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How Will Steelers Replace Brian Flores? They Won’t. Here’s What They’re Doing Instead



Steelers SDA Brian Flores

PHOENIX — When the Pittsburgh Steelers lost senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach Brian Flores to be the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive coordinator, Mike Tomlin intentionally set out to do something different with his coaching staff.

Unable to replace a coach like Flores, who was well over-qualified to be a position coach, Tomlin didn’t even try, intending to do something completely different with the position so that the replacement didn’t automatically suffer by comparison.

“I think more than anything when you’re trying to replace a dynamic guy like Flo, you change the profile of the replacement in an effort to acknowledge the transition and not make comparables,” Tomlin said.  

“I’ve done it before in the past. We lost a young, dynamic coach in Scottie Montgomery years ago and I didn’t try to replace him with a young dynamic guy. I replaced him with a sage-like Richard Mann. So, sometimes when I have a dynamic coach and I lose him, in a way to alleviate the loss, I’ll change the profile in an effort to stay away from comparisons and things of that nature. When you go through changes, it’s going to be different. I embrace the differences and difference doesn’t always mean better or worse. It just means different.”

So instead of a head coach in waiting like Flores, Tomlin plucked 36-year-old Aaron Curry from the Seattle Seahawks staff. Curry will be a full-fledged NFL position coach for the first time in his career after spending four seasons as a coaching assistant in Seattle and four before that as a defensive line coach at UNC Charlotte.

“I just love the upside,” Tomlin said. “Here’s a guy who’s relatively new to the coaching business but is not new to football. He’s been involved from a player perspective in just about every way you could be involved, so it’s reasonable for him to bring that expertise into his coaching. He’s a younger guy and is able to do some physical things from a coaching perspective that can add to his ability to relate.”

The Steelers also saw the exit of veteran linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky this offseason. Instead, the team promoted Denzel Martin to outside linebackers coach to work alongside Curry.

Martin and secondary coach Grady Brown were the Steelers’ coaching representatives at the Senior Bowl, with Brown working as a defensive coordinator and Martin a full position coach. A few months later, Martin has already earned that promotion, and the Steelers seem to be intentional about developing some young assistants on the defensive side of the ball.

“Both guys have continually gotten better,” Tomlin said. “They are showing their ability to meet the demands of the roles that they hold. So, it’s reasonable to expect them to add more responsibility. So, that’s what we’ve done. I take a personal interest in their growth and development, so it’s important to put them in positions to grow and develop. 

“So, you put them in things like the Senior Bowl and elevated roles as a major component of that. The first game I called at the professional level was the Senior Bowl when I was the secondary coach of the Bucs. So, I have that perspective and I want to be a contributor to their growth and development. I take a lot of pride in that.”

That doesn’t mean that if another top-flight coach lands on Tomlin’s doorstep, he won’t take him. But the process that led Flores to come to Pittsburgh, with his unexpected firing by the Miami Dolphins and subsequent lawsuit against the NFL, sure isn’t a repeatable process.

Developing their own top-flight assistants is. Tomlin has tended to prefer those old sages like Mann throughout his career, but now has one of his youngest coaching staffs. Brown, Curry, Martin are joined by Eddie Faulkner and Frisman Jackson on the offensive side, giving Pittsburgh five assistant coaches aged 45 or under.

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