Monday, January 03, 2011

Steelers: Let the Games Begin

Congratulations, Steelers, on an excellent regular season.

Now, it's time for the playoffs.

Time for the "Second Season"-- the playoffs, all of two huge games and, hopefully, a win in the Super Bowl.

Let the games begin.

For now, let's enjoy, reflect upon and savor yesterday's win, arguably the high note for a mostly excellent season (save for a few hiccups along the way, but never mind those).

It's always satisfying to beat the Browns, and especially in such resoundingly decisive and entertaining fashion.

Entertaining? Absolutely. From Troy's first-series interception, through the next-play bomb to Mike Wallace, to watching the evacuation of Browns' Stadium by Cleveland fans ceding their own stadium to the tens of thousands of Black-'n-Gold devotees in attendance ... yes, the game was eminently entertaining.

For those of us watching the game at home in the comfort of our living rooms, listening to the Steelers' radio-broadcast team is always entertaining. This exchange, for instance, between play-by-play announcer Bill Hillgrove and color analyst Tunch Ilkin:

Bill: "Big Ben is playing the Browns' defense like a symphony violin!"
Tunch: "He's playing 'em like a 'virch-ee-yo-see'! Is that a word?
Bill: "It is now!"

Myron would have loved it.

Tunch also described how the Browns were playing a mostly "conventionable" defensive scheme, but the most entertaining part of the day was the play on the field. Another division title sealed by big plays right and left, no offensive turnovers, zero touchdowns allowed, five touchdowns, two field goals, three interceptions, and a stellar defensive effort all-around.

About that defense: As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports ...

The Steelers easily finished the regular season with the best rush defense in the National Football League and came close to finishing with one of the best in league history.

After allowing the Cleveland Browns to rush for 43 yards on 17 carries in Sunday's 41-9 victory, the Steelers set a franchise record for allowing the fewest yards rushing in a season (1,004) and fewest yards per game (62.8).

That eclipsed the old record of 1,125 yards allowed in a 12-game season in 1953. The former yards per-game record was 74.7, set in 2001.

The Steelers came within 34 yards of tying the NFL's record for rushing yards allowed in a 16-game season (970), set by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

Some other defensive highlights this season:

• The Steelers were the only NFL team to allow just one run longer than 20 yards in 2010.

• They allowed just two teams -- the New York Jets (106) and New England Patriots (102) -- to rush for more than 100 yards against them. No other team rushed for more than 75 yards.

• They did not allow a 100-yard rusher all season and just one in the past 50 games.

*** *** ***

Pretty good, huh? Clearly, the Steelers had a better season than Joey Porter's Pit Bulls, who somehow declined/missed/neglected to post a single entry for the regular season (sorry about that, faithful reader(s) [?]).

In any case, the past is gone, and the playoffs are ahead.

And, hopefully, better days all around, a fine playoff run, and a Super Bowl win for the Steelers in 2011.

There's much to make us feel grateful, good, upbeat and optimistic ... and happy that we're fans of the Steelers, and not fans of the Browns.


As the World Turns: The Soap Opera Continues at Pitt

How low can the Pitt football program go? Or, to rephrase the question, how will Pitt move forward? And, just for fun, how can Athletic Director (AD) Steve Pederson defend his hiring of the now-disgraced Mike Haywood.

On Saturday, for some reason, Pitt "Chancellor" Mark Nordenberg gave Pederson a "vote of confidence," even as Pitt continues to reel from Pederson's disastrous decision to hire the Haywood -- even as unsubstantiated rumors swirl that Haywood has a history of "problems" and "issues" dating to his days as an assistant at Notre Dame and LSU.

By now, of course, everybody knows what's happened most recently with Haywood. On New Year's Eve, he was arrested in South Bend, Ind., for domestic violence. From there, the news went from bad to worse. And then, even worse. On Friday night, Haywood spent New Year's Eve in jail and appeared to be stuck there until Monday afternoon's arraignment. On Saturday afternoon, however, his New Year got even more troubling when the prosecutor decided to upgrade the charges to a FELONY. Later that day, Pitt fired him. What happens next for Haywood (divorce papers? hard time?) are his problems, and his problems alone.

Pitt has problems of its own, and they are many. Recruiting season starts in earnest today (Monday, Jan. 3), now that the New Year's bowl games are over. This recruiting season is lost, however, even before it started, thanks to this current imbroglio.

Pitt has no football coach, a shamed program, and a major PR black eye that is sure to linger. Pitt's "braintrust" must also manage countless rumors, helplessly watch as current recruits decommit, disengage the disinformation surely already being produced by competing programs, and prepare for the school's Jan. 8 bowl game vs. Kentucky in Birmingham, Ala.

Unfortunately, Pitt officials do not know for sure -- at this moment -- who will be on the sidelines as head coach or even as assistant coaches.

Dave Wannstedt, the outgoing head coach (who Pitt reportedly forced out), has a news conference scheduled for today, and speculation has it that he plans to announce whether he will coach Pitt in the bowl game.

Again, rumors are rampant -- but rumors are just one of the many problems for Pitt right now. For all we know, Wannstedt plans to announce he will coach the team -- "for the sake of the kids" -- in the Compass Bowl (whatever that is). Or, maybe not. Almost surely, however, he must be suppressing a satisfied chuckle at this latest debacle ... all the while resisting the urge to say, "See? That's what you get," while also experiencing some serious Schadenfreude.

Next in line to coach the team for the bowl game would have been Frank Cignetti, offensive coordinator. Rumor (again) has it, however, that Cignetti wants no part of the situation and plans to accept an offer to move on to Rutgers.

Chaos! Thank you, Steve Pederson.

About that due diligence? It was Pederson who spearheaded the search that resulted in the abrupt hiring of Haywood. It was Pederson who made the choice and, as the Post-Gazette reported ...
He (Haywood) was introduced as Pitt's head football coach on Dec. 16 by Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson, who referred to him as a man of "character and integrity" who had qualities that were "absolutely in line with the values of this great university."

Mr. Pederson spoke highly of Mr. Haywood's reputation as a disciplinarian who would hold players accountable and be a "good role model" for Pitt's players.

Never mind that these comments appeared by implication to be a wanton, indirect slap at Wannstedt.

Even at the time, Haywood seemed a curious choice. That is especially clear now, in retrospect, but especially in light of reports that Pederson hired Haywood although many other more experienced and arguably more qualified candidates were available.

These would include Tom Bradley, the longtime Penn State defensive coordinator, who is widely respected and known to be a great recruiter. Rumors (again) are out there that Bradley made three calls to Pederson, to express his interest in the opening before Haywood was hired, but that Pederson refused to talk to him. Why?

Bradley has waited in vain for Joe Paterno to retire, but that looks like it's never going to happen. Now, even Joe-Pa is shilling for Pitt to hire Bradley. More Schadenfreude?

Going forward, the bigger, more relevant questions are these:
  1. What role will Steve Pederson play in the hiring process, and in the administration of Pitt's athletic programs?
  2. Once all this shakes out, will Pederson even retain his job?
  3. What's next for Pitt? Does the administration have a plan? How many coaches will it have to pay? Who will be its next head coach? How does the program recover? ... etcetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseaum.
So it goes, as the world turns: The soap opera continues at Pitt.