It came seemingly out of nowhere yesterday that the Pittsburgh Steelers were hiring Frisman Jackson as their new wide receivers coach, who has spent the past two seasons with the Carolina Panthers. This was noteworthy less for the name or the hire than for what it meant, which is that Ike Hilliard, hired in 2020, was no longer their wide receivers coach.
The position has been a bit of a carousel in the wake of the retirement of Richard Mann, whom head coach Mike Tomlin had already pulled out of semi-retirement. Mann held the job for five years, and was succeeded by Daryl Drake, who shockingly passed away during training camp heading into his second season with the team.
Ray Sherman served as interim wide receivers coach that season before Tomlin permanently hired Hilliard, who had most recently worked with the Washington Commanders during Terry McLaurin’s rookie season, the following year.
Now he’s gone, and apparently not everybody is happy about it. Brooke Pryor, ESPN’s beat writer for the Steelers, tweeted out after the announcement that Hilliard “was well-liked among the WRs and his departure was a surprise and upsetting to some in the locker room”.
Ike Hilliard’s contract wasn’t renewed, per source. Still, it comes as a surprise. Hilliard was well-liked among the WRs and his departure was a surprise and upsetting to some in the locker room.
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) February 8, 2022
Now, I’m sure that’s par for the course when it comes to coaching decisions like that. Still, there are usually some indications of a pending change. There didn’t really seem to be any when it came to Hilliard that he would be a one-and-done contract hire (the Steelers typically sign position coaches to two-year contracts, coordinators to three-year contracts).
During his first season with the team, Hilliard oversaw a breakout season by then-rookie Chase Claypool, who set team rookie records in receptions and scoring. While Diontae Johnson had drops, he also showed significant development from his rookie season.
Johnson made the Pro Bowl this past year (albeit as an alternate), though he struggled to finish the season on a high note after he was originally not voted for the Pro Bowl, with drops reoccurring after having been largely absent.
Most notable, however, was the disappointing season of Claypool, who had just two touchdowns during the year and a highlight reel of near-catches rather than actual catches. Otherwise, his numbers roughly paralleled those of his rookie season, which is not what was hoped for—especially with JuJu Smith-Schuster missing most of the year.
I suspect that Tomlin is never going to go into great detail as to why he felt it was time to move on from Hilliard, beyond saying something along the lines of feeling it was time to move on. He’ll spent the bulk of his next media availability, when the question is raised, in talking up Jackson instead. Still, it would be interesting to hear more.