View Full Version : Harris: Changes needed

12-02-2006, 06:06 AM
Harris: Changes needed

By John Harris
Saturday, December 2, 2006

The Steelers had every reason to be confident entering 2006. Winning a Super Bowl does wonders for the ego.

But an ego will grow when you slip on a Super Bowl ring. It causes management to overrate talent and coaches to make allowances. Bad luck and injuries aside, the dreaded Super Bowl hangover was a major obstacle for the Steelers this season.

Coach Bill Cowher has always treated his players like men, and he has their respect. He's the ultimate players coach. But sometimes, he gives his players too much respect.

Coming off a Super Bowl season, Cowher may have given them too much rope early, and the players not only hung themselves, they hung the coach too. Repeated personal fouls were costly and set a bad precedent.

Cowher not only needs to re-establish himself as the leader and authority on the team, the Steelers need to get more leadership from some of the younger players like Troy Polamalu and Willie Parker.

But Polamalu and Parker aren't vocal locker-room leaders. They do their talking on the playing field. Vocal linebacker Joey Porter has attempted to fill Jerome Bettis' void as a team leader, but Porter's play on the field could be affecting his impact in the locker room.

When Bettis played for the Steelers last season, he didn't play a major role on the field, but he had the respect of his teammates. Bettis allowed players like Porter, who led all NFL linebackers with 10 1/2 sacks in 2005, to assume leadership roles, and the Steelers flourished.

If Cowher stays next year and overcomes this year's problems, great. But even if the Steelers bring in someone else, the new coach will have a similar challenge. The question that needs to be asked is what happened to this team early in the season? Was the poor start a result of Ben Roethlisberger's physical problems? Did the personal fouls and costly turnovers result from a lack of discipline?

Regardless of who coaches the Steelers next season, there has to be a change, personnel-wise and philosophically.

The Steelers got caught with their pants down this year. For instance, management miscalculated the cumulative effect of losing two very good No. 2 receivers in Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El. Randle El made up for the loss of Burress, but Cedrick Wilson, who stepped up in last year's playoffs, took a step back this year.

The Steelers also missed Randle El's ability to field punts without fumbling. Besides being a dangerous return man, Randle El protected the ball. At least three of the Steelers losses this season were the result of fumbled kicks and could be the difference between 4-7 and 7-4.

The play of the Steelers linebackers, always a team strength, also experienced an unexpected drop-off.

Porter, James Farrior and Clark Haggans are older now. They're still productive, but they don't make the plays and dominate a game like before. The Steelers have invested a lot of money in the defense, and they are expected to make plays to win games. That hasn't happened.

The play of the receivers is another area of concern. Patience is required with the receivers. They're not a bad group. They have some raw young talent in rookie Santonio Holmes and second-year man Nate Washington. Wilson is a capable veteran. Hines Ward, despite his naysayers, remains a dangerous playmaker.

As for Roethlisberger, the best is yet to come. The Steelers have had quarterbacks perform well before, and then play poorly. Roethlisberger, who has experienced more highs and lows during the past year than most people will face in a lifetime, has tossed a league-high 19 interceptions and has been sacked 36 times.

On the other hand, he's already won a Super Bowl, he's only 24, and the team has invested a lot of money in him. Big Ben gets a pass this season.

Every team has its own chemistry, and you have to find the pulse of that particular team. Of course, Cowher is being loyal to the veterans, but he's also trying to win games. With five games remaining, there is still time for the younger guys to play. To go strictly with younger guys would signal the end to the season. But is a 4-12 record really that much different from finishing from 6-10?

The truly great coaches are able to stick and move, and change on the fly. Cowher fits the mold. He's won big with Roethlisberger, Kordell Stewart, and Neil O'Donnell. The best coaches adjust to the needs of the team, rather than the team adjusting to the coach.

Over the past decade, this has been one of the best franchises in the NFL. They've made mistakes, but the Steelers' successes far outweigh their failures. If Cowher is still the right coach for the Steelers, he and management must cast their egos aside and make a sincere effort to make things better.


12-02-2006, 01:42 PM
Amen to that. Especially the last 2 paragraphs.

12-02-2006, 01:42 PM
Winning cures alot of ills and winning on Sunday vs the Bucs is the first step back.

12-02-2006, 01:51 PM
I think they'll go 6-10 or 7-9, and honestly, that's not that bad for the way they've played this season.

I think they'll be back next year, but they have to take things more seriously.

12-02-2006, 02:19 PM
Good frank and honest commentary. I wonder if someone from the Steelers' staff will read and take it to heart.