The Pittsburgh Steelers moved on from wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson on Monday. With Jackson gone, the first true position coaching spot will be open on the Steelers staff under new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. Jackson spent two seasons with the team with turmoil in the room in the public sphere abound and a lack of development from a guy like Chase Clapyool ending up in his dismissal.
There are plenty of questions about who could land the open job, but the one name that will be discussed is Hines Ward. The former Steelers wide receiver nearly became the coach years ago, but circumstances prevented that. Instead, Ward has gone on a football odyssey as a coach. He started with Pittsburgh in 2017 but landed with the New York Jets as an offensive assistant for two years from 2019 to 2020, before accepting the wide receivers coach job at Florida Atlantic. Then, Ward would be the head coach of the San Antonio Brahmas for just one season before being let go this winter.
All that said, Ward does not have the standout qualifications as a coach to be the favorite for that job. What he does have, though, is the connection between the organization and the aura of what the Smith offense wants. Ward is an old-school, blocking-first mentality guy who could bring one of the most essential attributes to a room that needs it the most. Knowing how the team was like during its last dominant period is another feather in the cap of Ward.
As a player, Ward was an excellent all-around receiver, and while his blocking is the most notable trait, he probably does not get enough credit for his route running or the nuances of his routes in general. Ward embraced the term ‘all-around receiver,’ which still raises questions about how he would coach receivers. At this point, his credentials as a coach are largely up in the air, and the Steelers could try to land a big fish for the job.
If he didn’t play for the Steelers or have a background in Pittsburgh, would he be a serious contender for the gig? Very unlikely. But that background makes him uniquely qualified for a position like this one, especially when he is a disciplinarian at heart and could bring some special guidance and mentorship to George Pickens and Diontae Johnson.
Ward is a solid candidate, given those connections. And there is the fact that what he emphasizes the most, blocking, fits precisely what Smith’s scheme calls for with its rushing attack and condensed splits. So, these receivers must be ready to block, and Ward could be instrumental in that mentality shift. There’s also a lot of sentimental value creeping into this.
I acknowledge the facts that make Ward a solid hire. But if the team sees a better fit with other qualified coaches out there, and many of them have NFL and college coaching experience, it’s easy to look in the other direction. Ward is not a must-have. He brings the enticing qualities of tradition and the emphasis that fits the scheme, which is why he should garner consideration. But it’s not something that has to happen.