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Steelers fire special teams coach Ligashesky

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Friday, Jan. 8, 2010
 

A year after directing one of the NFL's top special teams units, Bob Ligashesky was fired Thursday as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin continues to follow though on his promise to shake-up his coaching staff.

Ligashesky is the second assistant to be fired since Tomlin promised Tuesday to get rid of coaches. Offensive line coach Larry Zierlein was fired Wednesday.

Ligashesky became a candidate for the unemployment line after the Steelers finished No. 30 in kickoff coverage and No. 24 in punt coverage this season. During a five-game stretch, the Steelers gave up four kickoff returns, two of them occurring during losses.

In 2008, the Steelers ranked first in kick coverage and fourth in punt coverage.

A native of McKees Rocks who was Pitt's special teams coordinator from 2000-2003, Ligashesky appeared to land his dream job when he joined the Steelers in 2007.

Known for his enthusiastic coaching style earlier in his stint with the Steelers, Ligashesky pulled back during his second season as the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII.

This season, Ligashesky's unit took a hit when cornerback Anthony Madison, who led the team with 25 special-teams tackles in 2008, was released before the regular season.

Madison's absence became noticeable when opponents started ripping off long kickoff returns, including touchdowns by Cleveland, Minnesota, Cincinnati and Kansas City.

Tomlin, in an attempt to send a message to his special teams, released linebackers Arnold Harrison and Donovan Woods. The Steelers later signed defensive back Corey Ivy for one game and linebacker Rocky Boiman for the remainder of the season.

When told of Ligashesky's firing, Madison said he was disappointed but not surprised.

"I enjoyed working with him. You hate to see anyone lose their job this way,'' Madison said. "I just think it's part of the business. When things aren't going right, somebody's got to go. Unfortunately, special teams was a phase of our game that didn't work out.

"Last year, when we were ranked No. 1 and No. 4, special teams helped us get to the Super Bowl. This year, it's one of those situations where it hurt our team.''

Special team assistant Amos Jones is still on staff, so it isn't known if the Steelers will fill Ligashesky's vacancy. Bobby April, a former Steelers special teams coach who recently bought out the final two years of his contract with Buffalo, is considered among the best in the business.

Another potential candidate could be Pittsburgh native Danny Smith, who has turned the Washington Redskins' special teams into one of the league's top units. Smith was a member of coach Jim Zorn's staff. Zorn was fired this week and replaced by Mike Shanahan, who hasn't yet determined which of those assistants he will keep. Smith was an assistant at William and Mary (1980-1983), which is Tomlin's alma mater, so there could be a possible connection there.

Note: The Steelers signed nine players to their offseason roster, including seven players who were members of this year's practice squad. But it was who they didn't re-sign that made news: center A.Q. Shipley, a seventh-round draft pick from Penn State and Moon High School in 2008. Kicker Piotr Czech, whom the Steelers signed last offseason and released after training camp, heads the list. He could provide competition for incumbent Jeff Reed, who will be an unrestricted free agent. The Steelers also re-signed another familiar face, defensive tackle Scott Paxson, who was originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2006 from Penn State and played on the Steelers' active roster and practice squad from 2006-2008. The other signees are tight end Eugene Bright, wide receiver Jason Cherry, safety Tuff Harris, defensive tackle Steve McClendon, linebacker Johnny Williams and running backs Isaac Redman and Justin Vincent.

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