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Shutdown Corner

Todd Haley could be in for a bumpy ride in Pittsburgh

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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Haley may need to stand up for himself at first. (AP)

Out of the frying pan, into the fire? For former Kansas City Chiefs head coach and new Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, it may indeed be so. After he was fired from a Chiefs team whose front office allegedly engaged in various weird surveillance tactics, Haley replaced Bruce Arians as the man tasked to make the Steelers offense go.

Problem is, a lot of people in the Steelers organization didn't want Arians (who is now the Colts offensive coordinator) to be fired -- head coach Mike Tomlin expressed his endorsement of Arians' work after the Steelers were upset by the Denver Broncos in the wild-card round, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was known to be concerned about the direction of the offense after Arians' departure.

Some say that the switch is rooted in the desire of team president Art Rooney II to return the Steelers to the smashmouth offense of old, as opposed to an Arians offense that became more about spread formations and multi-receiver sets. That approach worked well in recent years, especially with the team's cadre of young speed receivers, but if you're into the old-school approach of Jerome Bettis tearing up defensive lines, the fancy approach probably won't get it done.

Haley spoke to a need for adaptation at his introductory press conference.

"Transition will always be, I don't want to say difficult, because I don't know how we could determine that right now; it's just starting," Haley said. "There is an uncomfortable aspect to newness, but that's not always a bad thing. I think it will be a great thing in this case. I am sure [Roethlisberger] will figure out we are trying to make him as good as he can possibly be. Not many players that I know of have ever had an issue with that."

In other words, give the new guy a chance before deciding that his approach is the wrong one. Fair enough, but a tough request for some players who still miss Arians.

"I've gotten a lot of calls and texts and emails from people around the league, both good and bad about him," Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Thursday, shortly before Haley was officially introduced at the team facility. "Everybody has an opinion, as we all know, and they're letting me know what their interaction with him was -- good, bad and indifferent. I've heard a lot of things and I'm looking forward to meeting him and forming my own opinion."

Roethlisberger then expressed serious concerns about Haley changing an offense that, in his opinion, doesn't need changing.

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If Roethlisberger and Tomlin aren't on board, the Rooneys didn't do Haley any favors. (AP)

"It would probably be easy for him to do. I don't know if it would be easy for us to learn it. We're so young on offense and the most-talented room in this whole building is probably wide receiver, no disrespect to anyone else. And they're also really young. They're still the tip of the iceberg in this offense and they did as well as they did last year. And they're just getting to the point that 'OK, this makes sense to me.'

"That was my biggest talking point to Mike [Tomlin] and those guys -- I would hate to just throw everything out and start over because I feel it would set us back two or three years because these guys are just starting to get it."

Valid points. Through the progression of coordinators from Mike Mularkey to Ken Whisenhunt to Arians, the Steelers put offenses on the field that helped them to appear in three Super Bowls and win two in the last decade.

Now, Haley could meet with Roethlisberger and allay all the quarterback's concerns -- that will indeed be part of his job as the schematic mentor to a superstar quarterback. And there is some precedent for a hybrid approach that would work for everyone involved. When Haley ran the offense for the 2008 Arizona Cardinals that almost beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, Whisenhunt was the head coach, and there were as many three-step drops and bunch formations as you'd see in any Steelers offense of the last few seasons.

But what approach will Haley bring to this team in 2012? He called the offense for the 2011 Chiefs, but season-ending injuries to quarterback Matt Cassel and running back Jamaal Charles left him with few colors in his palette -- at a certain point, you're going to call that fifth zip route to Dexter McCluster because there's nowhere else to go. The Steelers have many more options, and it will be up to Haley to not only make things work at a higher level, but to convince the men he's coaching that a new approach is warranted.

It will probably be easier than going through the day thinking that your phone is tapped, but not by much.

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