GORMAN: With Steelers firing Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger has no one left to blame
- The Pittsburgh Steelers have parted ways with offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
- There's speculation that Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was behind Haley's departure.
- Statistically speaking, Roethlisberger had his best seasons under Haley.
Ben Roethlisberger pulled a power move, plain and simple, with the dismissal of the offensive coordinator he commonly referred to as Coach Todd.
That's the most reasonable explanation for Roethlisberger re-upping for a 15th NFL season only minutes after the playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday and the Steelers subsequently firing Todd Haley three days after his offense scored 42 points against the NFL's No. 2 defense.
If so, Big Ben finally pulled a quarterback sneak.
Statistically speaking, Roethlisberger had his best seasons under Haley. Their fractious relationship, however, had fallen beyond repair — no matter what Ben said on his radio show about talking and laughing with Haley about all of their accomplishments as an offense.
“I don't have any control over the coaching staff, who's hired and fired,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday on 93.7 FM, referring directly to his displeasure over the Steelers firing offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in 2012. “Obviously, that's very apparent a few years ago, when ‘B.A.' was gone. Everyone knows that we had a great relationship, and he was still let go, as well.”
It's the “as well” that struck me. Perhaps it was a slip, but it could have been a sign Roethlisberger knew Haley's fate before it was announced.
If he was behind Haley's ouster, it would explain Roethlisberger's readiness to return after contemplating retirement last offseason.
Roethlisberger is the franchise quarterback, which not only makes him the highest-paid player on the Steelers but also their most powerful.
Big Ben, Haley at odds: It's no secret he and Haley were at odds. Haley had a history of conflicts with his star players, and Big Ben didn't exactly warm to him or his attempts to change the terminology, if you remember Roethlisberger's Rosetta Stone remarks.
That's on both of them. They should have at least had enough of a professional working relationship to communicate, although both Haley and Roethlisberger downplayed their apparent rift.
“I don't think it was as big of a deal as the outside world made it, as the media made it or whatever was perceived to be,” Roethlisberger said. “There's always issues in the competitive field like we have, where everyone is trying to win and everyone is trying to be the best they can be. You might butt heads at times. It doesn't mean you have any personal problems.”
Public shots: Theirs became a strained relationship in which Roethlisberger often took passive-aggressive public shots at his play-caller, accepting credit when plays worked and shifting blame to the sidelines when they didn't.
It required not only a closed-door meeting between Roethlisberger and Haley but also the excessive step, according to a CBS report, of moving quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner from the coaches' booth to the sidelines to serve as a buffer.
Haley should have been smart enough to know the Steelers would side with Roethlisberger. It's exponentially easier to replace an offensive coordinator than it is a franchise quarterback.
His stats soared: The shame is that Roethlisberger's sacks went down and his stats went up in six seasons with Haley, with a career-high 4,952 passing yards in 2014. That's a testament not only to an improved offensive line and stars at the skill positions but also to Haley's influence.
The Steelers ranked in the NFL's top five in total offense, passing yards and touchdowns this season.
“In 5½ years, we've done a lot of prolific, great things offensively together, Ben and I,” Haley said in November. “What we haven't done is win a Super Bowl, and that's what our main goal is.”
Communication issues: The Steelers won eight games by single digits, four in the final minute, but communication appeared to be an issue in their two most prominent losses.
There was confusion on the play call following Jesse James' controversial overturned touchdown against the New England Patriots, and Roethlisberger threw an interception.
Haley also drew heavy criticism for the two fourth-and-1 play calls against the Jaguars and the confusion that affected the Steelers' clock management on their final drive.
Despite setting franchise playoff records for pass attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns against Jacksonville, Big Ben became the first NFL player to throw for five touchdowns and lose a playoff game.
Window is closing: Roethlisberger knows the window is closing on his chance to match Terry Bradshaw's four Super Bowl rings, and said he didn't want “big changes.”
Haley's gone because the Steelers' season didn't end with confetti, to celebrate a seventh Super Bowl championship.
Roethlisberger might just get his wish for small changes, if Fichtner is promoted as expected. Either way, Big Ben should heed the same warning the Jaguars gave when he wanted a rematch:
Be careful what you wish for.
There's no one left to blame.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.