Thursday, March 2, 2017

Steelers Nation In Distress

I've been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan for about 40 years. However, I've never seen the team in as big of a mess as it is now. Even the down years of the '80s, when they only reached the playoffs 4 of 10 seasons and only advanced to the conference championship once, were nothing compared to the undisciplined, poorly coached football team that currently calls Heinz Field home. And yes, I know they won the AFC North, made the playoffs, and reached the AFC Championship this year. However, Steelers Nation is in distress like I've never seen before.

The Mike Tomlin Era has been a debacle. His teams have consistently played down to inferior opponents. For example:
  • In 2012, the Steelers missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record losing 4 games to teams with losing records - Oakland (4-12), Tennessee (6-10), Cleveland (5-11), and San Diego (7-9). They should have worn those 4 games. If they had, they would have been in the playoffs with a 12-4 record.
  • In 2013, the Steelers missed the playoffs again with an 8-8 record losing 3 games to teams with losing records - Tennessee (7-9), Minnesota (5-10-1), and again to Oakland (4-12). Once again, they should have won those games, and if they had, they're in the playoffs. Their record would have been 11-5.
Those 7 losses, and missing the playoffs because of them, were inexcusable. In the NFL, you have to win the games you're supposed to. Oftentimes, the Steelers even struggle in the games they win against lower echelon teams. Furthermore, from 2011 to 2015, the Steelers won ONE playoff game - ONE - never advancing past the divisional round of the playoffs during that 5-year period. If Tomlin had been head coach anywhere else in the NFL, he would have been fired. Now, the team has been stopped short of a 6th Super Bowl title by the Patriots - again. While I'm not happy about any of this, I'm more troubled by a much BIGGER underlying problem - a lack of discipline, and I'm offering up 5 examples to make my point. This lack of discipline has led to consistent underachievement on the field by Tomlin's teams.

Photo Credit - (here)
First - Martavis Bryant. The kid is talented - a 2014 4th round draft pick out of Clemson. In his rookie season, he showed flashes of brilliance catching 8 TD passes in just 10 games played. He was then suspended for the first 4 games of the 2015 season for violating the NFL substance abuse policy. When he returned, he once again showed a ton of God-given talent, but then he gets busted again and suspended for the entire 2016 season.

Once can be written off to a "mistake" or immaturity. Twice, when you know that the NFL is gonna be watching you more closely, and the consequence for a 2nd offense is full-year suspension, is a problem. You're supposed to be a professional, but now you've become a distraction to your football team, because all the press wants to talk about going into the 2016 season is, "How is the loss of Bryant going to affect the Steelers' offense?" I'm all for giving someone a 2nd chance, which the Steelers did, but it's time to cut him loose.

Second, diva #1 - Le'Veon Bell. Same problem. He got busted for marijuana possession and DUI in 2015 and was suspended for 4 games by the NFL. He was actually driving while high putting innocent people in danger!! Suspension was ultimately reduced to 3 games. If I remember correctly, the incident happened the day before a pre-season game. So, when Bell's mind should have been on football, he was smoking weed and endangering the public. Seriously!?!

Think he learned his lesson? Think again. Bell was then suspended for the first 3 games of the 2016 season for a 2nd violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. This time he failed to show up for a drug test, which under the league policy counts as a failed test. So, now 2 years in a row he's missed time early in the season for foolishness and un-professionalism, to put it mildly. He can't be counted on, and if I'm a teammate, I've had enough.

Check out his Facebook page sometime. Seems he's always got something to say about a sportswriter, because they've criticized him or not ranked him as high as he thinks he should be. He's staying busy with his rap / hip-hop recording gig, when he should really stick to football. With Bell, it seems it always, "Look at me." It would be great if he could learn some discipline, stop being a distraction, and actually play a full 16-game season.

Bell now wants a big contract extension, but if I was the one with the checkbook, I'd put him on the trade block instead, and see what kinda offers I'd get. There's sure to be some running back-needy team that would offer at least a 2nd, and likely a 1st, round pick for him. Hello Cleveland Browns (cough, cough). Heck, the Steelers might even get multiple picks out of the deal. 

Third, diva #2 - "Dancing with the Stars" / Business is Boomin'/ Ronald Ocean / Antonio Brown (or whatever name he's going by today). He's all about, "Hey look at me", too, as evidenced by his recent announcement of his alter ego "Ronald Ocean". Really?!? His Facebook live-streaming video debacle showing Coach Tomlin disrespecting the New England Patriots, with profanity and insults, showed how undisciplined this team is. Analysts, team members, and others can claim all they want that it did not affect the outcome of the New England game, but it did. Football is a game of emotion just as much as it is a game of physicality and preparation. Thanks to Brown, the Patriots used Tomlin's now public, disrespectful insults for additional motivation.
AFC Championship Game logo
AFC Championship Game logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you couple that video with the "obviously" non-existent gameplan the coaching staff put together, it led to the perfect storm in the AFC Championship game. A butt-kicking was coming. The only question was how bad it would be.

The Steelers have just given Brown a monstrous contract, approximately $70 Million, making him the highest paid receiver in the NFL. So, instead of punishing him for the aforementioned video, they've rewarded and enabled him. So, I predict that Brown's cocky, "it's all about me behavior" will only get worse. He will become an even bigger distraction to the team.

Honestly, if I were in charge, I would have put Brown on the trade block, too. Just like with Bell, Brown would be certain to bring at least a 2nd round draft pick and likely a 1st rounder from some wide receiver needy team. However, no such trade was even considered, according to a recent article (here), even though the Steelers have received inquiries from several teams as to Brown's availability. In fact, they haven't just responded "no" to the inquiries - they've responded, "hell no!" That sounds like they've cut the conversations off before hearing what interested teams were offering. If so, that's bad business. You should always at least listen to offers, because some team might make an "offer you can't refuse".

Besides the early round draft picks the Steelers would receive from trading Bell and Brown, there is another positive to dumping the divas. It would send a message throughout the locker room that no one is more important than the team, and that there is no "I" in team. That's a message this team needs to hear, and they need to hear it LOUDLY right now. The dividends would be HUGE. 

Fourth, Ben Roethlisberger. I've actually been surprised by him lately. It seems every time he does an interview, he's calling out one or more of his teammates and criticizing them. The young wide receivers seem to take the brunt of it, too. He needs to stop. I singled Ben out, but others have done it, too. If you have a problem with one of your teammates, handle it internally. Keep it in the locker room. It doesn't need to be in the papers, on the internet, or on social media. Handle it man to man. Stop being a drama queen. Stop being a distraction. Shut up and just play football. If Tomlin were really a leader, he would have already nipped this in the bud.

Fifth, the coaching staff is horrible. Play calling is horrible. Game planning is terrible, perhaps even non-existent. Anyone that has followed football for any length of time knows that you don't play zone defense against Tom Brady, as the Steelers did in the AFC Championship. He will cut you to pieces if you do. You beat Tom Brady by playing man on his receivers and roughing them up at the line of scrimmage. Ya gotta rough up Brady, too. You have to get pressure on him consistently throughout the game. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons what happens if you don't. You don't necessarily have to sack him, but you have to harass him, hit him some, force him out of the pocket and off "his spot". Make him throw the ball before he wants to. Next, you also have to run the football to work the clock to keep Brady on the sideline. Once again - ask the Atlanta Falcons what happens if you don't. He can't chew up your secondary if he's not on the field! However, their inability to actually "coach" is not the coaching staff's biggest problem - they have their own discipline problems, too. Allow me to explain.

Let's start with Joey Porter, outside linebackers coach. In 2016, he violated NFL rules by being on the field during an injury timeout in a playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals. His presence led to a scuffle. No surprise there, as scuffles seem to "find" Porter. During the week leading up to this year's playoff game against the Chiefs in Kansas City, he was arrested due to an altercation at a Pittsburgh night club. During the incident, video shows him putting his hands on a police officer. He ultimately only paid a few hundred dollars in fines for the incident, and the Steelers briefly suspended him before reinstating him just in time for the Chiefs' game.

The Steelers struggled in the game settling for 6 field goals. They couldn't get the ball in the end zone despite being inside the Chiefs 20 yard line multiple times. I think Porter was a huge distraction. If the Steelers had played a quality offense in that game, they would have been smoked. Porter's arrest prior to this game was not the first time he's been arrested, either. He's had multiple run ins with the law. He's a bad example to the young players he coaches as to how to conduct yourself as a professional in the NFL, or anywhere else for that matter.

Porter should have been fired, but instead he only received a slap on the wrist for his latest arrest. It could give the younger players the idea that they can get away with stuff, too. The team is risking a snowball affect due to the way they handled this, including more discipline issues, and more distractions.

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin - Septem...
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin - September 16, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Another reported incident involving Porter is more egregious, in my opinion, than the bar fight. A recent story in the Indiana Gazette details an incident (here) involving Porter at a high school football game. Up until a few months ago, Jason Gildon, a former Steeler, was the head football coach at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, and both Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin's and Joey Porter's sons attended school and played football there, along with Porter's nephew. That is until the boys transferred after Gildon got fired.

In the incident, Porter apparently rushed the field and verbally abused the officials calling the game. His actions got North Catholic a 15-yard penalty, and the officials asked police to intervene and remove Porter. Witnesses reported hearing Porter tell the police,"... it's gonna take more than just you." So, they called for backup. Apparently, the only thing that would calm Porter down was the threat of North Catholic having to forfeit. All in front of the young players and fans in the stands. Sounds like Porter could have been arrested there, too.

In still another reported incident, at a different game, Porter and Tomlin are said to have blocked some fans' view of the game. When asked to move by the police, they did not want to cooperate, and it sounds as if the game ending saved them from being arrested.

Now, we have at least 3 incidents - the night club altercation and the 2 incidents at the high school football games - where Jerry Porter has shown a lack of respect for authority and law enforcement. Why is he still on the Steelers' staff? The only possible explanation(s) is that Tomlin and the Rooney's are either unconcerned about it or o.k. with it. I have good friends in law enforcement, so I've got a real problem with this.

In a fourth incident, at a playoff game, people reportedly left their seats because Porter and Tomlin were smoking cigars. The stadium is non-smoking!! Here's the kicker - Mr. Rooney, Steelers' owner, and General Manager Kevin Colbert are alums of North Catholic. Colbert presently even sits on the Board of the school. Why are they putting up with the shenanigans of these 2 coaches? Fire them. Fire them now!!

Tomlin can't coach. He can't game plan. During the 5-year run I mentioned earlier, where the Steelers only won 1 playoff game, two good, longtime Steelers coaches, Bruce Arians and Dick LeBeau, left Pittsburgh. It appeared to me that both were run off as scapegoats for the team's failure to string together playoff appearances, playoff wins, and Super Bowl victories. The thing is that even though those 2 men are gone, nothing's changed. The Steelers still can't consistently win playoff games, let alone even reach Super Bowls. It's the same-ol'-same-ol'. The common denominator is Tomlin. Could it be that the problem is him? Duh. Hello.

Furthermore, no matter what they may say publicly, "Obviously", Tomlin's players do not respect him, as evidenced by the Facebook live incident with Brown. Why would you live-stream your coach's profanity-laced post-game speech disrespecting your upcoming opponent, in violation of NFL rules, if you respect him? The answer is, you wouldn't. Former Steelers' coaches Chuck Knoll and Bill Cowher wouldn't have tolerated Brown's behavior.

I guess, though, we should not be surprised by the lack of player respect for Tomlin, because it appears Tomlin doesn't respect others, either. Afterall, he's sat idly by and watched one of this assistant coaches, a subordinate, act like a jackass at his son's high school football game and embarrass Steelers fans everywhere. It appears Tomlin approves of such behavior and is more interested in "being one of the guys" than in being their leader. Terry Bradshaw was right when he referred to Tomlin as "not a great coach" but more of a "cheerleader".

Tomlin's reportedly had his own behavior issues at North Catholic games, too, including a profanity-filled locker room critique of the officials at one North Catholic game. I've also read of him refusing to sign autographs and / or take pictures with small children at North Catholic games. I understand wanting to be left alone to watch your kid play football. However, would it not be possible to handle it differently than just saying no and breaking some kid's heart? For instance, let's say a parent brings their kid over for an autograph or picture in the first half. Why not say something like, "I'd really like to watch my kid play, but if you'll come back at halftime, I'll be happy to take the pic / sign the autograph?" I think most football fans would respect that. Or, if it happens in the 2nd half, offer to hang around for a few minutes after the game. Tomlin needs to be reminded that without the fans, he has no job.

I'm sure that most Steelers fans aren't gonna believe any of this negative news about Tomlin. They'll make their case by pointing to an article on Pittsburgh Post Gazette's site (here), where former North Catholic Coach Jason Gildon says he doesn't remember Tomlin ever being in the team's locker room and cussing the officials to the team. However, could it be that it's one Steeler covering for another?

Before you write this article off as a "hit piece" or me as "a nut", you should read all the other articles I've referenced within this post and at the bottom of the page. Read every click "here". Everything I've brought out, except for my commentary, is contained within those articles. You should also read the comments within those articles. There are witnesses to the incidents and you can find the reports if you look for them. Plus, consider the following before dismissing this, because I believe 3 things give credibility to the reports regarding Porter and Tomlin's behavior at North Catholic games:
  1. Joey Porter's history of off-the-field issues.
  2. Gildon was fired as head football coach at North Catholic after just 2 seasons (here). This was after the incidents this year. The team's record was 17-6 during Gildon's tenure, including reaching the semi-finals of the state playoffs in 2015. They were one game away from reaching the state championship. Just one. No specific reason was given for his dismissal. So, why fire a guy who's had such success? He had won 74% of his games!! Did the bad behavior of his Steeler buddies have anything to do with it?
  3. Here's the most compelling reason - North Catholic Athletic Director Mike Burrell said that no one at the school wished to comment about these incidents. In fact, according to Burrell, "We just want to move on." If the reports are false, why wouldn't he or someone else at the school just say so? In my opinion, "no comment" here means these accounts are true. It makes me wonder if the school is concerned over potential backlash if they comment in the affirmative, so they've chosen to say nothing instead of lie.
Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, ...
Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh, PA, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I believe the distractions and lack of discipline have the Steelers headed down a bad road, and it reminds me of what I saw happen with the University of Tennessee's (UT) football program during Phil Fulmer's tenure as head coach. I was a UT and Florida State fan for a long time, but I watched as things got really bumpy near the end of Fulmer's tenure at UT. I ended up saying "Goodbye" to being a UT fan as it became a genuine embarrassment to me as an alum. Goodbye Orange and White. It's all Garnet and Gold for me now. Go 'Noles!!

In 2 of the last 4 years of Fulmer's tenure, the Vols finished with a losing record. More and more players had run-ins with the law. The lack of discipline off the field led to a lack of discipline on the field resulting in more foolish penalties, turnovers, blown assignments, sorry fundamentals, and games lost. When Fulmer left, the cupboard was bare of talent. That was at the end of the 2008 season. In the 8 seasons since, UT has had 3 different coaches and a record of 52-58. They've had losing records 4 times, went 7-6 twice, and 9-4 twice (the last 2 years). Oh, and there's only been 1 season (2015) during that time period where they've finished over .500 in the SEC. In fact, in 5 of the last 8 seasons, they've had a losing record in the SEC. It's been 8 seasons since UT kicked Fulmer to the curb, and the football program has still not recovered. UT should have fired Fulmer much earlier. The problems created during his tenure carried over into the years after he was gone (read here).

Now, why do I bring UT in this? It's because I believe the Steelers are going down the exact same road. A lack of discipline doomed Fulmer's tenure at UT. If the Rooney's don't make some changes, the Steelers will suffer the same fate. It's not a matter of if, but rather a matter of when. I think that the monster contract just awarded to Antonio Brown will only accelerate the team's demise.

Due to the lack of discipline and accountability, the distractions, and the sorry coaching, I'm making a prediction - The Steelers WILL NOT win another Super Bowl as long as Mike Tomlin is the head coach. NOT. A. SINGLE. ONE. In fact, I highly doubt they will even reach the Super Bowl again with him in charge.

Here's something else that really frosts me - under Tomlin's leadership, or lack thereof depending on how you look at it, the franchise has squandered away a big part of The Steeler Legacy. Terry Bradshaw no longer holds a piece of the record for most Super Bowl victories by a quarterback. Coach Chuck Noll no longer holds the record for most Super Bowl wins by a head coach. These now belong to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. It is inexcusable.

Based on what I saw happen with UT's football program, I believe dark days are ahead for Steeler Nation. For the first time in my life, I find myself seriously considering jumping off the sinking Steelers ship. I can tolerate losing records and a lack of playoff and Super Bowl wins. I can even tolerate bad behavior by players, to an extent. However, I cannot tolerate a lack of discipline, bad behavior by coaches, and no accountability to management for their actions. It's totally unacceptable, and it's become an embarrassment. The Rooney family is letting the inmates run the asylum.

Now, if you're a Steeler fan reading this and you're thinking, "Finally, somebody said what I've been feeling," I have good news. You are not alone. There are a number of us who feel this way. A few weeks ago, I ran across a Facebook group called "Fire Mike Tomlin". It's membership is growing every day. So, if you're on Facebook, look 'em up and join up. You'll find a number of like-minded folks venting their frustrations with this team and making suggestions on how to fix the problems. I'm not sure that I'm in it for the long haul, but a number of people are.

I would love for this post to bring much needed change in Pittsburgh, but I think the odds of that happening are very low, if not zero. This is not the same franchise that I began following as a young boy. It's values have changed. It's blue collar persona has changed. There were no divas or drama queens during the Chuck Noll era when the team won it's 1st four Super Bowls in a 6-year span. Coach Noll wouldn't recognize this franchise now.

For all the reasons above, I think I'm done as a Steelers fan. However, since I'm a football fanatic, I'm already scouting about a half dozen other teams, of which 1, or maybe even 2, will earn my football allegiance for the 2017 NFL season and beyond. This Steelers fan of 40 years has had enough of the divas, drama, and lack of discipline in Pittsburgh.

More on my team scouting later. In regard to the leading candidate, all I'll say right now is ..... ARRRRR!! Think you know who it is? Well, it's probably not who you think.

1 comment:

The Second Chance Sheepdog said...

In another dumb move by the Steelers front office, they have chosen to sign RB Knile Davis and will likely NOT renew the contract of DeAngelo Williams. Consider that during the last 2 NFL seasons:
-> Knile Davis has 28 yards rushing on 18 attempts, 25 yards receiving on 5 receptions, 0 TDs, and has only played in 11 games.

-> DeAngelo Williams has 1250 yards rushing on 298 attempts, 485 yards receiving on 58 receptions, 17 total TDs, and has played 25 games.

So, the Steelers would rather have Davis and his 0 TDs instead of Williams and his 17. This may be the worst personnel move in Steelers history and is further evidence as to why Coach Tomlin and the entire front office should be fired.