Haley in Unenviable Spot with Steelers? Not so Fast Mr. Judge


Countdowns, rankings, and lists seem to be the go-to themes used by pundits every N.F.L. offseason to give us the fans more to chat about until our professional football thirsts are quenched.  CBS.Sportsline’s Clark Judge recently listed 10 N.F.L. Coaches (Head and Assistant alike) which he believed might find themselves in “unenviable positions” during the 2012 season, and one of the ten was newly hired Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley of the Steelers.

I however, do not necessarily agree that Haley is in as “unenviable” of a spot as Judge believes he is.  In fact, I believe that Haley might be in quite the advantageous position as the new Offensive Coordinator for the Steelers.  Thus, today I would like to discuss why Judge’s estimation on Haley might be a bit misguided, as well as why I believe Haley is in a solid position to help himself as well as help the Steelers’ Offense over the coming seasons.

Talent Everywhere on Offense

How on Earth Haley can be in an “unenviable” spot when one considers the talent he has to work with on the Offensive side of the ball in Pittsburgh is definitely something which makes absolutely zero sense to me.  I mean, just look at a sampling of the players at the skill-positions on this team as they are entered Training Camp today:

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger

Wide Receivers: Mike Wallace (Hopefully), Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery

Tight End: Heath Miller

Running Back: Isaac Redman, Chris Rainey, Jonathan Dwyer

Not only are their four Pro Bowlers in this mix, but Pittsburgh’s Offensive Line has received a much needed face-lift and should be on the upswing as early as this season with their infusion of talented youth over the last three years.  Between the Quarterback, the five talented pass-catchers which each bring a unique skill-set to the table, the stable of Running Backs, and the revamped Offensive Line, Haley has essentially been given the keys to a fully-loaded Porsche in his new position.  I can say confidently that two-thirds of the Offensive Coordinators around the League probably wish they had some, if not most of the players which Haley has at his disposal entering his first season with the team.

Bar Has Not Set Particularly High and “Arians Factor”

As we all know, famed “Bubble Screen Wizard” and Haley’s predecessor Bruce Arians “retired” this past offseason which paved the way for Haley to be hired in his spot.  And as we all remember, or would choose to forget depending on how one looks at it, the Arians tenure was not something which could be considered “stellar” by any means considering how efficient the Offense was with the talent it had, especially in the Red Zone.

Last season was a prime example of the Steelers’ and Arians’ struggles, as Pittsburgh finished only 21st in the League in Scoring (20.5 PPG), scored a meager 2.2 TD’s per game which ranked them 20th, and scored Touchdowns on just over half of their trips into the Red Zone last season (50.91% 17th).

Because of the Offense’s underachievement under Arians, the bar will not necessarily be set as high for Haley to come in and turn this Offense into a juggernaut from Day 1.  Realistically, Haley will likely only need help this Offense improve from the pedestrian stats and output which they put up under Arians.  By not having to replace any sort of legend, Haley will literally only need to have this Offense operating at an efficient level this season, and that will likely yield a marked improvement over the 2007-2011 seasons.  So many were stoked when the organization made the decision to let go of Arians that Haley will be walking into a situation where any upgrades and improvements will be appreciated and welcomed by “Steeler Nation.”  A fanbase which was sick and tired of game-plans which either ignored the team’s strengths and weaknesses far too often and sputtered when 7’s were needed instead of 3’s.

Chance to Become Head Coach Again

The final factor which could make Haley’s current job “enviable” is that his position with Pittsburgh would be the perfect stepping-stone for him if he ever wanted to get back into Head Coaching again.  Think about it, three to four seasons of Pittsburgh’s Offense being a Top 5 unit and some forays deep into the postseason could make Haley a hot-commodity on the Head Coaching market once again, and force teams to re-evaluate whether or not he deserves another shot at being the “Head Man” somewhere else in the League.

Coming back to the area which Haley called home for so long might be the perfect opportunity for him to grow as a Coach and get that awful stench of Kansas City out of his system.  Plenty of mistakes were made on Haley’s part in Kansas City, but luckily for him, he will be getting a second chance to prove himself with Pittsburgh for however long his tenure lasts in the Steel City.  Teams recycle Head Coaches all the time in the N.F.L., and Haley’s name could end up being on a short list within the next five to seven seasons for another Head Coaching job if he succeeds with the Steelers.

Final Thoughts

Let me be the first to state that this post is not by any means a statement that Haley’s new job with the Steelers will be a cake-walk.  The biggest issue facing Haley this season (and one Judge rightfully alludes to) will be his relationship with Big Ben.  Haley and Ben will have to co-exist, and Haley will have to tailor the Offense as best he can to his personnel, and at least maintain a cordial partnership.  Granted, Big Ben and Haley might never share the personal bond which Roethlisberger and Arians shared during their time together and continue to this day.  And while Haley and Ben might never be “buddy buddy,” they must (and hopefully will) still share the common goals of mutual success, winning football games, and making this Offense a force to be reckoned with in the future.  If these things can happen, look out though N.F.L., because good things might start happening on the Offensive side of the ball at Heinz Field.

Question marks aside, I cannot refer to nor believe that Haley’s new position is an unenviable one though when compared to others on Judge’s list (i.e. Pat Shurmur, Juan Castillo, Tony Sparano).  Ultimately, I think Judge might have been a bit too quick to refer to Haley’s new position as “unenviable,” because as I laid out above, Haley has some terrific chances to succeed in his new role in addition to the questions which surround his possible relationship with Big Ben.

Will Haley’s current task at hand be a challenge?  Of course it will.  But that is simply the nature of any coaching job in the N.F.L., regardless of where it is on the team’s totem pole in terms of overall responsibility.  Let’s just cross our fingers that the numerous positives can outweigh any negatives which come this Offense’s way in the immediate and distant future.

Now it’s your turn readers:  Is Haley in an unenviable spot?  Will he be just the right man for the Offensive Coordinator job?  Or will this situation go bad like it did in Kansas City?  The floor is yours.

Stats Provided By: http://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/team/pittsburgh-steelers/stats

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