Wednesday, April 24, 2013

House Of Lords or House Of Commons: The Current State of the Pittsburgh Steelers

by Jason and Jayden

In her essay "Child’s Play ...or is it?
Political meaning in 18th Century nursery rhymes (part one)," Lucinda Brant wrote that the (original) nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty wasn't about an egg (Lewis Carroll added that), not even about the Parliamentary cannon as is also commonly understood.

"The rhyme wasn’t published until 1810 in Gammar Gurton’s Garland, where there is no mention of the King’s men or his horses:

'Humpty Dumpty sate [sic] on a wall,
Humpti Dumpti [sic] had a great fall;
Threescore men and threescore more,
Cannot place Humpty dumpty as he was before.'"

This first published version leads to the "more obscure theory...that Humpty Dumpty is not a cannon at all but a specific person. I believe it refers to King George the Third and that the rhyme is about his mental illness."

Now, you're probably wondering what place this has in a sports blog (though, if you're a regular reader, you know that Shakespeare, the Bible, The Godfather and other pop culture references have been made several times). Well, as the title indicates, the Pittsburgh Steelers organization is going through a transition. A transition that some think may lead to a great fall.

From 1933 to 1971 (not counting the Steagles and the Card-Pitts years), the Steelers wallowed around in the virtual basement of the NFL, compiling a total of 168 wins. Then things changed.

The NFL Draft became the Steelers own personal orchard where it seemed that they didn't just pick from the bountiful selections, but that talent actually fell ripe from the branch. Suddenly, they were Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall. And like King George III in our analogy, they were "higher than anyone else, alluding to [their] kingly status." In just over 17 seasons, the Steelers eclipsed the number of victories they had accumulated in the previous 37 - less than half the time.

"There was no one higher in England’s Georgian society than the King," and there was no one higher in the NFL than the Steelers. The records they have accrued are legion and too many to number here. In part, they have the most Super Bowl wins, most AFC Super Bowl representations, most Conference Championship games (15) played in [AFC or NFC]; most NFL Conference Championship games hosted (11); most Division Titles won by any AFC team in NFL history (20); most overall post-merger wins [regular season & playoffs] (416); most regular post-merger wins (384); most playoff games won by any NFL team (33); highest post-merger winning percentage [regular season & playoffs] (61.1%)...and the list goes on.

But this is no longer acceptable. After 14 appearances in the last 21 seasons (1992-2012), four more Super Bowls and two more Super Bowl wins, to a now-spoiled fan base, recent events have caused an uproar. King George, the regnal king who is our object comparison, had several bouts of mental illness. The current sentiment amongst many Steelers' fans is that the third in line for directing the Steelers organization himself has taken leave of his senses.

Art Rooney, The Chief, sired the team and the organization from day one back in 1933. Led them through the lean times and into the times of bounty. Always the head of the organization, always the father figure, always The Chief.

Dan Rooney continued in his father's footsteps and led the team through the resurgence, to more Super Bowls and gained the respect around the league that The Chief had. The apple didn't fall far from the tree and Uncle Dan was even given the honor of being the ambassador to Ireland by President Barack Obama.

Now Art Rooney II, more Gordon Gekko than than Jimmie Johnson, has Steeler nation comparing him to Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder because of his "interfering" with the team's affairs. The general sentiment is that he should "let the ones he pays to make decisions make the decisions on how the team is run." There is a sentiment that he likes the camera and microphone too much, and that he needs to stay in the front office and off of the field.

It is essentially true. Think back to the Super Bowl loss after the 2010 season to the Green Bay Packers: was there panic in the streets? Were people blatantly calling for heads? Not amongst civil, level-headed fans, no. It was six points that came down to one final drive. The culprits were viewed as being on the field, not on the sidelines or in the office.

Fast forward to 2011 and there were happy fans again because the team was winning again. Sure, certain things were less-than-perfect, but they were a veteran team that knew what was needed to win. If not for an inept play by safety Ryan Clark in the rematch against the hated Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers would've been division winners with a bye or a home game in the first round of the playoffs.

Then it began.

The Steelers lost in overtime in the wild-card round of the playoffs at the underdog Denver Broncos by allowing Tim Tebow of all quarterbacks to throw for 316 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 pass completions. That isn't even the bad part.

In his season-ending news conference, head coach Mike Tomlin tells the media that he expects his coaching staff to return for the 2012 season and, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac, tells offensive coordinator Bruce Arians more than once that he wants him back.

Then team president Art Rooney II tells the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette that he thinks quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needs to "tweak" his game a bit in order to take fewer hits and sacks and, in effect, lengthen his career in Pittsburgh.

This is where we see the beginnings of "a great fall," because in a thinly veiled attempt at deception, the Steelers announce that Arians is retiring, citing health issues. He later said he was pushed out, obviously by Rooney against Tomlin's wishes. Later, Rooney came as close as he may ever about the situation with, saying it was "time for a change."

Arians? He made a miraculous recovery and was hired post-haste as the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts. Because of head coach Chuck Pagano missing the majority of the season due to cancer, Arians was named the NFL's 2012 Coach of the Year.

Though Big Ben has come out more than once and said that there is no friction between him and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, that it was mainly media-driven, the reality is that things could've been done very differently. -

"Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

Though If It Ain't Steel wasn't exactly Bruce Arians' biggest fan, a piece was still written on how it was likely premature to have fired Arians. Not tooting our own horn, but...well, we don't have to, now do we?

As Ms. Brant states in her essay, "life will never be the same again, for King George or his subjects." Nor will they for the Steelers organization, specifically General Manager Kevin Colbert and Tomlin, if Rooney II continues his meddling. It affects the performance of the aforementioned Tomlin, making him look like a figure head rather than a head coach. Basically emasculating him.

When Tomlin first arrived, he had a no-nonsense approach to things. Training Camp was more like Boot Camp, and he was Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Who could argue his approach? It led to a Super Bowl win in his second year after all. Though, at the behest of some of his veteran players, it was toned down some in the next couple of years, it didn't seem to have a major effect. They did reach the big game again two years later. But, then Rooney II spoke up.

Now Tomlin has come under fire as not having complete control of the team. It has been suggested, and said outright, that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has more control over the team than Tomlin.

As my partner-in-verse says "Omar" (i.e. Tomlin's look-a-like Omar Epps), needs to get back to the "buttkicking," he was doing when he first got here. He "needs to stop being their buddy and be their coach. When he first came here he said he didn't care who he made mad, he wasn't there to be their friends."

In other words, he needs to be H.N.I.C. Period. End of sentence.

Yes, Big Ben needs to be a team leader - a presence in the huddle, on the sidelines and in the locker room - but when Tomlin speaks the players need to know that it's time to shut up and listen. They need the fear of God put back into them. Rooney II's interference hinders that. The Chief never undermined Chuck Noll. Uncle Dan never undermined Bill Cowher.

Especially since Tomlin now is in what are essentially unfamiliar waters as he faces a level of adversity that truly tests the skills and character of any NFL head coach: he has never built, nor totally re-built a football team. He needs their support more than ever. Non-interference should be the Rooneys' prime directive.

Now, Steelers legend Mean Joe Greene, after 27 years of service with the organization, has retired citing an "attitude change" that hit the Steelers that he does not like.

“It’s an attitude change. In all my years of being with Pittsburgh, I never encountered a player taking a contract dispute into the season and letting that dispute affect the way he played. That’s a bad thing.” -

Non-interference can be achieved, though, and thankfully the Rooneys are patient, as evidenced by sticking with Cowher after three straight losing seasons. But, make no mistake, the organization belongs to the Rooneys. The Steelers are at a crossroad and are in transition. The core of players Mike Tomlin inherited and coached to two Super Bowl appearances is being dismantled. Can he maintain? Cowher couldn't.

The point about Tomlin being too buddy-buddy is still valid, though, and does need to be rectified. I know the new CBA rules put certain restrictions on Camp (and all practices), but while Training Camp doesn't have to be the Junction Boys, it doesn't have to be Camp North Star, either.

The third in the triad of those responsible for the quality on the field is the one who is mainly in charge of drafting, he being Colbert. As has been well publicized, only 22 of the last 59 players he has drafted are still with the team, and none from the 2008 draft.

Is he slipping? Did he and Cowher have a symbiotic relationship that was mortally wounded when Cowher retired? Some of the draft woes do reach back to Cowher's era, but they did have greater overall success in those years. These are definitely things to consider, because the dearth of talent is obvious. And if it is all on Colbert, is he facing his Waterloo? -

"Threescore men and threescore more,
Cannot place Humpty dumpty as he was before."

As Brant again writes, "this line suggests that it made no difference to the King’s condition how many men were called to attend on him, they cannot place Humpty as he was before—the King’s mental illness cannot be cured and thus he can no longer rule as king."

To be certain, as a team and organization, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in need of a panacea. They aren't completely broken, but all the king's horses are on alert.

Colbert says, "I don't see any players we draft coming in and having an immediate impact." That means this draft, even the first pick, will produce more depth that starters in 2013. One draft class won't do it, but it starts there. The evaluation and development of young players players is paramount. The veterans also need to lead in word and in deed. Like linebacker Larry Foote said, they'd "better be pissed off" at their current state. -

While the reputation of the Rooneys has few rivals, they don't get a free pass. There will no pom-pom waving from anyone here - the triad has work to do. Starting with Rooney II and his communication skills. He needs to do a better job communicating with Tomlin. The way Arians' departure was handled was an embarrassment. Nothing like that can happen again.

Tomlin himself needs to run practice and run the team as he knows he can do; Colbert needs to run the organization and the handle the bank account better than in recent years; and Rooney should remain approachable - like his father and grandfather before him, he should want to have a relationship with his players.

But each one should do so with the understanding that, as evidenced by our object lesson, "Humpty Dumpty," a House of Lords can become a House of Commons can become a house of cards all too quickly.