The Pittsburgh Steelers have already made a number of changes to their coaching staff this year in the days following their postseason loss, announcing that they would be moving on from offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett, and defensive backs coach Tom Bradley. Tight ends coach James Daniel also announced his retirement.
That’s a number of new coaches that they already have to work on replacing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are done. It has been reported that, for now, they intend to retain Keith Butler as their defensive coordinator, which would require his being given a new contract, but that he would operate on a year-to-year basis.
Assuming that he does return as defensive coordinator, it remains to be seen exactly what that would entail. There have been increasing reports about head coach Mike Tomlin’s direct influence on making defensive play calls on game day, with Gerry Dulad reporting that Tomlin made all of the calls in the postseason loss—and my brief review of the broadcast didn’t see any contradicting evidence.
While he wouldn’t comment on the reports previously mentioned about who is calling the plays, Cameron Heyward was asked on WDVE about his thoughts regarding the possibility of some changes being made to the structure of how the plays are communicated and what his expectations were in that regard.
“I’m not sure. Coach Butz has been a good coach, and I love having him here”, he said. “As long as they don’t have me calling plays, I think we’ll be fine. I think we’ve got to continue to—whoever we bring in has to have the right mindset that this group needs to thrive”.
At this point, it’s hard to see them bringing anybody else in. If Butler is staying, then either he or Tomlin, or a combination of the two, is going to assume responsibility for calling the defense. The Steelers are happy with the scheme that they run as a whole, which is an extension of what has been in place for nearing two decades now.
My concern is not so much with the defensive play calls as much as it is with the execution and the pre-snap adjustments. I think improvements in those areas would go much further than trying to change the system as a whole or who is making the play calls,
There is one in-house possibility for change, and that would be Teryl Austin, who has years of experience as defensive coordinator. He is currently serving as a senior defensive assistant for the team, but he has gotten at least one interview for a coordinator position elsewhere so far this offseason.