Who calls the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense? It’s been implied for years, even occasionally said outright by certain reporters—usually one in particular—that it’s not defensive coordinator Keith Butler, but rather head coach Mike Tomlin. That one particular reporter, Aditi Kinkhabwala, made that same point yet again yesterday while on 93.7 The Fan.
While she was discussing the Steelers’ run game on offense and their lack of rushing attempts in recent weeks, he lamented about why Tomlin doesn’t simply tell first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada to call more run plays.
“Mike Tomlin has done that on defense. He did it at the end of Dick LeBeau’s tenure and he’s done that through the entire Keith Butler tenure”, he said. “Keith Butler has never designed or called a defense in the entire time that he’s been the defensive coordinator. So why can’t Mike Tomlin step in and say that to the offensive coordinator?”.
In spite of her claim, Butler still finds himself with the play card in his hands and communicating in the microphone to, this year, anyway, Joe Schobert with the green dot. What exactly is he saying to Schobert, and what is the point of his holding the card?
I would really like to know what any of this is actually based on. It’s not as though Tomlin doesn’t routinely and repeatedly say that both sides of the coaching staff is a collaborative effort, nor has he ever denied that he makes decisions and calls plays in every phase of the game. Because of course he does, because that’s what head coaches do. But the claim is that Tomlin is, in essence, the defensive coordinator. Where is the evidence of this, beyond reporters repeating it?
And why would Butler even want that? From what had always been reported, he and the Steelers had a handshake agreement that he would succeed LeBeau as defensive coordinator, which is why he was highly-compensated for a position coach, and why he never accepted any job interviews for open defensive coordinator roles with other teams.
“I don’t want to put words in his mouth, and I don’t want to say what he was thinking, but everyone makes their own decision, to some degree”, Kinkhabwala said about the idea of Butler accepting a shadow role. “I just feel strongly that everybody wants to fire him. Let’s just…”, the pause implying that it should be Tomlin who receives the criticism for the defensive playcalling.
At the end of the day, people are going to believe whatever they want to believe on this topic. If they want Tomlin to be the scapegoat, they’re going to say he’s the de facto defensive coordinator. The reality is we don’t have the evidence, either way, because nobody has ever provided any of it.