The Pittsburgh Steelers announced on Thursday that they had promoted quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner to offensive coordinator to replace Todd Haley and on Friday he gave his first radio interview to WHBQ 56 Sports Radio in Memphis, TN, his old stomping ground.
Fichtner began the interview by talking about his longstanding relationship with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler that goes all the way back to 1989 at Memphis with the latter of the two.
“I was a volunteer assistant coach for Chuck Stobart at USC coaching the quarterbacks. When he got the job [at Memphis] and came in December of 89, I’ll never forget,” Fichtner explained. “He interviewed me for the wide receiver-slash-quarterback job and I took the wide receiver job. He gave that one to me and then he slashed it and said, ‘Why don’t you take the quarterbacks, too? I’ll work with you because I still want to be involved. I’m going to call plays.’ We really didn’t have an offensive coordinator and that was the beginning of the Memphis run. It was December 89. It was the first time I met Keith Butler. He was in the interview process, same thing. Joe Lee Dunn, Wayne Weedon, that was the crew.”
Fichtner, who has been with the Steelers since 2007, Tomlin’s first year as the team’s coach, has developed quite a solid relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger over the years and many believe that played a significant role in him being named Haley’s successor on Thursday. Fichtner talked Friday about how his relationship with Roethlisberger developed into what it is now.
“He’s a unique individual, not just as a player, but as a person, and some of his experiences, some of the things that’s gone on in his life and to get to this point, it started 11 years ago,” Fichtner said. “I was coaching in the wide-out room. I had Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, that group, and so the buffer between that group and quarterback room, where Kenny Anderson was the quarterback coach, kind of fell to the younger guy, which was me at the time.
“And I’m not going to say I was young, as we all know I’m not young, but obviously younger than Kenny. And so, the energy flowed through me with Ben and those guys. And then three years later when Ken retired, Mike [Tomlin] slipped me into the quarterback room and we’ve been together ever since. I’ve been a sounding board in good times, in Super Bowl wins, I’ve been a sounding board in bad times, in Super Bowl losses.”
Fichtner also talked a little about how hard it is these days for good college quarterbacks to make it in the NFL because of the types of offenses that they run. He even noted that Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones is a perfect example of that.
“We drafted Landry Jones. Landry wasn’t ready to play football,” Fichtner said. “It just so happened we had a franchise quarterback and he didn’t have to play. What he could do is simmer, learn, grow, and then as Ben ages, we pull back in the offseason. We pull back the reps in fall camp, we pull back, heck, he rarely plays in preseason.
“Look at all that in-helmet perspective a young Landry Jones can get and all those reps. So, he’s got to eat them up and take advantage of them and now he’s in a position to be the backup and he has been solid. He’s been attractive to a lot of teams. Very confident in what he’s done to put himself in this position, but I promise you, five years ago, and he would tell you if he was sitting here right now, ‘Coach just thank you for not cutting me.’ And he threw for over 16,000 yards at Oklahoma and only lost four games, or something like that.”
Fichtner admitted that he’s still been very busy since the Steelers lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs this past Sunday and that includes him already working on installing new things on offense.
“You know, usually when the season ends, and you finish with your player exit interviews, Mike will give you a week or two off and just get out of here and I’ll come to Memphis, I’ll go to Destin or whatever,” Fichtner said. “But not now, now it was, we got to put together a plan. We’ve got to have enough things to be able to slide some runs in. And what are you going to do in short yardage if it comes up in the game and what are you going to do if you’re in the red zone? So, we’re putting together a quick think. I’ll put a notebook together and then we’ll be installing the notebook on Tuesday with a bunch of guys that don’t know anything about what you’re talking.”
The annual college pro days will be getting underway very soon and Fichtner said that he plans on attending the one in Memphis this year and that while there he’ll visit with his son Nate, who plays baseball there.
“I can’t wait to come down and see my son, Memphis baseball, but I’m going to tie it into pro day,” Fichtner said. “A day with Riley [Ferguson] and get a chance to visit with the wide receiver and any other player they got there because if we can help them, we’re going to.”
While we’ll have to wait until next season to find out how well Fichtner performs as the Steelers offensive coordinator, you can take solace in the fact that he really loves the game of football and the relationships that born out of it. After all, it’s all he’s every done his entire life.
“I was born into football,” Fichtner said. “That’s all I’ve known. That’s the only job I’ve ever had in my life. And if anybody can get a chance to say that, that’s just hard. And it’s beautiful and that’s all I’ve ever done is football and coach. And I like to think that football isn’t just a X and an O, I always thought it was the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s. And it’s about the people and it’s about the people you get a chance to touch and what they do for you is the greatest part.”
You can hear the full interview with Fichtner on 56 Sports below.