The Pittsburgh Steelers not bringing back offensive coordinator Todd Haley for the 2018 season became pretty predictable once Mike Tomlin failed to endorse Haley on Tuesday.
Given the chance to support his play caller, Tomlin said he was still in the "gathering information" stage of figuring out what next to do with his staff. That pretty much said all we needed to hear. Less than 24 hours later, Haley reportedly was out. That's some tidy information gathering by Tomlin.
The Steelers' season-ending 45-42 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round of the playoffs delivered one of the beefier offensive outputs in recent memory. The Steelers rang up 545 yards — the most the Jaguars ever have allowed in a 60-minute contest — of offense and six touchdowns against one of the league's stingiest defenses.
And yet the team's two fourth-down failures in the loss must be highlighted. Tomlin defended the calls that were made following the game, and it appeared as if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called audibles on both plays. So whose fault were those? It remains unclear.
A lot of people point to the fact that Roethlisberger and Haley seemed to be at odds frequently, but the QB defended the play caller, and vice versa, this season. Roethlisberger added this week that their working relationship, above all else, didn't divide them personally.
"You might butt heads at times, [but] it doesn't mean that you have any personal problems," Roethlisberger said when asked about his relationship with Haley.
Haley led what has been among the NFL's best offenses over his six years as Steelers coordinator, and Roethlisberger was warming up considerably down the stretch this season. Crucial mistakes still plagued him, but the passing offense flourished amid the tension and challenges the team faced this season.
What rang out loudest from Tomlin was his vague non-answer about Haley (without naming Haley specifically), and it suggested that there might have been more at play than just the QB-OC relationship.
"What you're willing to do is what defines you and what you're willing to do on a consistent basis, how selfless are you?" Tomlin said Tuesday. "How willing are you to put our goals and agenda in front of anything that might be on your checklist or to-do list?"
Perhaps the Tomlin-Haley relationship is really what's at play here. Roethlisberger is famous for, as one former Steelers coach told us, "buttering both sides of the bread" when it comes to what he says publicly vs. what he privately believes. Meaning, Ben might say all is fine when it might not actually be. But in this case, it's entirely possible that the Haley-Tomlin dynamic had been taken as far as it could have.
Remember, Tomlin and former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians once reached this point, too. Arians has said he thought Tomlin was calling him following the 2011 season to give him a raise for his work. Instead, Tomlin fired him — what Arians has said he considered a "betrayal." Tomlin wanted certain changes in the offensive design to better protect the quarterback, and Arians had balked at the suggestions. There was no love lost between them after that.
Roethlisberger and Arians were extremely close, and despite the QB's soft-edged words on Haley, it's fair to say they never quite reached the same relationship that Arians and Roethlisberger ever did. It's most certainly obvious that Tomlin and Haley had reached a point of no return also.
So will the Steelers choose a replacement with whom Roethlisberger is close? He's said to work well with quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner, and offensive line coach Mike Munchak declining a second head-coaching interview with the Arizona Cardinals seems to suggest that he's in line for a big pay raise at the very minimum.
Either way, the man who now comes into sharper focus is Tomlin. His coaching errors in the Jaguars loss are not at all above reproach, and the window to win another Super Bowl with Roethlisberger — no matter who is calling plays — is close to closing. Can Tomlin elevate this team and find harmony with his coaches and star players? If the answer is no, there are only so many people left to make scapegoats following yet another disappointing end to a season.