The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most iconic franchises in the NFL with an incredible track record in hiring head coaches. But with Ben Roethlisberger preparing for retirement and the franchise on the verge of five consecutive seasons without a playoff win, even bigger changes are possible.
After Bill Cowher retired following the 2016 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers hired Mike Tomlin to take over as head coach. The franchise immediately delivered a 10-wi season and by 2010, Pittsburgh won the Lombardi Trophy twice and lost a third Super Bowl matchup.
But ever since that Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh has only reached the AFC Championship Game once with its last playoff victory coming in 2016. As the organization now prepares to replace Roethlisberger, it might also be time to consider bringing in a new voice at head coach.
- Pittsburgh Steelers record (Mike Tomlin era): 152-85-2, 8-8 in playoffs
There is precedent for firing a head coach with a Super Bowl or a great record. The Philadelphia Eagles parted ways with Andy Reid after 14 seasons, Mike McCarthy was dismissed after 13 seasons with the Green Bay Packers and the Eagles fired Doug Pederson three years after he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. If Tomlin is cut free, he’d immediately land another job as a head coach for another team.
With that in mind, let’s examine potential Pittsburgh Steelers coaching candidates.
Matt Eberflus, Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator
The Pittsburgh Steelers have employed three head coaches since 1969 and all three of them came from the defensive side. It reflects on how this organization wants to be identified, with a physical and fundamental brand of football that wins a lot of games. If sticking to that criteria, Eberflus stands out.
There are numerous qualities that stand out for Eberflus. Among them, he coaches very disciplined teams. Entering Week 17, Indianapolis ranked near the bottom of the NFL in defensive pass interference calls (seven) with zero offsides penalties and only two defensive holding penalties.
Even without elite talent in the Colts’ secondary, Indianapolis is top 10 in Football Outsiders defense DVOA. In interviews, he’s also touched on the importance of competition in training camp and the value of coaches willing to make adjustments. If Pittsburgh parts ways with Tomlin, Eberflus feels like a natural target for the organization.
Kellen Moore, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator
It’s only a matter of time until Kellen Moore is an NFL head coach, the only question is for what team. Jerry Jones would love to keep him in Dallas, but there will be far too much interest in him this offseason for that to happen. The league-wide interest is deserved, too.
Moore, a legend at Boise state, retired from the NFL after spending several years as a backup quarterback. Immediately upon his retirement, Moore joined Dallas as the team’s quarterbacks coach in 2018 and he was promoted to offensive coordinator a year later. Ever since taking over as play-caller, the 32-year-old coach has been generating buzz across the NFL.
Even without Dak Prescott, Moore made things work in 2020 with Andy Dalton and a backup offensive line. Dallas averaged 0.355 points per play (20th in NFL) last season and 5.3 points per play. Once Moore got his star quarterback on the field, the Cowboys’ offense became one of the best in the NFL (0.442 points per play, 5.9 yards per play, 30.5 ppg).
Moore would already have great weapons to build his offense around and with the right quarterback, the Pittsburgh Steelers could thrive for years to come.
Byron Leftwich, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator
Endorsements from a future Hall of Fame coach and the greatest quarterback in NFL history go a long way. But Byron Leftwich being one of the top NFL coaching candidates isn’t entirely based on references. Leftwich is the play-caller of the reigning Super Bowl champions and his success in Tampa Bay even dates back before Tom Brady arrived.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense stats (2019): 302.8 pass yard/game (1st), 28.6 ppg (4th), 8.1 ypa (5th), 52.9% fourth-down conversion rate (11th), 26.1 Offensive Points per Game (6th), 64.81% red-zone conversion rate (3rd)
There’s a reason Brady and Bruce Arians are confident Leftwich will become an NFL head coach. The level of preparation he puts into his game plans each week, his ability to create a strong relationship with the starting quarterback and the ease with which he puts players in a position to succeed.
It’s fair to wonder if the Pittsburgh Steelers are willing to hire an offensive-minded coach, but the changing NFL landscape could make someone like Leftwich a great target for Pittsburgh.
Patrick Graham, New York Giants defensive coordinator
If the Steelers want a defensive head coach with plenty of NFL experience, Patrick Graham is a name to monitor. Coming from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, Graham is a Yale graduate who started his coaching career at Wagner (2002-’03) as a graduate assistant and has now become one of the best defensive coordinators in football.
The overall stats from the New York Giants defense aren’t elite. Entering January, New York ranked 15th in yards per play allowed (5.4), 17th in average opponents’ passer rating (92.1) and 18th in opponents’ points per play (0.36). But plenty of the blame for that falls on an offense that can’t sustain drives and frequently coughs up the football.
Graham’s defensive intellect is unquestioned and the promotion he received in 2021 to assistant head coach speaks to his impact in the Giants’ locker room. He’s not one of the most popular names, but neither was Tomlin after only one season of being a defensive coordinator.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to start fresh in 2022, moving on from Tomlin, Graham is a worthy candidate who could view this as the perfect landing spot.