NEW CASTLE —
Throughout the 16 minutes that followed him glowingly introducing former Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley as his new offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stood proudly in the corner of the second-floor media room at the team’s facility.
During the press conference officially announcing Haley as the replacement for Bruce Arians, Tomlin even offered approving nods and smiles at the appropriate times.
And, yes, he also laughed when Haley was asked about his reputation as someone who has had difficulty getting along with co-workers.
“As an offensive coordinator, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience,” Tomlin said. “But he also brings intangibles I really value.”
Time will tell.
Amid reports that Steelers president Art Rooney II orchestrated the departure of Arians and pushed for Haley to be his replacement above Tomlin’s wishes, Tomlin made it a point to mention he was the one conducting the interviews for Arians’ replacement.
“When I started this process of exploring potential coordinators, I talked to a lot of people and did a lot of research, and I was really impressed by him,” Tomlin said. “Not only by his resume and his experience, but also his genuine love for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That was a unique element of it for me, one I’ve been attracted to in the past, to be quite honest.”
A 15-year NFL coaching veteran, Haley stressed his ties to the Steelers organization and his reverence for its tradition. The son of former Steelers director of player personnel Dick Haley reminisced about growing up a team ball boy.
“All of my early memories in life somehow,” Haley said, “revolved around the Steelers.
“I’m just very grateful coach Tomlin and the Rooney family thought enough of me to have me in here to help be part of continued greatness. In my mind, this is the greatest organization in the NFL and the greatest team, and that all comes from the heart.”
Haley, 44, was fired by Kansas City on Dec. 13, after going 19-26 in two-plus seasons with the Chiefs, leading them to the 2010 AFC West title. He finished third in AP coach of the year voting that season with the league’s top rushing offense.
As offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals two years prior to that, Haley’s offense was second in the NFL in passing.
“I’m just a believer, offensively, that you do what gives you the best chance to succeed,” Haley said. “So if you’re best chance to succeed is running the ball 63 times a game, then you run it 63 times a game. I’m going to do what gives our players the chance to be the best they possibly can be.”
Under Arians, now with the Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers ranked 12th last season in total offense but 21st in scoring. He left behind an offense that scored 325 points en route to finishing 12-4.
The Steelers lost the AFC North title to Baltimore on a tiebreaker, and were eliminated from the postseason by Denver.
Tomlin, who was not quoted in Tuesday’s team release announcing Haley’s hiring, said after the season that Arians would be back. He reportedly told Arians himself and other members of his staff that, too.
But the Steelers announced what they termed Arians’ retirement in a short release with no comment from Arians on Jan. 20. Ten days later, Arians took a job with the Colts.
Tomlin acknowledged “this transition is going to be a challenge,” and wouldn’t provide any details on the look of the new offense.
“We find pleasure,” Tomlin said, “in that being somewhat of a mystery.”
Haley spent 10 seasons as an assistant before being hired by Kansas City. While the offensive coordinator for Arizona in 2007-08, he helped the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance.
His father helped preside over player moves that formed the Super Bowl era’s first dynasty. Dick Haley, who held his job with the Steelers from 1971-1990, is best known for Pittsburgh’s 1974 draft class that is considered among the best in NFL history because it produced four Hall of Fame players.
Haley’s familiarity with the terminology of the Steelers’ system comes not from that era, but from his time in Arizona working under former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
Haley also began his NFL career in the scouting department of the New York Jets when that team employed Ron Erhardt as offensive coordinator in 1996. Erhardt held that job with the Steelers when they went to the Super Bowl the previous season.
Haley said he’s approaching the Pittsburgh offense with a clean slate.
“Players want to know that you have their best or greatest desires at the front of your list,” Haley said. “Every player that I’ve ever been around, whether as a position coach, coordinator or head coach, once they figure that out, you have their respect.”
Although Haley said he has spent an abundance of time with Tomlin over the past week, he has not yet met Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger was at the team facility yesterday, but was not part of the press conference. The two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback had a good relationship with Arians and has openly campaigned for Arians to stay on in the past.
“Transition is always a little — I wouldn’t even say difficult — but there’s an uncomfortable aspect to newness,” Haley said. “But that’s not always a bad thing. I think it’ll be a great thing in this case, and he’s going to figure out that we’re just trying to make him as good as he can possibly can be.
“Not many players that I’ve known have ever had an issue with that.”