´ Steel Curtain Rising: Watch Tower: Doing a Double Take on Tomlin's Coaching Changes, Plus Heyward vs. Hood

Who gets the game ball for the win over the Colts?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Watch Tower: Doing a Double Take on Tomlin's Coaching Changes, Plus Heyward vs. Hood

The NFL press credential unlocks access to a world that fans only dream of visiting – the NFL locker room. Many argue that social media diminishes if not eliminates the need and role of the traditional press.
  • There’s some truth there. 
The internet, YouTube, blogs, streaming video, Facebook, and Twitter connect players, coaches, scouts, front office staff, and owners with fans in ways that Joe Gordon, Steelers Communications director during the Super Steelers era, never dreamed of.
  • Yet a press credential remains invaluable. 
Simply because it gives accredited members of the Pittsburgh Pro Football Writers Association daily access to those self-same players, coaches, and scouts.

Yes can Steelers.com picks and chooses post-game quotes that Twitter, Facebook, ESPN.com, FOX Sports quickly recycle. Sure, Art Rooney II can change the spin of a story by using a video interview to explain that he didn’t mean the Steelers offense needed to run more just that it needed to be able to run better.
  • These mediums have their impact, but they also have their limits.
And that’s because beat reporters establish build relationships players and coaches. They make small talk by the water cooler and in the lunch room. They’re privy to numerous 60 second “off the record” 1-1 elevator rides, parking lot exchanges and, yes, urinal conversations.

Credentialed Steelers press writers have an excellent feel for what gets said in private, behind closed doors, when the tape records and cellphone cameras are put way.

The Watch Tower has long suspected that many if not most of the Steelers press corps writers frequently know a lot more about the stories than reaches the light of day.
  • And that’s what makes our first case so interesting.
Revisiting the Sean Kugler, Amos Jones and Scotty Montgomery’s “Resignations”

Steelers Nation knows well how Mike Tomlin said his coaching staff would be back in January 2012 after the Steelers suffered their playoff “Tebowing” in Denver only to have Art Rooney II pulled rank and fired Bruce Arians.
  • The move drew a firestorm converge, and the attempt to pass it off as a “retirement” made the Steelers look bush league.
Mike Tomlin started the Steelers 2013 off season off with three coaching changes, which collectively got less coverage than the Arians fiasco.

Perhaps that was a mistake, because it appears there was a story behind the story...
  • ...Depending on who you listen to.
But this plot takes an interesting twist. This is no case of local rivals peddling competing stories or even of the local press vs. the national press. No, this time the Watch Tower shines its light on divergent stories coming from the same publication….

Bouchette vs. Dulac with Blog Posts at 30 Paces….

In just two days in mid February PG Plus readers got a treat that gave them their money’s worth for a month.

On Monday the 11th, Ed Bouchette directly suggested that the resignations of Tomlin’s assistants were less than voluntary. And in doing so, he reported several interesting new facts.

Bouchette characterized Amos Jones move to Pittsburgh West, aka Arizona, as a “side ways move” and pointed out that Jones joined the Steelers as an assistant and only got the special teams coordinator job due to Al Everestt’s mysterious firing.

Although he doesn’t report any new facts, but reminds readers that Jones didn’t get the job after Bob Ligashesky got fired in 2010, and suggests that Tomlin either told him he would be demoted or suggested he find a new job or be fired.

Scottie Montgomery’s departure is Bouchette’s next target, and hits the bull’s eye with some new facts. Bouchette begins by reminding us that the Duke PR department was nebulous about what Montgomery’s new duties would be, and that a move from Pittsburgh to Duke is hardly a step up the career ladder. Then he delivers the goods.
We were told that Montgomery did not exert enough control over the wide receivers the past season and, with Hines Ward no longer around, the students ran the classroom and became more undisciplined. Their performance on the field certainly would back that up.
Although Bouchette does not mention this, the hiring of Richard Mann provides further evidence to support his claim. Anyone who saw his draft day press conference could easily see that Mann exudes and air of “Been there, Done that.

Bouchette closed by taking a look at Sean Kulger’s decision to accept the head coaching job at UT El Paso, suggesting that he might have at least been motivated by a philosophy class with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Haley’s new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell has in fact installed a new, run blocking scheme.

So here we have an inside story from the Dean of the Pittsburgh press corps telling us that Tomlin’s coaching changes were as much about house cleaning as they were climbing the career ladder. Case closed, right?

Not so fast.
Dulac began by attacking the notion that the changes were a case of “rats leaving a sinking ship” and went as far as to state:  “And none were made because of any conflict or dissatisfaction with Coach Mike Tomlin.”

Dulac pointed out that Kulger’s chance to return to his alma mater was simply “too good to pass up.” In discussing Amos Jones move, Dulac reported that Jones got more money and a longer contract than was presumably available in Pittsburgh.

In discussing Montgomery’s return to Duke, Dulac says:
But Montgomerie [sic] was said to very friendly with Tomlin and, according to one assistant coach, was reluctant to leave Duke the first time to join the Steelers.
Bouchette vs. Dulac Who to Believe? 

So here you have two reporters for the same publication, telling very different stories based upon what they see from behind the scenes on the South Side. Who to believe?

Of all of the moves, the departure of Kulger’s appears to be the most straight forward. He got the chance to return to his roots, and presumptively would have stayed in Pittsburgh had that opportunity not surfaced.

There’s likely truth in both men’s rendering of Amos Jones’ departure. Jones quiet likely could have stayed in Pittsburgh, but only in his old role as a special teams assistant.

In the case of Montgomery, the Watch Tower is prone to believe Bouchette. The wide receiving corps was supposed to be Pittsburgh’s strength last year, but "Young Money," aka Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders, played more like a penniless group of receivers, much to Ben Roethlisberger’s chagrin.
  • There is one thing that both Bouchette and Dulac agree on, one that is perhaps a little disturbing for Steelers fans. 
In discussing Montgomery’s move, Bouchette observed this “If Tomlin – or someone above him – didn’t force Montgomery out, his move to Duke is a strange one indeed.”  Dulac went a step further, and finished his article suggesting:  “Of course, sometimes what Tomlin wants and what actually transpires are two different things. Just ask Arians.”

While the idea of Art Rooney II involving himself in Mike Tomlin’s staffing decisions  isn’t in and of itself bad, one would hope that Art II would emulate macro-manager Daniel Rooney and not micro-manager Daniel Snyder.

Which Way is Heyward Heading?

One of the the most important story lines at Steelers training camp in St. Vincent’s will be the development of Cameron Heyward, the Steelers 1st round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Cameron Heyward’s limited contributions as a rookie drew good reviews, however opinion of his second year development remains split.

Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review wrote a feature-length article admonishing Hewyard to “step it up” commenting that:
The Ohio State product begins his third season amid a cloud of uncertainty.
He isn't likely to supplant Ziggy Hood or Brett Keisel in the starting lineup, but he can dictate how much playing time he'll get — and how his future will be shaped.
To back up his argument, Paulk cites any number of statistics on Heyward’s production, and quotes Heyward himself discussing how he’s fallen short of his goals.

However, Kyle Curry of the Pittsburgh Sporting News also ran an article on Heyward last week citing statistics that show Hewyard out performing Ziggy Hood on a snap-by-snap basis, and he informs that Ed Bouchette is reporting that Heyward has a chance to replace Hood in the starting lineup.
Heyward’s development, and the press’s coverage of it will be interesting to see.

Smizik on Wallace

The final off season installment of the Watch Tower would not be complete without comment about retired Post-Gazette columnist turned blogger Bob Smizik’s criticism of Steelers salary cap management and free agent decisions.
  • Mike Wallace, as everyone knows was one of the top available free agents, regardless of position and was expected to command at least 10 million per year and he eventually got closer to 12.
Keeping Wallace, in Smizik’s view was essential for the Steelers, and the retired scribe all but implied that the Steelers needed to do what was necessary to keep him. And in the same breath, he slammed the Steelers for being so tight against the cap that they couldn’t make an offer.
  • That’s right – slam the team for not writing Wallace a blank check in one breath, while slamming them for salary cap problems in the next.
Sounds like the same guy who criticized the Steelers for drafting Rashard Mendenhall without taking Willie Parker’s feelings into account, and then complained when Mendenhall wasn’t getting more carries early in ’08….

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising's Watch Tower.

2 comments:

Tony Defeo said...

Great stuff, as always, KT. I think, with regards to the coaching changes, the most bizarre move was that of Montgomery. To repeat what everyone else has been saying: I can't imagine a move to Duke football would be better than anything going on with the Steelers.

Hood vs. Heyward. I really think Heyward is going to be a solid player down the road. It's hard to dominate as a 3/4 end, but it's easy to gain respect among your peers if you play the position the right way. I don't think Heyward has the raw athletic ability to stand out like a Brett Keisel. But I think he's capable of making a bit of a name for himself.

As for Wallace and the salary cap. As I've said before, you can't fault the front office for trying to keep the team together. Three Super Bowls in six seasons is a golden era. The fall-out might be hard to deal with, but it's amazing how a playoff run or two can change opinions fast--especially if someone like Markus Wheaton has a breakout rookie campaign.

KT said...

Thanks Tony. I think that Montgomery was "encouraged" to find a new job. I hope you're right about Heyward.

If Hood doesn't develop beyond his current level and officially becomes a draft "mistake" the Steelers can probably absorb that. But you can't flub two DE 1st round picks in 3 years w/o suffering some consequences.

It is hard to fault the front office. In hind sight Colon's contract was a mistake, but those are the risks you take.

Beyond that, they did sign a full offensive line and then release/trade them before their contracts were up, but except for Colon that dead money is gone.