Let it never be said again that the Rooney family, owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers, are loyal to a fault. It’s easy to see how many fans of the Black & Yellow, and national observers of the franchise, developed that opinion in recent years.
The Steelers, tied for the NFL record for most Super Bowl wins, are now mired in their longest streak of playoff futility since before their 1970s dynasty. Their offense hasn’t put up more than 300 yards or scored more than 30 points since before Ben Roethlisberger hung up his cleats two years ago. Their fans, a nation of spoiled yinzers accustomed to perennially contending for Lombardis, have slid into malcontentment – taking up chants to fire embattled offensive coordinator Matt Canada. At Pittsburgh Penguins home games. At Penguins road games. At Pat McAfee broadcasts . . . in Utah. Literally everywhere.
Today, those fans got their pound of flesh when the Steelers canned Canada, handing the architect of their rickety, wobbly offense his walking papers just two days before Thanksgiving – and less than a week after an ugly loss to their hated rivals the Cleveland Browns.
Happy Holidays, Matt!
That the Steelers are 6-4 and currently in possession of a theoretical wild-card berth is something of a Thanksgiving miracle given that under Canada’s system, they’ve trailed in the fourth quarter of every one of their wins and have been outgained in yardage by every opposing offense they’ve faced this season. The Steelers have scored fewer total points than their opponents through 11 games and somehow still have a winning record.
Maybe the only things more miraculous are that Canada managed to hold onto his job this long – having squandered the final season of Roethlisberger’s career along with the first year-and-a-half of Kenny Pickett’s – or the fact that the Steelers actually fired him midseason. The Steelers may be the only franchise in all of the American team sports OK with at least the appearance of valuing organizational loyalty and stability as much as winning. They’ve had only three head coaches since hiring Chuck Noll in 1969. Roethlisberger was under center from 2004 until 2021. According to ESPN, leather helmets were still an innovation the last time they fired a coach in-season.
But in the 1940s, the Steelers were still a laughingstock, not respected as among the historical best in the NFL. Today, they have a young QB in Pickett whose suspect play through a year and a half suggest the team either made a colossal mistake by using the 20th overall pick to draft him or that they couldn’t afford to leave him in the hands of a coordinator for whom jet sweep was a commandment and forward passes beyond 20 yards or between the hashes were verboten.
“The improvements were not rapid enough or consistent enough for us to proceed,” head coach Mike Tomlin said at his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon. “You gotta score touchdowns in this business, you gotta win games in this business and just the totality of it has us where we are today.”
But that wasn’t the most important thing Tomlin said.
“It’s my role to absorb and protect those that I work with. And this doesn’t feel like that. Obviously, I’m not interested in assisting blame or deflecting in any way,” Tomlin said.
If you’re unfamiliar with Tomlinspeak or weren’t listening closely enough, you might have missed what he really said there: “Matt, I protected you long enough and this seat’s starting to get a little too hot. Something had to give, and it was gonna be you before it was me.”
Where the Steelers are now, sans Canada, is having delivered themselves to the brink of clarity. They might hold onto their tenuous playoff spot or forfeit it by way of a losing streak down the back half of the season. Whichever way it goes, they’ve freed Pickett and the offense of any excuses related to a feckless coordinator incapable of scripting a game worth watching on Sunday afternoons. Now, if Pickett and WR Diontae Johnson can’t get on the same about deep routes, if alien receiver George Pickens still wants freed from this offense or if former first-round pick Najee Harris thinks the offense is too predictable, they’ll know exactly where to look, and it won’t be at Canada.
And if Pickett doesn’t get it together now, the Steelers might be looking back to the draft for his replacement.