Whether fair or not, Pittsburgh Steelers fans are scratching their heads and second-guessing Head Coach Mike Tomlin after it was announced that he made the decision that running backs coach James Saxon would not be renewed after five seasons. Performance-wise, Le’Veon Bell was a two-time All-Pro under Saxon, James Conner reached the Pro Bowl, and DeAngelo Williams should have been a Pro Bowler. The on-field product makes the rationale behind it difficult to understand without having more intimate information.
Among those “befuddled” by the situation is Aditi Kinkhabwala, who recalls her interactions with Saxon in the manner that many describe Dan Rooney. “I can’t think of a week since my son’s birth he didn’t ask me” about her son, she said.
And on a personal level, there may not have been a nicer man at #Steelers HQ than James Saxon. He was always smiling, always friendly, always genuinely interested in people. I can’t think of a week since my son’s birth that he didn’t ask me: “How’s your little man?”
My kid is 3.
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) January 7, 2019
Of course, being a nice guy doesn’t make you a good football coach. Nor does the simple fact that the players you coach put up good numbers. But Kinkhabwala also said she isn’t the only one not understanding the decision.
Tweeting a response to our own Melanie Friedlander in which she expressed her lack of understanding behind the move, the reporter said, “that’s pretty much exactly what I’ve heard from every player on the Steelers I’ve spoken to, and every coach around the league I’ve talked to. People are dumbfounded…and mad”.
And that’s pretty much exactly what I’ve heard from every player on the Steelers I’ve spoken to, and every coach around the league I’ve talked to. People are dumbfounded… and mad.
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) January 8, 2019
In contrast, in the wake of Tomlin’s decision not to renew the contract of outside linebackers coach Joey Porter, Mike Prisuta Tweeted that he had fielded a number of complaints from offensive players late in the season about him and his seeming goal to pit the offensive players and defensive players against each other in a message that was not received or understood well.
I don’t know when, but I’m sure at some point Tomlin is going to be asked why he made the decision to let Saxon go. Was it because of the running backs fumbling? Was it pass protection? Was that the reason they ran the ball so infrequently?
Alternatively, could he have been regarded as a part of the growing concern in the locker room about ‘culture’? Was he too friendly and lenient with the players? Was he looked at as culpable in allowing Bell to act out as he has?
We don’t know. And according to Kinkhabwala, there are a lot of people involved with the Steelers who don’t know either, and are still looking for a reason. It’s not the gravest sin to get rid of an assistant coach, but still, the fact remains that this was the most surprising coaching dismissal that Tomlin has ever made in Pittsburgh.
Think about it. Can you recall a similar firing that you were actually surprised by? Bruce Arians? Todd Haley? Jack Bicknell, Jr.? Dick LeBeau? Al Everest? Bob Ligashesky? Larry Zierlein? Any of those even remotely surprising or unpredictable? No. neither was Porter. Saxon? Nobody was expecting that. Which is why people are confused.