Starkey: Steelers' power struggle fascinates

| Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012

The Steelers' clumsy coordinator shuffle clearly was aimed at making one man a lot less comfortable.

The quarterback.

That is what makes this drama so compelling.

How does Ben Roethlisberger respond to getting slapped around a little• The organization that granted him nearly unlimited power to play as he saw fit -- heck, to play when he saw fit after his ankle injury -- is trying to reclaim a portion of said power.

And there is no delicate way to do that.

So get your popcorn ready. It's either going to work to spectacular results or blow up in their faces.

Applaud the high-risk, high-reward philosophy that has often served the Steelers well. Question their methods. Enjoy the cabaret.

In hindsight, one can see the power-strip process beginning the day after the loss in Denver, when coach Mike Tomlin was asked how much say Roethlisberger would have in whether coordinator Bruce Arians was retained.

"None," Tomlin said, sharply.

Days later, team president Art Rooney II said he'd like to see Roethlisberger "tweak" his game.

The Steelers then "shocked" Roethlisberger -- his word, which he has used repeatedly -- by firing his friend Arians in the most insulting way imaginable.

They tried to pass off the move as a "retirement," but before Arians could collect his gold watch, he was working again -- now as the Indianapolis Colts' offensive coordinator.

Kardashian-Humphries marriage: 72 days.

Arians retirement: eight days.

Steelers' silence: priceless.

We still don't know for sure who orchestrated Arians' ouster. The Steelers have not seen fit to clear up the confusion.

Maybe Rooney and Tomlin were more up front about it with Roethlisberger than they have been with the public. The way things are going, though, you have to wonder if they've even told him yet.

Tomlin didn't exactly find a wallflower to replace Arians, either.

Quite the opposite: He brought in Haley's comet.

And you don't think this organization wanted to rock Ben's world?

I like hard-core Todd Haley's resume. He has been successful using different approaches. Lots of pass. Lots of run. He also isn't afraid to get in players' faces, and elite ones such as Larry Fitzgerald swear by him (and often swore at him).

But that doesn't mean this will be a slam dunk. There is no predicting the result when massive egos collide.

For now, Roethlisberger and Haley will apparently spend some time marking their territory.

Haley, for example, did not seek out Roethlisberger upon showing up at Steelers headquarters. Here's hoping they meet sometime before the season opener.

Roethlisberger upstaged Haley's introductory news conference Thursday by choosing an hour earlier to give his first extended interview since the Arians firing.

It really is great theatre.

It's a tightrope walk for the Steelers, too, because we're talking about the meal ticket here.

The Steelers need Roethlisberger way more than he needs them.

Remember, Roethlisberger is the main reason this franchise snapped its quarter-century Super Bowl drought. It had gone 25 years without a championship-level quarterback.

He also is the primary reason Tomlin has become a top-tier NFL coach making millions of dollars.

Everybody knows it's a quarterbacks league. Without one, a coach is doomed. With a great one, he almost can't help but thrive. Just ask Ken Whisenhunt.

And be sure of this: Roethlisberger will be the reason Haley does -- or does not -- become a head coach again.

It all depends on how this marriage works out.

I assume Haley is smart enough to be open to the ad-lib style that makes Roethlisberger unique. But the Steelers also believe Ben needs to play a tamer, smarter game. They want him to stay upright for the next several years (blockers, anyone?). They want him to get rid of the ball faster.

That is understandable. Commendable, even.

Was this the right way to go about it?

Time will tell. It always does.

Get your popcorn ready.

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