There are two basic truths for coaches in the NFL: Bad teams lose head coaches. Good teams lose assistants.
The Steelers are a good team, and if rumors are to be believed, they could be looking at losing at least one offensive assistant. And which one — offensive coordinator Todd Haley or offensive line coach Mike Munchak — could go a long way in determining Ben Roethlisberger’s future.
The 2017 regular season ended three days ago and already there are six head coaching vacancies in the NFL, as five teams fired their head coaches during or just after the season, with former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians stepping away from the Arizona Cardinals after he announced his retirement from coaching.
The list is expected to grow. The Cardinals, Bears, Lions, Colts, Giants and Raiders are all currently setting up interviews for new head coaches, while the Bengals are expected to part ways with Marvin Lewis after 15 years. Rumors are also swirling that the Texans might replace Bill O’Brien, and Tennessee might dump Mike Mularkey even though the Titans got to the playoffs.
This is nothing new. There were five new head coaches in 2017, six in 2016 and five in 2015. The Bears, Giants, Broncos, Bills and 49ers are or already have replaced coaches they hired within that span, which means that 19 NFL teams have made at least one coaching change since the end of the 2014 season and 24 men have been hired as NFL head coaches in the last four years.
If Lewis is gone, that would make 20 teams (and 25 coaches), as he’s been with the Bengals since 2003. With that, the only remaining coaches who have been with their teams longer than Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin would be Mike McCarthy, hired by the Packers in 2006, Sean Payton with the Saints since 2006 and Bill Belichick, who was hired by the Patriots in 2000.
Once all these vacancies have been filled, more than 150 coaches will have been hired since Belichick was hired by the Pats.
The Steelers, of course, have only had two coaches in that timeframe, Bill Cowher and Tomlin. But they have had a number of assistants and coordinators, and by the looks of the NFL coaching rumor mill right now, there’s more than one Steelers assistant who could find himself as a head coach somewhere else.
Munchak will get a chance to interview with the Cardinals, who have reportedly already requested to meet with him. According to NFL reporter Ian Rapoport, the Cardinals have put in similar requests to speak with Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and three defensive coordinators, including Matt Patricia of the Patriots, Jim Schwartz of the Eagles and Steve Wilks of the Panthers.
If the Cardinals decide to replace an offensive-minded coach with another offensive mind, Munchak is on a short list for the position, and he’s one of the few with head coaching experience.
Munchak played for 12 seasons with the Houston Oilers before taking a coaching job with the franchise, moving with the team when they left for Tennessee. He stayed with the Titans for the next 14 years as offensive line coach before being promoted to head coach in 2011. That gig lasted just three years before he was let go after a 22-26 record in charge. The following year he was hired as the line coach for the Steelers where he has been ever since.
Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak instructs center Maurkice PounceyCharles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Munchak is highly regarded around the league, but the Steelers offensive line play has lacked consistency with regard to the run game and pass protection. While Le’Veon Bell was one of the league’s top rushers, the offense ranked just 20th in the NFL in rushing in 2017, averaging a pedestrian 3.8 yards per carry with just 12 rushing touchdowns. It was the passing game, though, where the OL shined this season, giving up just 24 sacks on the year, the third fewest in the NFL. Football Outsiders ranked the Steelers pass protection as the best in football this season, and the offense had the third-most yards and third-most passing yards in the league.
While Munchak deserves much of that credit, Haley surely does as well. The Steelers have one of the best offenses in football, thanks in part to the talent the team has amassed, but some credit has to be given to the coaching staff, namely Haley, who has figured out creative ways to get the ball into Bell and Antonio Brown’s hands all season.
When Brown went down with an injury, the offense barely skipped a beat, thanks to the ability to spread the ball around to other weapons like Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Yes, it’s pretty clear that Roethlisberger and Haley do not get along – recent reports that Roethlisberger requested “to have a buffer between him and Haley” is no surprise given the relationship the two have had since Haley has been in Pittsburgh. With rumors still swirling this could be Roethlisberger’s last season in the NFL, pressuring the Steelers to get rid of Haley could be part of the future Hall of Famer’s leverage to return.
That is if Haley doesn’t leave for a better gig first.
Haley was the head coach of the Chiefs for three years before taking the OC job with the Steelers. His three-year tenure in Kansas City was tumultuous, and he was fired during the season just one year after making the playoffs. Granted, that was seven years ago, which could be enough time for another team to give him a shot. Plus, no matter how much Roethlisberger may not like him, the guy took over an offense that was nearly dead last in points and yards and turned them into a perennial top 10 unit.
Haley’s name isn’t as hot as some other coordinators in the league, but NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal thinks he’s the perfect fit for the job that Munchak is also a candidate for in Arizona.
This Cardinals defense was already playing at a championship-contending level this season, and it brings back upper-tier talent like Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. The team also boasts one of the most underrated and creative defensive minds in coordinator James Bettcher. That’s why hiring an offensive-minded coach who is excited to retain Bettcher would be the quickest path back to the playoffs for Arizona.
Arians got the job in 2013 over Haley, the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, who is well-liked in Arizona for his work helping the 2008 team reach Super Bowl XLIII.
Frankly, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to hire a defensive coach that will shape that side of the ball in his image if a team already has a guy running the defense they like. While any new head coach could want his own staff to work under him, familiarity could be the key to success for the Cardinals. Haley was the OC in Arizona for two years before getting the Chiefs job, and was a finalist for the head coaching position when Arians got it.
Oddsmakers have Haley’s name near the top of the list to be the next head coach of the Colts as well, another team looking for an offensive mind to gel with oft-injured Andrew Luck. Former Broncos head coach and current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is a favorite for that, and pretty much every other open job, so if the Colts fail to land him, Haley could be a strong fall-back option.
The Giants seem to be looking at the same list of four or five coaches as well. Conflicting reports have Schwartz as both the top candidate and perhaps behind three different Patriots assistants, but Munchak’s name has made the bottom of relatively long list there.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on Haley potentially going to the Bears, as at least one bookmaker has his name in the mix there as well. And with chances that more positions could open soon, the Steelers could be dealing with losing at least one offensive coach, if not more.
For Haley, it sounds like his quarterback would be happy to drive him to the airport. As long as there’s a buffer in the car.