The Pittsburgh Steelers have a bit of a reputation for keeping their coaching circle fairly small, if not necessarily close-knit. The latter part of that equation has been somewhat difficult to achieve at times under Mike Tomlin, who has gone through a number of position coaches during his first eight seasons as the Steelers’ head coach.
About a year or so ago, I recall reading that the Steelers maintained the smallest coaching staff in the league, and I have no reason to assume that that has changed. In fact, that coaching staff has only gotten smaller over the past week.
Of course, I am speaking about the amicable resignation of longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who, after spending the last 11 seasons, most of which saw his unit in the top 10 in the league, will be moving out west to serve as an advisor in Arizona, according to reports.
After a series of meetings with Tomlin, it, evidently, became apparent to both parties that there was a growing gap in philosophy about how to return the defense to a top unit. Perhaps Tomlin desired to put more of his own stamp on the defensive side of the ball.
Remember, Tomlin came from a defensive background himself, and while he spent a good deal of time as a defensive backs coach, with LeBeau a Hall of Fame cornerback, he also was a defensive coordinator, from a 4-3 background, prior to joining the Steelers.
The organization chose to promote from within, hiring longtime linebackers coach Keith Butler to be the Steelers’ new defensive coordinator in a private agreement long since publicly acknowledged by the local media.
While LeBeau had been operating on one-year contracts for a number of years, the Steelers enticed Butler to stay by paying him more than the average for the position and signing him to three-year deals, as opposed to two.
Butler’s most recent deal had expired with the conclusion of the 2014 season, and that, perhaps, also played a role in the organization choosing now to make the shift from LeBeau to Butler.
But the Steelers aren’t looking outside for help with the linebackers, either. They never even interviewed any candidates other than Butler for the defensive coordinator job, and they will not need to look far for candidates to take over Butler’s role, either.
Two former Steelers linebackers, Jerry Olsavsky and Joey Porter, are already on the staff, and one, or perhaps a combination of both, will take over the duties of coaching the linebackers in 2015, it is widely predicted, for good reason.
It’s hard to imagine, but the Steelers are hoping that the departure of LeBeau will serve as addition by subtraction, maintaining the same defensive coaching staff sans the top of the totem pole while looking to improve the unit.
A lot of that comes down to the players, of course, and there is some reason for optimism, with a number of young players, hopefully, emerging. Butler’s new defensive strategies must put these young players in a position to succeed in order to complete the defensive turnaround.