Mehno: Tomlin doesn’t get free pass

PITTSBURGH – A lot of Pittsburgh Steelers need to have a bounceback season, and Mike Tomlin’s name is at the top of that list.

It’s popular to blame the coach for everything, but the late-season collapse and overall malaise of an 8-8 season can be traced either to what Tomlin did or didn’t do.

Immediately after the season, some players complained that the attitude had rotted. That’s on the head coach. Maybe Tomlin grew accustomed to a locker room that policed itself with pros like James Farrior and Aaron Smith leading.

It’s been revealed more recently there was discord with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley. That may not have been the reason things crumbled down the stretch, but it probably didn’t help anything either.

The fundamental problem with Haley was apparently a fundamental – terminology. For some reason, Tomlin insisted the Steelers scrap their established terms for offensive plays and formations and learn Haley’s language.

This is exactly the mistake Chuck Noll made when Joe Walton came in as offensive coordinator, and it led to major problems.

It made no sense then, and it doesn’t make any sense now.

Some of the plays and formations were the same; just the terminology had changed. By the end of the season, Ben Roethlisberger said he was using the old terms in the huddle.

Think about it: You have players getting their brains scambled, fighting the clock and trying to remember that “686-Pump-FStop on two” is now “464-Green80-FStop on two.”

If left is now right and red is now blue, you might need a second or two to process the change. The NFL doesn’t allow that luxury.

Tomlin signed off on the idea of having a whole offensive platoon learn a new language instead of just having Haley adapt. They’ve apparently fixed that this year.

That’s just one item on Tomlin’s checklist this season. The Steelers didn’t have a good season last year, and neither did the head coach.

SUBHEAD: Still growing

ESPN is determined to take over the world, and its latest step is hiring full-time beat reporters to cover every NFL team.

The new hires will serve all of ESPN’s platforms, but they’ll primarily provide daily website coverage.

SUBHEAD: Charmed life

A couple of major league scouts were talking about the Pirates the other day, marveling that they had baseball’s best record with a modestly-talented everyday lineup.

OK, sometimes pitching can carry a team. The Dodgers of a bygone era had a lousy offense but superior pitching compensated.

But when you look at the Pirates pitching, Wandy Rodriguez is going to wind up missing about half of the season, Jason Grilli will be out at least six weeks, Francisco Liriano started the season a month late, A.J. Burnett spent time on the DL, Charlie Morton’s season didn’t start until mid-June, and James McDonald hasn’t been seen since April.

Sometimes a season is sprinkled with magic dust. Maybe after 20 years of misery, there’s an extra-generous portion.

SUBHEAD: Lost and found

Remember all the hand-wringing about how the Pirates had lost an entire generation of fans?

They’re back. Winning does that.

Mehno can be reached at