“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santayana
This season taught me many things, among them is a new understanding of why fights break out at soccer matches, because I surely fantasized about taking a swing at a fellow fan last Sunday, and we were allegedly rooting for the same team. I learned that even tightly run ships can and will begin to break apart when times are challenging. I learned (although I actually already knew this) that fans look for a scapegoat when teams struggle, and I learned that it doesn’t always have to be rooted in logic (although I actually knew that too). But, what I can’t quite figure out is why the Steelers season fell apart to the extent that it did. And that it is because it is not any one thing, but the sum of a lot of different situations all adding up to what could potentially be a losing record. Some were outside the team’s control, but some were not and will have to be lessons that they learn if we’re to avoid another season of extreme frustration.
Since armchair coaching and quarterbacking are the loudest at the end of an unsuccessful season, I will jump onto that bandwagon and offer my two cents worth:
• I believe that Ben Roethlisberger will always be injury prone, and the team needs to plan for it. Before the Chiefs game, Steeler fans were split in their opinion on whether or not the team needs to spend a draft pick for a back-up quarterback. I was on the side of believing that the team was vulnerable in that position. I was never so sorry to say “I told you so” as I was this year, but, as much as I love Charlie Batch and appreciate what he did in spelling Roethlisberger (remember, he was the starter for the last win the team had), everyone knew he was at the end of his career. Byron Leftwich has the confidence he needs to believe he can carry the load when needed, but I regret that I don’t share it. If you were to take a fan poll now, I think public opinion would swing strongly toward trying to shore up the depth chart at that position.
• Think twice before making the next coaching change. For years now, it seems that every season that ended short of a Super Bowl appearance found the fan base calling for Bruce Arians’ head. Be careful what you wish for. The young man sitting behind me during the Bengals game, slurring his words beginning mid-way through the first quarter, decided loudly and often that Todd Haley was to blame for it all. Although I’ll never be able to prove it, I’d wager a good deal that the same young man was griping about Bruce Arians this time last year. So, “BA” is with the Colts enjoying a good deal of success, headed for the post season, and we will all be sitting at home watching, Coaches Tomlin and Haley included. I never did understand the displeasure with Arians. I really don’t understand it now.
• It doesn’t matter what the playbook reads if the players don’t execute. But, even if I was not in favor of losing Arians, I do not feel anyone of us can fairly assess the work Haley did because the execution just wasn’t there on the field. Is that part of his responsibility to control and coach? Sure, no argument there, although I’m sure we all will argue over it throughout the long off-season, but he inherited a team of seasoned veterans who often just did not seem to be able to hold onto the ball.
• Teamwork is not just on the field and leaders lead by example. Once the wheels began to fall off the bus on the field, it appeared that there was some loss of control off the field as well. Personally, I was dismayed that Rashard Mendenhall provided the distraction that he did when he failed to show up for the game against the Chargers, but I was really dismayed when Roethlisberger was critical of the offensive play calling after the loss in Dallas. I think he’s realized his mistake and he did the right thing, in my opinion, in trying to walk it back and apologize for it, but it’s out there now and it’s like telling a jury to disregard a statement someone made in your murder trial: once it’s said, you can’t really unsay it. I am pretty sure my slurring young friend in the stands on Sunday got his opinion of Haley’s offense from that incident, because I know he was too intoxicated to really have any original thoughts of his own. But, setting that one fan aside, if the team veterans are behaving like truant disrespectful children, how are the younger players going to react? For me, that was the most upsetting development that came out of the last half of the season. I wasn’t surprised when the Jets fell apart as a team, but I wasn’t expecting it from the Steelers quite frankly.
Maybe the good news is that there is a long time now to think it all over and try to repair the problems before next season, which now seems so very far away with no hockey to bridge the gap. Maybe the biggest lesson to learn is that hard times make the good times that much more satisfying, and that means we have a lot to look forward to in the ‘Burgh.