COLLINS: Patience might get ex-Penn State great Mike Munchak his perfect NFL coaching fit

(Scranton) Times-Tribune (TNS)

Vic Fangio said something during his introductory press conference with the Denver Broncos on Thursday that immediately brought to mind the man he beat out for the job.

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak was a finalist for the head coaching job with the Denver Broncos job. That job went to Vic Fangio. AP FILE PHOTO

He talked about football teams preventing a “death by inches,” about how discipline can turn you into a winner if you have it, form a sure loser if you don’t.

“If you’re running a meeting ... and a player walks in, say 30 seconds late, 45 seconds late — that act in and of itself really has no impact on whether you’re going to win or lose that week,” Fangio said. “But if you let it slide, the next day there’s two or three guys late, or it went from 30 seconds to two minutes. It causes an avalanche of problems.

“That’s death by inches.”

It’s so important a philosophy to Fangio that the philosophy practically dominated his job interview.

Broncos general manager John Elway referred to it when introducing Fangio, saying the Dunmore native promised him during his job interview that “we will not kill ourselves by inches.”

That interview, by the way, pushed Fangio ahead of Scranton native Mike Munchak to be the Broncos head coach.

Death by inches for Steelers: In Pittsburgh this season, where the former Penn State great Munchak coached the offensive line to another strong campaign, the Steelers measured their death in the miles to which those inches piled up.

Star running back Le’Veon Bell sat out the season in a contract dispute. Star receiver Antonio Brown pouted his way off the practice field days before a critical Week 17 game, then out of the lineup and most likely out of the Steel City altogether.

They fumbled games away. They missed field goals with the game on the line. They had late leads evaporate in front of a defense that looked helpless when it mattered.

This is what “death by inches” got them: They lost to good teams. They lost to bad teams. They dropped four of their last six games and missed the playoffs after starting the season 7-2-1.

Likely back with Steelers: Unless he decides to join the Broncos as their offensive line coach — Denver is reportedly attempting to lure him there — it’s likely Munchak will return to Pittsburgh as offensive line coach next season.

That’s good news for the Steelers, who desperately need him back. But it might seem like a bit of a disappointment for a tremendous Xs and Os coach and wildly respected man who for two consecutive offseasons was tantalizingly close to becoming a head coach again (he withdrew his name from consideration after the 2017 season when he emerged as the frontrunner for the Arizona Cardinals job.)

That whole “death by inches” talk Fangio gave Thursday, though, might be exactly the reason Munchak is where he needs to be after all this shakes out, anyway.

He may get Steelers job: It’s fair to wonder if, a year from now, the perfect head-coaching situation Munchak has been looking for might open up in Pittsburgh.

Clearly, the attribute Elway most sought out when looking for the next Broncos coach was the disciplined approach Fangio promised. Munchak obviously fit that mold too, or he wouldn’t have been the runner up.

It’s also fair to wonder, right now, if the Steelers’ head coach is getting the kind of respect from his players that guys like Munchak and Fangio command.

Look, Mike Tomlin has been a good coach for the Steelers, for a long time. Twelve years might seem like an eyeblink when you consider Chuck Noll got 23 seasons, and Bill Cowher held that seat for 15 after him. That’s an eternity in today’s NFL. Only two NFL coaches — New England’s Bill Belichick and New Orleans’ Sean Payton — have held their jobs longer than Tomlin has been in Pittsburgh.

Players may be tuning out Tomlin: There were signs the last few seasons Tomlin isn’t exactly getting the most out of players. Former All-Pro linebacker James Harrison reportedly fell asleep in meetings and left the stadium before kickoff toward the end of his run on days he wasn’t on the active roster.

Brown aired a profanity-laden postgame rant by Tomlin about the Patriots on Facebook in 2017, the week before the Steelers played them in the AFC Championship Game. Bell vowed on several occasions he’d report to the team at some point this season, but he didn’t communicate any plans to his head coach. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, frankly, does whatever he wants on the field, and his carelessness with the ball (16 interceptions) has hurt the team as much as his prolific passing has helped it.

Those inches lead up to yards that matter, for sure.

Tomlin undoubtedly will return in 2019, because the Steelers value continuity at head coach. However, this will be the second consecutive offseason during which he has made fairly sweeping changes to his assistant coaching staff, following the firings of linebackers coach Joey Porter and running backs coach James Saxon.

Eventually, though, the buck will get plopped onto Tomlin’s desk, and with the Browns and Ravens emerging in the AFC North, that time might be nearing.

Preventing “death by inches” got Fangio a job in Denver, and if failing to do so pushes Tomlin out the door in Pittsburgh, the perfect kind of coach to replace him is Munchak, the one guy who has represented consistency and excellence in Pittsburgh the last few years.