Giger: Tomlin, Narduzzi, Hurdle all facing heavy scrutiny
This is a bad time to be a major coaching figure in Pittsburgh.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin should be squarely on the hot seat after an 0-2 start.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi just made one of the dumbest decisions you’ll ever see in college football, and he didn’t even think there was anything wrong with it.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle deserves to be ousted once this dreadfully disappointing season ends, although his contract could end up saving his job.
At least Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is safe, having signed a four-year contract extension in July that will keep him around through the 2023-24 season.
Rounding out the Pittsburgh group, Pitt basketball coach Jeff Capel also is in good shape after doing a nice job beginning the Panthers’ tough rebuilding process during his first season.
Let’s take a closer look at the three Pittsburgh coaches facing heavy criticism.
Tomlin’s tough start
The Steelers are 0-2. Since the NFL went to eight divisions in 2002, only 11 percent of teams that started 0-2 have made the playoffs.
The Steelers’ hopes from here on out clearly rest on the status of Ben Roethlisberger’s right elbow.
If Big Ben misses significant time, that actually could help Tomlin’s job security. Because even if the Steelers were to miss the playoffs, the coach would get more of a free pass having played without the franchise quarterback.
If Roethlisberger is OK, plays the entire year and the Steelers still miss the playoffs, there will be no free pass for Tomlin. The pressure to fire him would be greater than at any point in his tenure.
Following last season, Tomlin had two years left on his contract. Traditionally, the Steelers have extended coaches in that position for multiple years, but it was very interesting that they gave Tomlin only a one-year extension (through 2021).
There were rumblings that some in the organization didn’t want to extend Tomlin at all, meaning they felt he should have to earn an extension this season after going 9-6-1 and missing the playoffs in 2018.
The Steelers ultimately relented and did give Tomlin a slighter vote of confidence with the extra year.
As always, discussing Tomlin and the job he’s done with the Steelers brings out great debate.
Tomlin has long been considered one of the better coaches in the NFL by fans of other teams and, by and large, those in the media.
But many diehard Steelers fans have been highly critical of Tomlin’s underachieving ways over the years.
He won the Super Bowl in 2008-09, his second season with the club, got to another in 2010-11 and has made the playoffs eight times in 12 years. Many NFL fans would love to have a coach with that kind of resume, so they heap praise on Tomlin from afar.
But if you actually watch every Steelers game, you’ve surely seen countless examples of how maddening Tomlin can be with his bizarre decision making and clock management problems.
The Steelers also always seem to blow two or three games each season to far lesser teams, bad losses that come back to haunt them when it comes to making or missing the playoffs and/or seeding.
Truth be told, I’ve never been a big Tomlin fan. He’s the head coach of one of the greatest organizations in professional sports, so of course he’s going to have a certain level of success.
He’s just had far less success than he should have, given that he’s always had a franchise quarterback and also once had an offense with Hall of Fame-caliber superstars Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and still never got to a Super Bowl with the trio.
Oh, and the coach’s playoff record since losing the Super Bowl in 2011? A paltry 3-5, while also missing the postseason three times in eight years.
If Tomlin can turn things around and somehow get into the playoffs, his job certainly will be safe.
But if the Steelers win only six or seven games this season, they should look at moving on from Tomlin and giving someone else a crack at it during Roethlisberger’s final years.
What is it about coaches being unable to say these three simple words?
I. Was. Wrong.
The whole world knows Pat Narduzzi was wrong to try a field goal on fourth-and-goal at the 1 with Pitt trailing Penn State, 17-10, inside of five minutes Saturday.
Yet Narduzzi, in a classic case of a coach being unable to explain a foolish decision, came up with this doozy about why he went for the field goal:
“Because you need two scores to win the football game.”
Seriously, that’s the best answer Narduzzi could come up after a gargantuan blunder that will haunt him for the rest of his career.
Pitt’s players deserved better from their coach. They gave the team a chance to win, and they deserved an opportunity to go down swinging with their best effort.
“Players, we’re all in there saying, ‘Let’s go for it,'” Pitt QB Kenny Pickett said.
How does Narduzzi look those kids in the eyes after his boneheaded decision, which showed he had basically quit on them in that spot?
There’s no guarantee Pitt would have scored on fourth down. Penn State’s defense was playing great, held the Panthers to 24 yards rushing on the day and had just stuffed three plays from the 1.
But come on, you have to TRY! You just have to in that spot.
Narduzzi embarrassed himself with that call and by declaring after the game that he didn’t question it.
Coaches have huge egos. They call all the shots and demand that everybody listen to them. Whether it’s an inflated sense of self importance or fear of losing command of the team, some coaches simply cannot admit to their players that they made a big mistake on a specific decision.
Narduzzi needs to own this and apologize to his players. He needs to gather them around and say those three words: “I was wrong.”
The young men would understand and probably would respect him more for saying it.
Hurdle’s hefty contract
This one is simple. If it were just about baseball, Clint Hurdle would be out after this season.
By every indication it appears he has lost this team, and the Pirates, who are 65-85, need to bring in a new manager to take charge of a roster with a lot of young guys who can be cornerstones for several years.
But Hurdle has two years left on his contract, and he makes $3 million a year. The Pirates would have to give him $6 million to go away, or to become some front office executive with a glorified title.
So, it’s not a baseball decision. It’s a money decision.
I could be wrong, but I just can’t see the Pirates firing Hurdle and eating all that money.
Cory Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.