There developed a conspiracy last year that Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin dethroned Keith Butler as the defensive coordinator, essentially taking over the job. This was silly to begin with, based on the misunderstanding that coaches regularly interact with one another as it is, simply as a part of their jobs.
We already know that Tomlin has a head set. We know he’s going to use it. He’s going to call some plays on defense. He’s also going to call some plays on offense. There have been more than a few occasions in which we have heard after the game that Tomlin—or somebody else—made a particular notable call in a game.
Anybody who pays attention would have already known this. Frankly, we saw it play out in excruciating fashion at the end of the New England Patriots game last year, if you ever saw the mic’ed up version. Both Tomlin and Todd Haley were making communications.
And yeah, sometimes that’s a problem. Butler was asked about that on Thursday. Specifically if there were too many voices in players’ ears.
“Shoot, you better have some voices in your ear because they do not look very good right now”, he said, according to the team’s media department. “I don’t know if it’s too many coaches in your ear. We all try to be on the same page, we watch the film together, we come out of film with the same things on our minds in terms of what we have to correct and what we have to do better so I do not think we are on different wavelengths with the coaches”.
Still, that doesn’t mean they can’t occasionally end up at cross purposes simply by speaking over one another. During the incident referenced above, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger expressed confusion over having been given commands by different coaches.
“I think we just have to make sure when we communicate they hear the same thing from all of us”, Butler said, “and they are”. But that doesn’t provide a satisfying explanation for how the defense ended up running two different coverages on the same play, leading to breakdowns that the Kansas City Chiefs were able to exploit.
The odds are that the issues are manifold. While the sideline communication—whether one voice or many—is a factor, it’s also ultimately incumbent upon the defenders to set themselves, a responsibility that primarily falls at the feet of Vince Williams this year. But others are part of the communication chain as well, and any link that doesn’t hold up will break the entire defense against the right offense.