Friday, November 8, 2013

Tomlin Takes Responsibility For Personnel Woes - Should He Do So Alone?

by Jason and Jayden

When things are going badly, like they have lately with the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's common and all too easy to point fingers. It's equally easy for the accused to retaliate defensively since we tend to operate with a self-conscious notion/tone without the perspective of relative responsibility.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin doesn't seem to have a problem with this.

In his weekly press conference Tuesday, Tomlin handled questions regarding the state of the team, which centered mainly around the historic beating they took with Sunday's loss still fresh in everyone's mind. Those questions expanded not surprisingly to the quality of players the Steelers have. When asked essentially how figures into draft-day decisions, he answered in no uncertain terms.

"I take responsibility for the players we've drafted," Tomlin said.

He even repeated it more succinctly and sternly when the media tried to have him expound upon his initial answer.

Falling on the grenade and, somewhat literally, taking one for the team is admirable of the Super Bowl-winning head coach.

Admirable, but inaccurate.

No single individual is solely responsible for each year's draft decisions. In fact, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has in the past alluded to himself as having the final word in the NFL Draft. The coordinators and position coaches have a certain say in players as well. Beyond that, players have to take opportunities as they come and to make the most of them.

So, despite what he contends, this isn't by any means a burden that Tomlin carries alone. The Steelers' poor draft record through much of his tenure - in the five years from the 2008-2012 draft, only 18 of the 42 players drafted (43%) remain with the team - has many calling for him to not just fall on the grenade, but his sword also. Again, though, this doesn't fall solely on him. Not by a long shot.

Colbert has the responsibility to oversee the draft as well as the Salary Cap, with Omar Khan at his side, under which those draftees will perform.

He is directly in charge of providing the coaches, including Tomlin, adequate talent to be developed into a winner. By way of his own visits to games, suggestions from the coaching staff regarding players who catch their eye and the ever-so-vital information brought to him from the team's scouts, he looks to maintain a certain level of talent on the field. A talent level that has clearly been below the line in recent years.

Along with that is the Salary Cap which has been mismanaged since the uncapped year of 2010 when the team uncharacteristically signed several free agents that would result in their recent Cap hell that they still aren't completely out of yet.

In doing so, they have tied up too much of their Cap space in expensive contracts owed to older players past their prime (Aaron Smith comes immediately to mind).

As a for instance, they didn't attempt to retain cornerback Keenan Lewis this past offseason and instead re-signed William Gay and also chose to hold onto to 33-year old Ike Taylor. The result: Lewis has three interceptions for the Saints this season while the Steelers as a team have four.

Such bad decisions by Colbert and company cause them to constantly restructure contracts to get back down under the Cap. In effect, just pushing money forward and mortgaging their future, over which Tomlin has no control.

Returning to the draft itself, Tomlin does absolutely have a say in who is selected, yes. But could it just be that he doesn't have enough say? Or maybe it's that the two don't work together as well as Colbert and former head coach Bill Cowher did?

It is just speculation, yes, but it is certainly feasible. Cowher and former Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe had their own issues during a time when the team was similarly bereft of talent and wins. Those issues turned into a bit of a power struggle that caused Donahoe to leave after the 1999 season.

Enter Colbert into the mix and the rest is history, as it were. But Cowher was established already and seemed to have greater control of the draft. Remember the t.v. shot of prospect Ben Roethlisberger on the phone being told he was about to be drafted by the Steelers? He was on the phone with Cowher.

Maybe Colbert isn't as qualified to take on majority control of the situation? Maybe he is approaching his Waterloo. -

Not to suggest an ouster or that another power struggle is forthcoming, but maybe he should acquiesce more of the control to Tomlin. Whatever may be most accurate, if Tomlin is to blame for the recent woes, Colbert and team president Art Rooney II are as well, if not more so.

Speaking of Rooney II, his role in more recent results cannot be understated. Though it might have seemed to make sense at first (as it was just meant to be a "tweak", right?), Rooney II's meddling in team affairs was the beginning of the current snowballing.

Rooney II's signing of the "retirement" papers for former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, after Tomlin had said Arians would be back, undermined Tomlin's authority and made him look like an impotent figure head.

Poor personnel decisions from the front office, like the release of Jonathan Dwyer in favor of Isaac Redman despite Dwyer having been the team's leading rusher last season, having fumbled less and having blocked better, have further tied his hands when attempting to put forth the best talent.

Yet, Tomlin stands firm and tall with a hypocycloid target on his chest willing to take the responsibility or blame, as a true leader should. Irrespective of whatever slings and arrows come his way, it's his dog and he's walking it.