The Pittsburgh Steelers have a big decision to make over the coming days and weeks, however long it takes, and it’s one that they have chosen to take on. After opting not to renew the contract of Randy Fichtner, who has served as offensive coordinator for the past three seasons, they have given themselves the task of finding somebody else to run the offense.
Fichtner was a part of head coach Mike Tomlin’s original staff in 2007, first serving as wide receivers coach, but moving to quarterbacks coach in 2010. He retained that role through the 2019 season, including his first two years as coordinator, before bringing in Matt Canada for that position in 2020.
During that time, he and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger grew very close, fostering a relationship similar to that which he had with Bruce Arians, another former offensive coordinator, in terms of the level of respect they held for one another.
Roethlisberger, who will turn 39 later this year and is under contract through the 2021 season, could be potentially mulling retirement, and no doubt he is not happy about seeing one of his closest associates in the organization now gone. While his performance may have been lacking, Fichtner was very well-liked in the building as a person.
But as former Steelers quarterback Bruce Gradkowski points out, the organization’s decision for their next coordinator has to be about more than just Roethlisberger. You certainly can’t hire somebody just in the hopes that it keeps your franchise quarterback happy for another year or two before hanging it up.
“I think it’s important now that the next hire is not only for Ben, but it’s for the future and where this position, this offensive group is going to go”, he said on The Fan yesterday when the news came out that the team opted not to renew Fichtner’s contract.
Other than Todd Haley, brought in in 2012 to replace Arians, and who served here for six years, the Steelers have spent most of the past two decades promoting from within at the offensive coordinator position to retain the same system. Roethlisberger bellyached quite a bit when Haley was brought in and introduced new terminology and ideas. Gradkowski thinks they need another outside voice.
“For sure”, he said. “I’d like to see a veteran coach come in. I was with the Steelers when they hired Mike Munchak as offensive line coach, and that was one of the best hires I’ve been around. I saw the impact that he made with the offensive line, with our protections, the run game. It was a huge hire”.
“So if Tomlin makes the right hire”, he went on, “you will see the difference in this offense. And I think this is a huge hire right now because of where we stand”, referring both to the state of the team and the near-future transition at the quarterback position.
“What is the next step? What is the plan?”, he asked. “It doesn’t seem like there’s a plan, and there hasn’t been. There’s got to be a plan for after Ben”.