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Saunders: Steelers Have Chance to Create Dream Team Coaching Staff



Titans Steelers Playoff HC Mike Vrabel
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 19, 2021. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the market for some coaches. There are some good coaches on the market. Let’s play match-maker, and fix a ton of the team’s issues on both side of the ball in process.

The Steelers have been interviewing candidates for a pass-game coordinator role that they are apparently creating on offense, looking for a coach with some passing chops that can assist new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.

What better possible candidate than Eric Bieniemy? Once considered the top of the crop of NFL offensive coordinators and a sure-fire head coach prospect, Bieniemy’s star has lost some of its shine after a middling season with the Washington Commanders.

But he certainly has the passing game expertise to help Arthur Smith develop a more-potent unit on that side of the ball. After a lot of talk about the Steelers mining the coaching tree of Kyle Shanahan or Sean McVay, why not go for a former assistant of the guy that’s in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years — especially one with a link to Mike Tomlin?

The Steelers also need a wide receivers coach, with the news coming Monday that Frisman Jackson will not return. That will likely be a spot for someone with some closer ties to Smith, but a quick check of his coaching history doesn’t reveal an obvious fit.

How about a former Steelers legend in Hines Ward? Ward lost out on his XFL head coaching job when four teams were contracted from league in its merger with the USFL for the spring of 2024. He formerly served as the wide receivers coach at FAU and was a coaching assistant with the New York Jets and Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward Senior Bowl

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward honored as part of the Senior Bowl 75th Anniversary Team. — Alan Saunders / Steelers Now

Ward would immediately command the respect of occasionally wayward receivers George Pickens and Diontae Johnson, and it never hurts the cause of a player hoping to be elected to the Hall of Fame to be continually seen around NFL circles.

The Steelers have more vacancies on the offensive staff, with assistant quarterbacks coach David Corley and offensive quality control coach Matt Tomsho both not returning. How about Pittsburgh native and former Pitt wide receivers coach Brennan Marion for one of those roles?

Marion, current the UNLV offensive coordinator, was the wide receivers coach at Pitt under Pat Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple when Kenny Pickett had his career year in 2021. Pickett and Marion have a great relationship, and Marion’s innovative Go-Go offensive scheme that he developed would be an interesting complement to the zone runs that Smith prefers.

Most of the focus has been on the offensive side of the football for the Steelers, but the team still could add to the defensive staff. The Steelers never filled the senior defensive assistant role that Brian Flores had in 2022 after he left to become the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. 

Teryl Austin, who has a secondary background, seemed to help Keith Butler when he was first installed in that role in 2019. Then when Austin was promoted to defensive coordinator, Flores, an ex-linebackers coach, helped with a front-seven perspective. That seemed to be missing in 2023, and the Steelers would do well to replace it going forward.

How about former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel? Vrabel, a former Steelers outside linebacker, was left out of the head coaching carousel after being surprisingly fired by the Titans. Vrabel’s defensive expertise could go a long way in maximizing the abilities of the Steelers’ front seven and helping Austin in the same ways Flores did.

Are all of these moves reasonable? Likely not. Many of those coaches will have multiple options. It’s not likely the Steelers will be the best fit for all of them. 

Pittsburgh Steelers Washington Commanders Eric Bieniemy

Washington Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy in action during an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

But the Steelers’ coaching staff has been too small and too poor for too long. The team has talent issues, especially at quarterback, that are hard to solve. There are finite resources in terms of draft capital and salary cap space that must be contended with.

Having one of the best coaching staffs in the league is as simple as identifying good coaches, recruiting them and paying them. Tomlin is one of the most popular coaches in the NFL. It should be easy for him to recruit quality talent. If the team is as serious as Art Rooney II says it is about being urgent to return to significant postseason contention, forking out the dough for a top-quality coaching staff is a great way to show it.

Look at what Alabama did over the last few years to leverage that team’s success and Nick Saban’s popularity as a sort of coaching rehab for the likes of Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian, Bill O’Brien, Brian Daboll and others.

There’s no reason the Steelers couldn’t execute the same kind of plan at the NFL level and consistently maintain a sought-after and high-quality coaching staff.