´ Steel Curtain Rising: May 2013

What position(s) should be the Steelers highest priorities in the draft?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Bill Austin, Former Pittsburgh Steelers Coach, 1928-2013

Bill Cowher once remarked that he didn’t know who had coached the Pittsburgh Steelers prior to Chuck Noll.

Well they did play professional football in Pittsburgh before The Emperor’s arrival, and the man who preceded him was Bill Austin who passed away Thursday evening at his home in Las Vegas, reports Allan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

From Nixon to Austin

History will note that Bill Austin was the last Pittsburgh Steelers head coach hired by franchise founder Art Rooney Sr. And even in that respect, Austin represented something of a transition.

“The Chief” Art Sr., was first an exceptional human being, second an outstanding citizen and ambassador for the city of Pittsburgh, third a phenomenal athlete, and fourth a ace horse race odds maker.
  • He was not, however, a good football man.
The Steelers did nothing but lose during the 35 years that Art Sr. ran the franchise. Despite suggestions of his later life moniker “The Chief” Rooney was not one to meddle or micro manage the decisions of his coaches. “There can only be one boss” Rooeny explained to his five son’s as they vigorously protested Walter Kiesling’s decision to cut Johnny Unitas – without so much as allowing him to throw a pass in practice.
  • In short, Rooney believed in hiring someone to do a job and then standing behind them – the only problem was “The Chief” never hired the right people.
But by the early 1960’s Dan Rooney began to assume more and more control of the Steelers operations. When Dan tired of Buddy Parker’s alcohol induced shenanigans he convinced his father to take Parker up on often repeated threats to resign.

Two weeks prior to the Steelers 1965 season Parker informed Dan he was trading defensive end Ben McGee (who went on to be a Pro Bowler). Dan told him they’d discuss it in the morning. Parker balked, insisting he was the coach. Dan put his foot down. Parker offered to resign.
  • Dan called his bluff.
That left the Steelers without a head coach two weeks prior to the regular season. Dan and Art Sr. turned to Mike Nixon, but they knew he was not the man for the job. Art. Rooney even advised Nixon to turn down the offer.
  • They were right. Nixon won two games and was gone.
Finally, Dan Rooney had the chance been waiting for, the opportunity to put his own stamp on the selection of the Steelers head coach.

In his self titled autobiography Dan Rooney explained that he began an exhaustive search, that included Bill Austin, then a coach for the Los Angles Rams. Austin interviewed well, Rooney admits.

But then Art Sr. called Vince Lombardi, who had mentored Austin, and Lombardi give Austin a glowing recommendation.

That was enough for The Chief. Dan protested, insisting that the selection process must move forward, but The Chief had spoken, and Austin took the reigns of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Austin in Pittsburgh

In his book From Black to Gold author Tim Gleason rated Pittsburgh Steelers head coaches not named “Noll,” “Cowher,” or “Tomlin.”

Austin came in at #6 – out of seven by Gleason’s rendering. As Gleason explains “Bill Austin was Walt Kiesling reincarnated, without Kiesling’s good qualities.

Bill Austin you see, was a true disciple of Vince Lombardi. In fact, he did all he could to emulate Lombardi. But, as Gleason quote Steelers legend Dick Hoak, “’His problem was that he tried to be someone that he wasn’t.’”

Dan Rooney recounts how Andy Russell told him that former Packers on Austin’s Steeler squads remember Austin quoting Lombardi speeches verbatim. Alas, channeling his inner Lombardi didn’t work for Austin.
  • It also had disastrous effects on the Steelers.
Austin did walk Lombardi’s walk in one aspect – he was demanding of his players. In fact, he ran them into the ground, once demanding that his players practice at game speed resulting in:
  • Linebacker Bill Saul suffering a career-ending knee injury
  • Defensive end Ken Koratus spraining an ankle that slowed him for the entire season
  • Running back Jim Butler injuring a knee that cost him most of a season
  • Defensive back Paul Martha cracking his helmet in two and getting a concussion in the process
Worse yet, all of this happened on the fields of St. Vincents, sabotaging the Steelers season before it began.

The One Thing Austin Did Right….

Bill Austin started out the 1968 0-6. Then he did something that many at the time would categorize as a mistake.
  • He coached the Steelers to two victories and forced a tie in the third.
After that he went back to his losing ways, finish 2-11-1. But Austin’s mid-season “sin” cursed the Steelers with the fourth pick in the 1969 draft, robbing Pittsburgh of the chance to draft the consensus number one overall pick USC star running back O.J. Simpson.
  • Yes, it was Austin cost the Steelers a shot at O.J. Simpson. Bill Austin, it seems, wasn't even smart enough to play for draft position....
....And Steelers Nation has thanked him since, as Chuck Noll used that self same pick to draft Joe Greene.

The rest is history.

Thanks Bill. May you rest in peace.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chuck Noll Gaining on Bill Belicheat in ESPN Poll - Thanks to Steelers Nation

Ladies and Gentlemen. Steelers Nation is opening its mouth and raising the pitch of its voice to the sound of a roar.

Two weeks ago ESPN kicked off a poll in anticipation of a series profiling the NFL’s greatest 20 coaches. Over 50 coaches were listed, from No Brainers like Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown, to head scratchers like Dennis Green and Jeff Fisher.

At the time Chuck Noll wasn’t doing as well as he should have, coming in fifth place:
espn-poll-chuck-noll-week-1
Before Steelers Nation sprung into action, Chuck Noll was only coming in 5th Place in ESPN's Poll on May 11th
Now fifth place is no dishonor in such a broad sweeping poll, but it was the company that Noll was behind which was at issue. Namely Bill Belichick and Bill Walsh.

Steel Curtain Rising not only implored the faithful to rally for Chuck Noll but we enlisted the aid other sites securing entries in Pittsburgh’s Best Sports Blog and Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, write for BTSC, and wrote one of their articles calling on people to vote.)

With just a little effort, look at what we have accomplished:

espn-poll-chuck-noll-greatest-coach
Steelers Nation is rallying behind Chuck Noll, Pushing him to 4th Place as of May 27th

Not only has Chuck Noll increased his share of the vote, from 58.8% to 66.4% he has also passed Don Shula for four place and now is within striking distance of Bill Belichick!

Vote Early, Vote Often

Now is the time for Steelers Nation to redouble your efforts. You must vote early, and vote often. That's right, you need to vote often.

ESPN is trying to limit multiple voting, but you can get around this by:
  • Voting from multiple browsers (Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc…)
  • Voting from multiple devices (iPad, desktop, laptop, iPhone)
  • Voting from the office (as long as you won’t get into trouble)
The even better news is that ESPN’s cookie-control seems to be time sensitive, so if you voted two weeks ago, you can probably vote again.
  • Its also important that you don’t vote for either Bill Belichick and Bill Walsh
If you’re looking for objective reasons to not vote for Belichick and/or Walsh to promote Chuck Noll, then you can click here for our original article or see BTSC’s article.

Click here now to vote for Chuck Noll in ESPN’s poll.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Steelers Sign Markus Wheaton, Terry Hawthorne, and Justin Brown

Who said the Steelers are salary cap strapped?

Just last week Steelers.com quoted Kevin Colbert as saying that salary cap considerations would mean that the Steelers would have to sign their draft picks following June 1st, when they begin to realize the savings gained from their decision to cut Willie Colon.
  • Fair enough.
But then the Steelers went right out and signed Shamarko Thomas. OK, Thomas needed the money, as pointed out by Behind the Steel Curtain. Then the Steelers signed 6th round pick Vince Williams.

6th rounders don’t make much, so perhaps there’s no fuzzy math.

Today however the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that the Steelers have come to terms with 3rd round pick wide receiver Markus Wheaton, fifth round pick cornerback Terry Hawthorne, and sixth round pick wide receiver Justin Brown.

OTA’s Taking Their Toll?

Perhaps it’s a little bit of hyperbole to say that “OTA’s are Taking Their Toll” but Hawthorne is watching in crutches, after the Steelers did some knee surgery to remove bone chips.

But first round pick Jarvis Jones has re-aggravated his hamstring injury and is being limited in practice, according to reports from Behind the Steel Curtain and The Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Hamstring injuries can be tricky things – ask either LaMarr Woodley and/or Dermontti Dawson. A hamstring injury derailed what was shaping up to be an All Pro season for Woodley in 2011 and ruined his 2012 season. Worse yet, they essentially ended Dawson’s career.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Max Starks Signs with Chargers; Steelers Sign Vince Williams

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Max Starks are breaking up. Could it be for real this time? Yes, folks, it looks like it is.

Long time Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Max Starks went through the first round of free agency without attracting any interest for other teams or from the Steelers themselves. The Steelers then went out an signed Guy Whimper, leading to speculation that Wimper’s arrival meant Starks’s departure (speculation later confirmed as explained in the Watch Tower).

While no official word has come out of Pittsburgh, Max Starks himself is reporting he has a new home with the San Diego Charger. Starks announced the move on Twitter:
Max Starks has had a longer, and stranger trip than perhaps any Pittsburgh Steelers save for Ernie Holmes. Drafted in 2004 with Ben Roethlisberger, Starks was a starter for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

Yet, by the end of 2006 coaches were attempting to phase him out in favor of Willie Colon. The coaches and the front office could not decided what they wanted to do with Starks, leading to him getting transition tenders, franchise tenders and the like – when he wasn’t even starting.

Yet Starks delivered for the Steelers.

He played well of the bench in 2007, saved their 2008 Super Bowl season, and again bailed the Steelers out in 2011 – after they had cut him.
  • Starks may never have been or will be an All Pro Tackle, but he certain did what was asked of him in Pittsburgh. 
Thanks Max. Steelers Nation is in your debt.

Steelers Since Vince Williams, 6th Round Pick

A few days after coming to terms with safety Shamarko Thomas, the Steelers signed inside linebacker Vince Williams, who was their 6th round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Williams will compete with Adrian Robinson, Chris Carter, Stevenson Sylvester and perhaps Sean Spence to for a roster spot to provide depth behind Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Watch Tower: Analyzing Press Coverage of the Steelers 2013 Draft


The 2013 NFL Draft is in the history books. The Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Draft Class has been revealed, and Shamarko Thomas is the first to be signed.

The NFL Draft is a veritable media bonanza, and 2013 was no exception, give the Watch Tower plenty of materials to shine its light on. Let’s take it from the top.

Steelers Draft Board vs. Steelers Needs

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2013 with a draft needs matrix that was wide and deep. Factor in the egg that the franchise laid with their 2008 Draft class, plus the need to re-arm while Ben Roethlisberger still has prime years of play, and health, remaining and getting the 2013 Draft right was imperative for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
  • How did such imperatives impact the Steelers as the draft unfolded?
Well, it depends on which journalist’s rendition you’re reading.

Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, concluded that the Steelers managed to walk the tightrope arguing:
The Steelers have long maintained they stick to their draft board, taking the player with the highest grade and not reaching to fill any position. And general manager Kevin Colbert reaffirmed that stance Saturday when the three-day NFL draft came to a close. 
But, after drafting nine players and addressing each of their biggest needs in the first four rounds, the Steelers did a deft job of sticking to the board and filling positions with players who have a chance to help make up for some of their significant losses. Whether luck or coincidence, it seemed to work. [Emphasis in the original]
That’s a reasonable conclusion, but hardly a universal one among the Pittsburgh Pro Football Writers chapter.

Allan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review took the opposite tack, observing:
This is the draft in which the oh-so-traditional, oh-so-reliable Steelers Way wasn't the Steelers' way at all.
The Steelers insisted they stuck with the tried and true and drafted the best available player with their nine picks in seven rounds. But it appears to be anything but coincidental that in a draft in which their needs for an outside linebacker, running back, wide receiver and safety were as glaring as fuschia lipstick, the first four players they drafted were an outside linebacker (Jarvis Jones), running back (Le'Veon Bell), wide receiver (Markus Wheaton) and safety (Shamarko Thomas).
Who is right? Perhaps both and perhaps neither.

The fact is that the Steelers needs were so diverse, that they could have remained faithful to their draft board and filled their needs.

Revving Up the Steelers Running Game

The Steelers once-vaunted running game hasn’t been the same since Willie Parker’s injury in the 2008 season. The issue has gotten the attention of everyone in the franchise from Art Rooney II on down so it was no surpise when the Steelers drafted running back Le’von Bell in the second round.

The move, did however, prompt an interesting comment from Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who contended that:
The Steelers wanted to improve their running game in 2012, then they did a strange thing: They did absolutely nothing to help the rushing attack and, in fact, reduced their chances of running the ball better heading into last season. [Emphasis added.]
Regular readers know that the Watch Tower’s purpose isn’t to slam writers who voice dissenting opinions (although that does happen, at times) but the Watch Tower does hold writers accountable to the facts.

On a simplistic level, Bouchette is right. The Steelers did neither used a premium pick to draft a running back in the 2012 NFL Draft nor did they sign one in free agency.
  • But does that mean “They did absolutely nothing” to boost the fortunes of the running game?
No, not by a long shot.

In fact, the Steelers made several moves that aimed at least in part at beefing up their running game:
Granted, of the four moves, only moving Colon to guard yielded any benefit in 2012 and then only for a short time. But two major draft picks, one minor pick, and one position change is far cry from “absolutely nothing.”

Beating a Dead Silverback

The ghost of James Harrison loomed large over the Steelers draft, in the eyes of the Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook who argued that the Steelers “dug themselves into a hole” prior to the draft.
It all goes back to the botched negotiations with linebacker James Harrison. Both sides allowed personal feelings to get in the way of a business deal that would have benefited each party.
When the Steelers parted ways with James Harrison, Cook made a strong plea that James Harrison is still enough of a game-changer that you keep on your team no matter what. That’s an excellent argument.

But to say that the Steelers “botched” the negotiations stretches credibility. If anything, the Steelers were willing to offer too much money. To say that pride prevented Pittsburgh from taking Harrison back, belies the calculated low-cost moves the Steelers made with money they saved from Harrison.

The “Source” and Sean Spence’s Injury

One of the Watch Tower’s chief mission’s is to get at the nut’s and bolts of how stories about the Steelers come to live, and the situation of Sean Spence provided an excellent opportunity.

The biggest potential scoop on draft day came not from the Post-Gazette, Tribune Review, or even ESPN, but from Behind the Steel Curtain’s editor Neal Coolong, who dropped this bomb:
The Steelers have been oddly quiet about Spence's status heading into the 2013 season.
As it turns out, there's a specific reason for that.
A source close to the team is saying the Steelers are optimistic Spence can play in 2013, but not enough to publicly discuss it. They are targeting Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti - a player who's coming off a knee injury of his own.
When all was said and done, the Steelers passed on Michael Mauti and Steelers Linebackers coach Kevin Butler said it would be “miraculous” if Spence made full recovery.
  • Both developments it would seem, would amount to a big black eye for BTSC, right? 
Not so fast.

Only a few days after Butler’s pronouncement, Mike Tomlin offered a very different take on the prognosis for the linebacker the Steelers took in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, topping off his retort with a classic Tomlinism:
All the rehab is going to according to plan. No news there. I did hear the opinion regarding Spence. My opinion differs. I think he'll have a full recovery. But now you have two opinions, neither of which are expert medical opinions, so do with it what you will
Kevin Colbert also spoke on the Spence’s health, seemingly taking a middle position telling a conference call of Steelers season ticket holders:
When you have as serious a knee injury as he unfortunately had, it sometimes is a very long process. Sometimes it takes over a year to fully rehabilitate. But the good thing is we are seeing signs of progress, albeit small steps. But it is progress.
Clearly, there is a legitimate diversity of opinion on the South Side with respect to the Sean Spence’s prospects for a recovery and clearly that diversity lends some legitimacy to BTSC's reporting.

(Full disclosure: I also write for BTSC and correspond frequently with the editor but I neither have access to nor knowledge of the source in question.)

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Would a Steelers off season be complete without stories on Max Starks contract or lack thereof situation? Stories on Max Starks contract situation have provided bloggers and professional press pundits with legitimate copy every spring since 2008 and 2013 is no exception, except that it might be the last time this is true.

The Pittsburgh Steelers of course signed free agent Guy Whimper, a veteran offensive tackle who brings a decidedly mediocre track record to Pittsburgh. The move was significant because the Steelers lack depth on the line, and as Ed Bouchette explained:
By signing Whimper, the Steelers likely are indicating that they are moving on without Max Starks, an unrestricted free agent who has yet to sign with any team. 
Concluding that Guy Whimper's arrival spells Max Starks exist are a logical conclusion on Bouchette’s part. But the problem was that it was only part of the story.

Mark Kalboy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review took the extra, but hardly extraordinary, step of calling Max Starks and getting him on the record to confirm that his days in Pittsburgh were likely done:
Let me say this, (Starks and the Steelers) had a conversation prior (to the Whimper signing), and that decision (to sign Whimper) was made after our conversation.
Now it wasn't said directly to me, but you kind of take that as an indication of what they are thinking. It is not so much on my part as more of them wanting to move on.
Kaloby went on to explain that Starks neither seems himself as a back nor as someone who should play for backup money.

Put bluntly, Bouchette got badly out hustled on this story by Kalboy.

Bouchette Delivers on Greene Retirement

After throwing Bouchette under a bus not once but twice, it is only appropriate that he get his just due on the Joe Greene story.

Bouchette’s coverage of Joe Greene's retirement was overall very good, both in the regular PG and PG Plus (no, PG Plus has not decided to take my money, I got a free view there). He managed to cover something that other missed:
Noll hired him to coach his defensive line in 1987 and, after five years of doing so, Greene was a finalist to succeed Noll after the coach's retirement following the 1991 season. But when the job went to Bill Cowher, and the new coach did not keep Greene on his staff.
"When Chuck retired and I basically got fired, that was definitely emotional," Greene recalled.
Many forget that Greene was a strong candidate to replace Chuck Noll, and his non-selection drew very little coverage at the time, and was seldom discussed after his return to the team during the Cowher-Colbert era.

Kudos to Bouchette for getting Greene on the record on one of the under reported stories in Steelers history.

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.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Steelers Sign 4th Round Draft Pick Shamarko Thomas


If there’s one word to describe the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 off season “unpredictable” would have to be a strong candidate.

Take the case of James Harrison. First the Steelers wanted James back at a 30% pay cut, with the ability to earn it back via incentives. Deebo said “No” and became a cap casualty and an ex-Steeler. Then when Silverback didn’t get greenbacks waived in front of him, the Steelers declined to bring him back.
And of course there was Emmanuel Sanders. Emmanuel Sanders of the mysterious “yes-New England-tendered-him-no-we-didn’t-yes-they-did” one year restricted free agent tender. Both conventional wisdom and the inside word was the Steelers would let Sanders walk and take the extra pick.
Matching Sanders tender was supposed to have burned through the Steelers remaining cap space. Except it didn’t, as the Steelers moved decisively to prevent Green Bay from making a run on one of its other restricted free agents, namely the newly resigned Steve McLendon.

Prior to the start of free agency, back up safeties Will Allen and Ryan Mundy figured to be two players the Steelers could have back if they wanted them back. Who else would want them?

Dallas gave Allen a home and Mundy likewise found his in the NFC East, with the New York Giants.
  • How does all of this relate the headline you ask?
Well, it was just yesterday that the Steelers released a partial transcript of Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert’s conference call with season ticket holders where he explained that picks from the Steelers 2013 NFL Draft Class would have to wait until June to get their contracts, when the Steelers liberated Willie Colon’s cap space.

And on the heels of that news the Steelers promptly went out and came to terms with 4th round draft pick Shamarko Thomas. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the deal is for four years, per the new CBA, and terms were not disclosed.

In practical terms neither the Steelers nor Thomas get an added benefit to signing early. But with Ryan Clark entering the final year of his contract, and age and injuries to Troy Polamalu mounting, Thomas’ development critical to the Steelers ability to rearm while Ben Roethlisberger remains a viable NFL franchise quarterback.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Shamarko Thomas, may your next four years be prosperous ones.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Vote to Support Chuck Noll in ESPN Poll


Once again it is time for Steelers Nation to Rally the Troops. And once again, we’re calling on all of the Black and Gold faithful to vote in yet another ESPN poll.

ESPN.com commissioned a blue ribbon panel to investigate the question and is planning to release the results starting on Thursday May 23rd. In the mean time, they’re polling their readers.

Fair enough.
  • But as has happened in other circumstances, the Steelers are falling victim both to the whims and short-term memories of popular culture.
The poll’s mechanics are simple. ESPN gives you a list of 50 NFL coaches and asks fans to vote for up to 20. As of the afternoon of 5/11/13 the results look like this:

chuck noll espn coaching poll
Chuck Noll Needs Steelers Nation's Support in this ESPN Poll

Chuck Noll is actually coming in fifth. Given that Chuck Noll worked at having frosty relations with the media and therefore has no apologists in the press, 5th place actually better than expected.

Rarely when discussions of who is the greatest coach in NFL history are convened, is Noll given serious consideration. And that’s a mistake and one that is apparently not being repeated here.
  • But there are still issues.
Vince Lombardi is being voted in a number one. It would seem like almost sacrilege to argue the point.

There’s also no shame to coming in under Don Shula, although before accepting that you might want to remember that Noll both has more championships and a better post-season record than his mentor.

Bill Walsh comes in at number two, because unlike Noll, Walsh never hesitated to promote his own genius, and cultivated quite a following in the press. And of course he did spawn a cadre of assistant coaches.
Why, yes they can, and Steel Curtain Rising did so in its first year. (To read the full Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh series, click here.)

But if Noll should be voted above Walsh (and he should), it is no insult to come in below.
  • Seeing Chuck Noll voted below Bill Belichick represents and injustice that Steelers Nation must rectify.
The case here is clear:  Chuck Noll’s got more victories than Bill Belichick. His post season winning percentage isn’t quite as strong but, then again, Chuck Noll won playoff games with quarterbacks like Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone and Bubby Brister.
  • Can Bill Belichick say that? No. He cannot.
Heck, Noll beat Belichick in his final NFL game as an NFL coach.

But let’s cut to the chase:
  • Chuck Noll has four Super Bowl victories to Belichick’s three, and none of Noll’s victories are tainted.
Repeat, no one ever accused Chuck Noll of cheating at anything.
  • Bill Belichick is a cheater who got caught red handed. 
Could the Patriots have won those Super Bowls without resorting to cheating? They probably could have. But will never know the extent of Belichick’s cheating because Roger Goodell destroyed the evidence.
  • And of course there’s the little inconvenient truth that New England hasn’t won a Super Bowl since Belichick got busted.
So The Emperor deserves to be voted over The Cheater.

How About Some Love for Bill Cowher?

Can anyone explain why John Madden deserves to be voted higher than Bill Cowher? (Or Tom Coughlin for that matter.) Cowher had nearly 50 more regular season victories and doubled Madden’s number of post-season victories.

Nothing against Madden, but he’s clearly benefiting from his media presence; his successor Tom Flores won 2 Super Bowls and had a better post-season record but is languishing in the polls. Place a vote for The Chin.

Steelers Nation:  Time to Rally in Support of the Emperor

Attention faithful in Steelers Nation. Now is the time to come to aid of your party. Chuck Noll needs your support. Go to ESPN and visit their poll.

Here’s how to vote for maximum effect:
  • Vote for Noll, Cowher and Mike Tomlin only and/or avoid voting for Walsh and Belichick.
  • Vote early and often. You’ll need to vote from different browsers and/or multiple devices, but it can be done.
Click here to go to ESPN's Greatest Coaching Poll and vote now!

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Steelers Hall of Famer Jack Butler, 1927-2013


Former Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback and long time BLESTO Director Jack Butler has died after a long battle with a staph infection he received as the result of an artificial knee transplant.

Butler was 85, and is survived by his wife and 15 grand children, and 8 children, including his son Mike, who recently joined the Steelers scouting department.

Unknown to the last several generations of fans in Steelers Nation, Jack Butler was a star on the SOS squads “Same Old Steelers.” As the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1950’s struggled in mediocrity, Jack Butler was building a Hall of Fame resume as a cornerback.

According to the obituary published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by Bob Cohn, Butler intercepted 5 passes as a rookie.

The Steelers were on the road and losing 13-0 to the Washington Redskins and despite out rushing and out passing the Redskins all day, Butler had intercepted the legendary Eddie LeBaron 3 times.

As told by Tim Gleason in his classic, From Black to Gold, the Steelers scored a face-saving touchdown late in the 4th to make it 13-7. Butler intercepted LeBaron a still NFL record 4th time, returning the ball for a pick-six and leading the Steelers to victory.

Butler’s career was cut short in 1959 when he blew out a knee, which is a shame because he’d intercepted 19 passes in his final two seasons – an even more remarkable feat when you consider that Butler only played 12 game seasons in an era where a team that threw 20 passes a game was considered “pass happy.”

All told Butler played in four Pro Bowls, three All NFL teams and the NFL’s All Decade team for the 1950’s. As of May 2012, Butler stands tied for 15th on the NFL’s All Time career interception list, picking off legendary quarterbacks such as Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, Y.A. Tittle and Norm Van Brocklin.

Butler even saw spot duty at wide receiver, catching 7 passes and took four of them into the end zone for four touchdowns.

From Being the Talent on the Field to Finding the Talent to Field

After retiring from the game, Jack Butler first dabbled as an assistant coach and then join the BLESTO scouting combine, serving as its director from 1966 to 2006.

BLESTO stands for Bears Lions Eagles Steelers Talent Organization, and was formed when player data on NFL prospects was far from ubiquitous as it is today.

In his capacity as BLESTO scout, Butler hired and/or trained hundreds of NFL scouts, including former Pittsburgh Steelers Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe and current Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert.

From his perch at BLESTO Butler also had a hand, at least indirectly, on the scouting reports that Chuck Noll used to select Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Rod Woodson, and Dermontti Dawson – all of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jack Butler, Man of Class, Man of No Regrets

Injuries didn’t simply end Jack Butler’s NFL career, they impacted the rest of his life. He under went multiple surgeries, walked with a limp for over 50 years, and had both knees replaced – and it was the latter knee replacement which lead to the staph infection which cost him his life.
  • Butler, however, had no regrets.
As Ed Bouchette recounted in the his obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, When asked by Art Rooney Jr. if given the constant pain he struggled with, Butler would do it again, the former Pro Bowl cornerback did not flinch, telling Rooney, “’He said, “Playing football was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. If I could go out today and suit up, I would do it.”'"

Butler was also a class act, drawing praise from Dan Rooney who said “He was an excellent person both on and off the field, and he played an integral role in the BLESTO scouting program and our entire draft process before his retirement.”

Art Rooney II followed suit, explaining that “Jack Butler was one of the all-time great Steelers. He devoted his entire life to the NFL and made contributions to many teams and many players through his work with BLESTO and player personnel matters.”

Kevin Colbert’s comments were perhaps the most effusive:
Jack was a great person and great friend who always placed his faith and family first. Beyond his great play on the field, he was a legendary personnel man who helped so many of us get established in our scouting careers. He will be missed, but never forgotten.
It is fair to say that a majority of Steelers fans who’ve rooted for their beloved Black and Gold without knowing who Jack Butler was, but they certainly are well acquainted with his legacy.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

All in the Family - Another Colbert, Butler Join Steelers Scouting Department


Joe Greene’s retirement from the Steelers scouting department has left ripples in its wake. Either that, or the shuffling in the Steelers scouting department was caused by the Ron Hughes semi-retirement, but most of Steelers Nation has never heard of Hughes, and working Joe Greene into the intro is a hell of a lot more sexier....

Indeed, Ron Hughes, who has headed the Steelers college scouting efforts, will step down as College Scouting Coordinator and move into semi-retirement as Senior Assistant for College Scouting.

The Steelers have promoted Phil Kreidler to the role of College Scouting Coordinator. Kreidler has worked in the Steelers scouting department since he joined as an intern during Chuck Noll’s final season in 1991.

Keeping it in the Family

Dan Rooney often said that he regarded Joe Greene as family, and with Greene gone the Steelers are keeping it in the family. Literally. Rooney's son, Dan Rooney Jr., is already a member of the Steelers scouting department, and now Dan Colbert, son of Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert, was promoted from intern to pro/college scout.

Mike Butler, son of former Steelers cornerback Jack Butler will join as the Steelers BLESTO scout, an organization which Butler headed for decades, giving him a hand in the evaluations ever Steelers Hall of Famer from Terry Bradshaw to Dermontii Dawson, whom Bulter would share the stage with in their induction into Canton.

Dave Petett, who has severed as a “scout” for nine years, will now be a pro/college scout, while Mark Bruener will shift from BLESTO scout to college scout.

That’s probably more than you’d ever care to know about the org chart of the Steelers scouting department, but these individuals are faceless, nameless gnomes that tirelessly mine the college ranks, the pro football equalivialent of tilling the earth that has yielded a record Six Lombardi Trophies.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Steelers-Max Starks Break Up for Real? Pittsburgh Signs Guy Whimper


They say breaking up is hard to do. The Pittsburgh Steelers and free agent tackle Max Starks can attest.

The Steelers have had a love-hate relationship with Max Starks since drafting him in 2004 that has seen the front office offer him a transition tender only to see the coaches start the season with Starks on the bench.

That was in 2008, and Starks bailed out the team and helped lead them to victory in Super Bowl XLIII. One of the team’s first moves after the NFL 2011 lockout was to cut Max Starks. Starks was of course back in October, going from walking the streets to starting on consecutive Sundays.

Word was that when the Steelers drafted Mike Adams in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft their hopes were that Adams would replace Starks. But when it became clear in training camp that Mike Adams wasn’t quite ready to take over the reigns and left tackle, Starks was signed again.

Pittsburgh is thin at tackle, and Starks is still available, but again he’s not the preferred option, as the Steelers have signed veteran tackle Guy Whimper as reported a few days ago by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Whimper was originally drafted by the New York Giants in 2006 and played the last three seasons for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Behind the Steel Curtain, (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC) labled the signing as curious, citing a Football Outsiders J.J. Cooper’s analysis that had Whimper giving up sacks in nine straight games in 2011. Interestingly enough, Cooper started 15 games in 2011 but was not a regular starter in 2012 and in fact was listed as a tackle/te in Pro Football Reference.

Whimper was signed for the league minimum, so the Steelers can easily cut him in training camp if he does not work out. And who knows, perhaps Max Starks will be available to replace him.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Joe Greene Retires as Steelers Scout with One for Each Thumb


Six Super Bowl rings will apparently have to be enough for Pittsburgh Steelers Legend “Mean” Joe Greene who yesterday announced he was retiring from his front office position with the Steelers scouting department.

It was no less than Greene himself who coined the phrase “One for the Thumb,” and when he did so a fifth Super Bowl seemed very much in reach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Greene continued playing into his mid-30’s, at the time this was a very mature age for the NFL, in pursuit of the additional hardware but was forced to retire with a bare thumb in after 1981.

Greene of course got a second shot at getting “One for the Thumb” in 1987 when Chuck Noll asked him to rejoin the Steelers as defensive line coach. Greene perhaps whiffed the possibility when he helped Noll make his story book run the playoffs with the 1989 Steelers, but alas they came up short.

Following Noll’s retirement, Greene was given serious consideration for the head coaching job, but Dan Rooney and Tom Donahoe ultimately decided to go in a new Direction with Bill Cowher.

No longer employed by Pittsburgh, Greene’s shot at the elusive “One for the Thumb” seemed to end, as went on to coach Don Shula’s last defensive lines in Miami, and then worked for the Arizona Cardinals until a coaching change cost him his job in 2003.

Joe Greene Comes Home, Makes Good on “One for the Thumb”

Greene however did not stay on the unemployment line for long. Dan Rooney offered him a job in the Steelers scouting department, where Greene began work in 2004 as Kevin Colbert’s “Special Assistant/Pro and College Personnel” where he focused on scouting college talent in the Southwest as well as pro talent, according to the Steelers media guide.

When he returned to Pittsburgh, the Steelers were coming off a 6-10 season, and Pittsburgh Shock Jock Mark Madden lambasted the move as “Window Dressing” designed to disguise a off season of horrendous free agent moves such as the decision to sign Duce Staley (and eventually draft Ben Roethlisberger).
  • The next season the Steelers went 15-1 and a year later they won Super Bowl XL
...Ah, perhaps Mr. Madden would like that one back.

By 2005 the term "One for the Thumb" had fallen out of favor with Steelers management if not the fans, but Joe Greene nonetheless finally got his fifth ring for Super Bowl XL and later earned a sixth for Super Bowl XLIII.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Jarvis Jones Makes Bold Statement in Requesting Greg Lloyd's #95


Since being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft Jarvis Jones has said all the right things.

When asked by Dan Gigler of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette if he feels pressured to replace James Harrison he responded:
I don’t compare myself in [any] way to James Harrison. Great player. I respect him. Never met him. I love his game. I wouldn’t mind being an impact player like James Harrison.
He likewise took a question about “falling” to 17 in the draft in stride, explaining:
I landed right where I wanted to be. I don’t think [anything] of it. This team chose me for a reason, because they wanted me to be here. And I fully accept that those [other] teams passed on me for a reason – they didn’t want me to be there so I fully accept that. I’m just going to continue to get better, do everything my coaches ask me to do and just love being a Pittsburgh Steeler.
Contrast the humility displayed by what many considered to be the best edge rusher in the draft with some of the recent statements attributed to Gino Smith and you get a better appreciation for that is known as “The Steelers Way.”
  • But actions speak far louder than words.
And Jones did not even need to be a Steeler for a week to make one of the boldest statements ever for a Steelers rookie.
If this were a poker game has seen his opponent’s $50 and raised it with a C-Note.

Yes, the Steelers franchise is rich enough and deep enough that numbers of former greats go on to be worn by players of varying worthiness.

Witness, Steelers Hall of Famer John Stallworth’s number 82 being worn by the likes of:
But the bestowal of 95 is not a matter that should be taken lightly.

Per the Steelers media guide, 8 players have donned number 95 since Greg Lloyd’s departure in 1998.

That’s a high number, but most of those have been “limited release editions” used for defensive lineman or linebackers, Corbin Bryant or Donovan Woods types, who’ve been temporarily activated from the practice squad. Defensive end Ryan McBean also wore the number for a full season in 2007.

Alameda Ta’amu wore the number in 2012 when not serving a suspension for his drunken rampage on the South Side.

The only other player to wear number 95 for the Steelers was 2003’s second round pick Alonzo Jackson, and we know how he turned out.

Indeed, the most notable player involving number 95 since Greg Lloyd’s time was Joey Porter. As a rookie in training camp Porter was assigned 95, and Porter was a preseason sensation whose play was so dominant that Levon Kirkland reportedly took to calling him “Greg” in the huddle.
  • Porter wanted to forge his own identify and switched his number to 55.
Jarvis Jones has taken the opposite route. Originally assigned number 91, Jones asked for 95.
  • That’s fine, because Greg Lloyd was as much about attitude as he was about on the field performance. 
Greg Lloyd’s “Just Plain Nasty” and “I Wasn’t Hired for My Disposition” wasn’t an attitude he simply demanded of himself, he demanded it from the rest of the locker room.

If you doubt that, look no further than Hines Ward’s retirement press conference where he cited Lloyd as someone who helped instill the proper practice ethic in him, despite the fact that Lloyd got cut shortly after Ward’s rookie mini-camp.
  • Jarvis Jones has thrown down the gauntlet in choosing his jersey number.
Let’s home Jarvis Jones can live up to the challenge he’s set for himself. Because you have to earn the right to wear number 95 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Al Pacino's "Six Inches in Front of Your Face" Steelers Style....


On Any Given Sunday might not have been the best movie made about pro football out there, even if one of its characters was supposedly inspired by Kordell Stewart.

But Al Pacino’s “Six Inches” in front of your face is one of the better cinematic renditions of a half time locker room rally speech.

Caddy Lakis, an apparent Steelers fan, has taken the trouble of editing together a collage of great moments from Steelers history, and interspersing it with Pacino’s “Six Inches” in front of your face.



Complements to Lakis, who has paired some of Steelers Nation’s proudest and most poignant moments for an excellently choreographed video, including unearthed footage of a young Dick LeBeau, a heavy dose of James Harrison’s 99 interception return in Super Bowl XLIII, Hines Ward’s retirement speech, Charlie Batch’s difficult day in Cleveland, Antonio Brown’s fumble in Dallas, and much more more.

Enjoy!

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Landry Jones Arrival in Pittsburgh All But Signals Charlie Batch's Exist


The Steelers surprised (and displeased) the pundits by drafting quarterback Landry Jones in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Beyond the surprise behind the Steelers using a 4th round pick on a quarterback, Landry Jones arrival likely means something else:  Charlie Batch’s days as a Pittsburgh Steeler are over.

The Steelers have already signed Bruce Gradkowski to a two year contract and, while they were expected to take a quarterback in the draft, they had also held out the possibility that Charlie Batch might return to back up Ben Roethlisberger for a final season.
  • Bruce Gradkowski’s not going anywhere, and the Steelers have shown more patience with drafted quarterbacks.
Since arriving in 2000, Kevin Colbert has drafted Tee Martin in 2000, Brian St. Pierre in 2003, Omar Jacobs in 2006, and Dennis Dixon in 2008. Of those four 5th round picks, only Omar Jacobs got cut in training camp.

Given that Landry Jones was a 4th round pick, his lease on an roster spot has got to be considerably longer, than his predecessors who arrived in Latrobe as 5th rounders. (Although during Kevin Colbert’s tenure the Steelers have cut 4th round picks, namely wide receiver Danny Farmer in 2000 and wide Fred Gibson in 2005.)

Although many things can change, heavens know the Steelers have had their share of training camp quarterback injuries, the odds have greatly increased that Charlie Batch has played his final game for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

No official word on Charlie Batch’s status has been released by the Steelers, although in his post-draft press conference Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner all but acknowledged that Batch’s days were done:
We have had great experience in that room with Charlie and Byron. I just think it was time to start grooming a new player, freshen up the room if you will.
For his own part, Batch at least appeared to be trying to forestall the inevitable, tweeting:
However, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook, Batch seemed to accept that the end was at hand, as he told Cook who observed:
But Batch won't survive the drafting of Jones. He said he's not bitter but rather thankful to the Rooneys and to general manager Kevin Colbert for giving him a chance "to live out my dream ... I'm the only guy born and raised in Pittsburgh who played for the Steelers and won two Super Bowls."
Charlie Batch truly is a home town boy who made good. While he speculated that the Steelers were intent on grooming Landry Jones as Roethlisberger’s replacement, he affirmed that he’ll stay in Pittsburgh dedicated to his foundation. (Batch's prediction about Landry being selected to replace Ben has been discounted)

Indeed, Batch went so far as to tell Cook, "I want to be remembered more for what I'm doing off the field than what I did on it."
  • What better statement of a man’s character is there?
The truth is that Batch accomplished both a lot on and off the field in Pittsburgh.

No official word has come out that Batch’s days as a Pittsburgh Steelers are over, but when that word does arrive, Steel Curtain Rising will give his legacy its appropriate adieu.

Until then, we’ll simply say, on behalf of Steelers Nation, “Thank you Charlie, for a job well done.”

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