The Problem With Haley: Ivan’s View
From a 2011 interview with Steelers super scout Bill Nunn:
Ivan Cole: I have been looking at what the Steelers have been able to do over the past 42 years. After all, Tony Dungy was originally part of the Chuck Noll coaching tree. Tomlin was part of the Dungy tree, meaning we’ve come full circle.
Bill Nunn: And who hired Tomlin? Dungy. The tree is really interesting. [But] Nepotism is becoming a great part of this now. With the salaries, they’re trying to get their kids into it.
Nunn has more to say about coaching, not all of it kind. He speaks to the promotion of coaches and coaching to the detriment of natural athleticism. Like this:
BN: If you’re always thinking and you’re a natural athlete, then something isn’t right. Now if you’re smart and you know what’s going on, you can make it look like you’re reacting on instinct. Is that instinct? Now another guy, if he has to think he can’t react with his natural skills. So now you have two different types of people.
Now who’s coaching them? See, coaches are making so much money. So, now they’re like, “Hey, I’m making all this money I’ve got to be doing something.” They’ve got these huge playbooks. What do you need all that stuff for? They’ve got something for every kind of scheme…If I were playing I would have been lost.
IC: That’s why lawyers have their particular jargon…
BN: And doctors are sending you to other doctors. And they mess up. Like doctors mess up, but you can’t prove that they messed up.
And as a result, who’s coaching today? Name a really great football player who is coaching in the NFL today. I say this because a couple of weeks ago this kid runs this computer program and gives me a list of all 32 head coaches in the National Football League. Only two or three had ever played football in the league.
Back to Ivan:
My daughter was a top basketball prospect in high school where she averaged 20 points a game. In a big district contest with first place at stake during her senior year, her coach decided to move her away from the basket (she was a post player) and use her as a decoy.
I arrived late to the game and was standing behind a couple of coaches for other teams in our district who were laughing, because that tactic accomplished something they were never able to achieve on their own—stop my daughter. They lost the game.
You can certainly argue with some of Bill Nunn’s reasoning. Having played the game doesn’t necessarily give an automatic leg up on coaching. Keith Butler, Joey Porter and Carnell Lake are former NFL players while Mike Tomlin and Richard Mann are not.
The fundamental point here, and it is in no way restricted to Todd Haley, who is more a symptom of the disease, is this—the idea that it is about the coaches as opposed to the players.
First, an important disclaimer. My conversation with Nunn occurred a year before Haley joined the team. That being said, Nunn’s remarks fit Haley, and a depressingly large number of coaches, especially offensive coordinators around the league rather well.
Nepotism? Check. You would think, given the personnel patterns over recent years, that certain families have been genetically engineered to produce professional football coaches. Schottenheimer, Shanahan, Ryan, Phillips, Gruden, Shula and Haley. Not exactly a meritocracy.
So, let’s get some things straight here as we move along, starting with some of the comments by Wes Lee and others that are flat out erroneous.
THE DEFENSE DID NOT GIVE UP 45 POINTS! The offense gave Jacksonville a touchdown directly, and relinquished the ball once in Pittsburgh’s own red zone. Do you blame the defense because they couldn’t prevent a score from point blank range? So, now we’re at 31 points, still too many, but there’s more.
What kept Buffalo in the game the week previous was following a field position strategy leaning on an injured Sean McCoy, which almost worked until they got a first and goal at the two-yard line and the Bills decided to do some coaching.
Pittsburgh had a totally healthy Le’Veon Bell. It was decided to utilize him the way my daughter was utilized in that basketball game.
The first three offensive plays were from the spread empty set formation. Message to the Jaguar defense: ‘Don’t worry your pretty little heads about stopping Bell and the running attack, we’ll do that for you.’ And that, presumably, was the scripted part of the offense.
Result: Three and out, so much for field position, having the best back in football running behind the best offensive line. We’re playing 12-dimensional chess here, you wouldn’t understand.
They apparently amped it up to 14 dimensions when it came to those fourth down plays. Both plays were preceded by a time out, so there was time to give consideration over what to do (And please don’t blame Tomlin. He makes the call as to whether to proceed, the OC calls the play).
I guess this is the point where someone suggests that “we don’t live in our fears.” That would be making the mistake of believing that conservative decisions are always fearful decisions. Being bold is one thing, being imprudent (Twice!) is another.
Betting the mortgage money at the craps table is not being bold. Neither is having no faith in the league’s best running back being able to gouge out half a yard behind the league’s best offensive line.
Results: Great field position [for the Jaguars,] augmented by a swing in momentum and two touchdowns. And for that you want to blame and fire the defensive staff. Oh, please.
I would consider those 14 points as a collaborative effort. Or put another way—the Steelers offense put up 42 against the Jags and played a healthy role in kicking in 28 against its own defense.
Those 42 points were the most that the Steelers offense has produced all season. This offense, with four Pro Bowl caliber linemen, the best receiver in football, the best running back in football, and a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback managed to score 30 or more points four other times this season. They scored 20 or less five times.
The defense gave up 30 or more points three times, twice to the same opponent. They held the opposition to 20 or fewer points 11 times, 15 or fewer six times, and played six games without their best player and defensive quarterback. And now they are being declared a dumpster fire.
Continuing with getting some clarity here. Haley/Munchak/etc were gifted their talent. And the process of putting together that offensive line, Ben, AB, etc. began before either of them arrived.
Want to impress me? Generate those stats with Ben behind Chris Kemoeatu, Darnell Stapleton and Justin Hartwig. Isaac Redman. Limas Sweed. The argument can certainly be made that this group is underachieving. In contrast, your assessment of a young defense is to try Cleveland’s method. How’s that working for them?
So, if the stories are to be believed, Haley ran off a few assistant coaches, including perhaps Munchak before the ax fell, had Ben musing early retirement, alienated Antonio Brown, and who knows how many other players. He had one of the best offensive toolboxes anyone has ever seen, but it was life and death getting past 30 points because he has more faith in his schemes than in his talent. And you want to fire Carnell Lake.
I didn’t know the opioid problem in Pittsburgh was that bad.