Over cocktails and golf, at the Georgia home of Bruce Arians in early 2007, Ben Roethlisberger began to assert control over the Pittsburgh Steelers offense and a team that had managed to win big without the young quarterback being fully committed to his craft.
In his new book “The Quarterback Whisperer: How to Build an Elite NFL Quarterback,” the York High graduate described the scene when he told Roethlisberger that he wanted him to help rewrite the offensive playbook after three years of simply managing Ken Whisenhunt’s offense.
“If you show me you can handle it, I’ll let you call the plays,” Arians said.
The golfing and drinking excursion was a chance for Arians to get to know Roethlisberger better. During the first three years of Roethlisberger’s career, Arians was the Steelers receivers coach and had limited interaction with Roethlisberger, who worked closely Whisenhunt. When Whisenhunt was hired to coach the Arizona Cardinals and Arians was promoted to offensive coordinator, he sought the opportunity to develop a relationship with his quarterback.
Over the next few months, Arians described a more committed and engaged Roethlisberger, who edited the playbook, subtracting plays he didn’t like, adding plays he did like and renaming things to make it easier for him to understand.
When practices started for the upcoming season, Arians said he also witnessed an on-field change in Roethlisberger. He was more committed in game-planning preparations and worked harder on his fundamentals than he ever had, all because he felt for the first time in his professional career that he had the backing of his coaches.
Because I had given him ownership of the offense, he now felt personally invested in it. He became a great practice player — a far cry from his first two years in the league, when he sometimes would just go through the motions and let his mind wander. And the guys on the team saw this transformation in him as well. Day by day, practice by practice, Ben started to become the leader of the team, leading by his actions.
“Bruce and I built our communication on the golf course,” said Roethlisberger, who is quoted in the book that was co-authored by Lars Anderson. “I even bought a house down there in Reynolds Plantation to be close to Bruce. He showed that he trusted me, and I busted my tail to reward that trust.”
That is one of many Steelers-related anecdotes in the book released Tuesday.
Taking on Cowher: Another interesting one was the role Arians played in 2005 when he served as “protector” for Whisenhunt. Arians said head coach Bill Cowher openly questioned Whisenhunt’s play calls over the headsets during games. Arians described a meeting with Cowher when he confronted the head coach about his actions.
Bill would hear a play call from Ken and say something like, "Here comes a fumble." I eventually went into Bill’s office and explained that the head coach can’t undercut the confidence of the play caller. I said to him "You don’t want him calling pays to please you. You want him to call plays to beat the other team. I’ve heard you say ‘Oh my God’ on the headset after a play call. You can’t do that. You need to concentrate on your job and Kenny needs to concentrate on his job.”
Arians wrote Cowher stopped undercutting Whisenhunt after that meeting, and that allowed Whisenhunt to have the confidence to call plays freely the rest of the season, including the reverse pass from Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward that sealed the victory in Super Bowl XL a few months later.
Some mistakes in book: But Arians doesn’t always have his facts straight. For instance, he said the reverse pass in the Super Bowl was the first time that play had been called all year. The Steelers actually called the same play in a November 2005 game against the Cleveland Browns when Charlie Batch and Tommy Maddox subbed for an injured Roethlisberger.
He also mistakenly writes that Ward and Burress were on the 2005 Super Bowl team when, in fact, Burress had moved onto the Giants as a free agent following the 2004 season.
But there are plenty of Steelers stories to stay interested in the 235-page book that also touches on his time with other quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer.
Angry at Tomlin: Arians, as he did previously on NFL Films, wrote that he was extremely upset with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin after Tomlin did not go to bat for him in the now infamous post-2011 “retirement” saga. Arians’ wife, Chris, cried when Arians broke the news to her that the Steelers did not renew his contract because she held Tomlin “on a pedestal.”
Interestingly, in the next paragraph, Arians made a point to write at the end of the chapter on the Steelers that he still holds Dan Rooney on a pedestal:
The Steelers owner, who passed away in April 2017, was one of the classiest men in all of football. May he rest in peace.
But I was bitter for a long time about being fired. But now I thank Pittsburgh for letting me go. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to coach Andrew Luck or had the opportunity to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
So thank you, Pittsburgh.
Thank you so, so much.