MOBILE, Ala. — The Pittsburgh Steelers shook up the Senior Bowl by hiring Arthur Smith as the team’s offensive coordinator, right in the middle of the first National Team practice of the week.
The Steelers interviewed Smith on Sunday, and did not interview any other candidates, even though president Art Rooney II said they might this week around the Senior Bowl practices.
With the news just minutes old, there are still a number of unknown questions about Smith, what his tenure as Steelers offensive coordinator might look like, and the process that led to him getting the job.
Here’s what we know and what we don’t know just as the news breaks.
Steelers Interviewed Just Three Offensive Coordinator Candidates
This was not a far and wide search. The Steelers had some reported, then denied interest in former Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury. They asked for but did not interview Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Robinson before he signed on with the Falcons.
Thomas Brown and Jerrod Johnson ended up being the only two individuals to interview and not get the job.
So what does that mean? Well, the team did cast a fairly large net. Of the five individuals with confirmed interest, there were two former head coaches, one former offensive coordinator and two current quarterbacks coaches. Three of the five played quarterback. The other two have running game backgrounds. Smith was the second-oldest of the group at 41, but he will be the youngest coordinator to ever work for Tomlin.
They got a good sample of the market for coordinators, even though it wasn’t a long list of interviews.
The Big Names Left Un-Interviewed
Smith was one of the few candidates on the market that seemed to fit the Steelers’ desire to hire an experienced NFL offensive coordinator that also didn’t have that experienced tempered by disaster.
But there were others. San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, Miami Dolphins quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell and Washington Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy all were such options.
Why weren’t they interviewed? That remains a very pertinent question. Let’s take a look at what changes between Smith’s interview on Sunday and his hire on Tuesday.
Brian Johnson is Staying in Detroit
The Lions offensive coordinator had been the top pick to replace Ron Rivera as the head coach of the Washington Commanders. If the hire was Johnson, Bieniemy, who interviewed for the top job, was expected to come available on the market.
But it was reported on Tuesday that Johnson will stay in Detroit, spurning the Commanders’ offer. With D.C.’s top pick gone, their coaching search will re-set. At the very least, it could be a while until Bieniemy’s status becomes clear.
Commanders officials were en route to Detroit for a meeting with Ben Johnson and Aaron Glenn when they got word that Johnson was staying with the Lions, per sources. While the abrupt pivot by Johnson was considered “surprising” by several league sources, he was not considered a…
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 30, 2024
With the pick most likely to let Bieniemy free off the board, deciding not to wait on his status after the Johnson news makes sense.
The NFL Gets Together in Mobile
Kubiak has had one virtual interview with the New Orleans Saints. Because they previously interviewed him virtually, the Saints are the only team that can interview him in person this week between the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl. If they plan to offer him the job, they will have an enormous head start on anyone else that might be after him.
A quick conversation with Mickey Loomis about his intentions this week could have made Kubiak’s status going forward very clear for the Steelers, and thus not worth the wait.
Similarly, Bevell, who has extensive NFL OC experience, has not interviewed for a single coordinator job after helping to lead Miami to historic offensive totals and a career resurgence for Tua Tagovailoa. Bevell reportedly turned down OC offers last year. If he is doing so again — another fact potentially gleaned in Mobile — then there’s no sense in waiting to make a hire.
Smith was probably the best hire the Steelers could have made on Tuesday morning. If they did so with fore-knowledge that they weren’t likely to be able to get the other remaining top candidates, then the somewhat rushed process may have made sense, to makes sure the Steelers didn’t lose out on Smith in the interim.
But if one of the other big names comes available later, the Steelers will risk looking like they rushed their process to hire Smith.