The NFL moves fast. Today is black Monday, the day when several head coaches, general managers, and assistant staffs are about to be out of jobs. It’s not a good day.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, there won’t be a head coach or GM change. That much we know. But all attention turns to the first matter of offseason business.
What happens to offensive coordinator Matt Canada?
Don’t count on a decision coming today. Mike Tomlin is holding his year-end presser at noon. He’s guaranteed to be asked about the coaching staff next year, if any changes are coming, and he’s been in the league long enough to not bite. At best, he’ll decline to answer the question offering the standard “we’ll take time to review things” line. Or maybe he’ll again show confidence in Canada and the job he did, citing the progression the Steelers’ offense made. Either way, he’s not going to give away the game on Canada’s future.
So we’ll be left to speculate for a few more days. When could a move, if any, be made? Randy Fichtner was let go five days following the team’s 2020 Wild Card loss to the Cleveland Browns. Todd Haley was officially “parted ways with” four days after the team’s 2017 run ended. Based on that, we should know Canada’s status by the end of the week.
Honestly, I don’t know which way it’s going to go. It’s like deciding a playoff home game. It’s a coin flip.
Through the first six weeks of the year, I was positive Canada was on the outs. It wouldn’t have been a shock to see it happen by the bye week, though at the time I bet against Tomlin making the change. Indeed, Tomlin stuck by Canada and the offense improved since the bye. Points haven’t always been there, and that’s the name of the game, but the offense was better. Canada’s playcalling wasn’t as infuriating nor as costly and this young group found rhythm, even if there’s work to be done.
Canada’s contract status could be a key factor. We suspect, though we do not know, that Canada’s deal runs through 2023. In Pittsburgh, coordinators typically receive three-year deals and with Canada being promoted from QBs Coach to OC for the 2021 season, a three-year deal would run through next season. For the Steelers, that matters. They don’t fire coordinators, they “part ways” when contracts expire. Happened with Randy Fichtner and Todd Haley, happened with Keith Butler. The last time a Steelers’ coordinator was fired after a season was DC Tim Lewis in 2003; it’s also worth noting STs Coordinator Al Everest was fired shortly before the 2012 season.
Even if Canada is under contract, it’s no guarantee he stays. Nothing prevents Pittsburgh from firing Canada and a new regime of Omar Khan and Andy Weidl could want to do things differently, though owner Art Rooney II has the final say on these types of decisions.
Perhaps the biggest factor working against Canada is how the locker room feels. Throughout the first half of the season, the team took not-so-veiled shots at him as the offense struggled to do anything right. Nearly the entire receiver room voiced their displeasure with how they were used and they had the right to complain. Diontae Johnson was confined to out-breaking routes that didn’t offer YAC while George Pickens’ role ebbed and flowed during the year. Even Mitch Trubisky, a veteran leader, seemed to take a couple of shots. Of course, some of that is expected and a byproduct of losing when tensions were higher and frustration deeper. Complaints were hard to find when the Steelers found their groove; Najee Harris was especially complimentary Sunday afternoon while Kenny Pickett has also offered praise.
Canada’s offense was as simplistic as it gets, the sort of thing you’d see on Friday nights, not Sunday afternoons. He’d probably argue that was necessary to manage a young offense that played with a rookie quarterback for most of the year. Successful offenses aren’t inherently complex but Canada lacked solid constraint plays to build off his base system, a key difference between what he did and say, what Kyle Shanahan does in San Francisco. Our issues were well-documented, especially early in the season.
It was a tale of two halves for Canada. The first half of the year when it felt like a slam-dunk Canada wouldn’t return. And the second half of the year when things were better and Canada’s odds of staying seemed to rise. If the team does move on, the next step will be finding his replacement, either with an internal hire like QBs Coach Mike Sullivan or an outside addition. Beat writers are still confident he’ll be given his pink slip, but by Friday, we should have our answer.