud of drama surrounding the team.
“It is embarrassing,” Ward said. “To be honest with you, that’s just not… the Steelers’ culture.”
The Steelers played 2018 without star running back Le’Veon Bell after Bell refused to play for the franchise tag $14.5 million and he and the team could not agree on a longterm deal. The season ended with four losses in six games, the finale played without star receiver Antonio Brown.
Coach Mike Tomlin, president Art Rooney II and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have expressed frustration that Brown has not communicated with them. Brown was part of a reported blow-up during a Week 17 practice, complained of a knee injury, skipped the Saturday walkthrough and had his agent call Tomlin on gameday morning to ask to play. He skipped individual and full-team exit meetings, and has reportedly (and subtly in public, on social media) requested a trade.
“I just think the culture in Pittsburgh has changed a little bit,” Ward said. “It’s more about the production on the field outweighing what the overall team aspect is. And you start to get individuals worrying about how many catches they get or how many this or how much they’re making this type of money, it sets up for disaster for the team.”
Ward was teammates for Brown over his final two seasons before retiring after 2011. Ward holds every relevant career receiving franchise record – but Brown surely will eclipse them if he stays with the Steelers and stays healthy.
As for whom to blame, Ward said, “It starts with Coach Tomlin.” Ward cited the way Tomlin handled Brown’s infamous Facebook Live incident when Brown recorded Tomlin’s postgame speech following a playoff win in Kansas City – “It should have been stopped right there,” Ward said of Brown’s behavior.
But Ward cited Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s handling of Malcolm Butler at last year’s Super Bowl. Butler, the team’s starting cornerback, was benched for reasons that still aren’t clear.
“That’s the Patriots Way,” Ward said. “No one guy is bigger than the team.
“You have to understand that you’re not bigger than the team,” Ward said later. “That’s the difference, that’s why the Patriots year-in and year-out are always (in Super Bowl contention), because the players buy into coach Belichick.”
Just in case Ward didn’t speak to his Boston-based outlet enough, he walked back his long-held contention that the Patriots cheated in beating the Steelers in AFC championship games after the 2001 and 2004 seasons.
New England was sanctioned by the league for illegally recording opponents’ defensive signals.
“I jumped off the bandwagon,” Ward said of those who refuse to legitimize New England’s success. “I’ve got nothing but respect for what the Patriots have done and Tom Brady.
“Look at Ben Roethlisberger, we have all this talent and whatever and… we’re missing the playoffs.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.