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Steelers fire special teams coordinator

| Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, 5:12 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review Al Everest, shown with punter Jeremy Kapinos, served as the Steelers' special teams coordinator for the past two seasons.
Al Everest, watching training camp practice at St. Vincent College, was fired as Steelers special teams coordinator Thursday by coach Mike Tomlin. (Chaz Palla | Tribune Review)
Christopher Horner
Former Steelers special teams coordinator Al Everest talks to coach Mike Tomlin during a game against the Ravens in November. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review file)

Turns out Mike Tomlin wasn't done shaking up his coaching staff when Bruce Arians was let go seven months ago. Now, Al Everest is out, too.

Everest was abruptly fired as special teams coordinator following practice Thursday and replaced by his assistant, Amos Jones, who already was doing much of the on-field coaching.

“We are continually evaluating our coaching staff and support staff, and we have decided to go in a different direction with respect to the coaching of our special teams,” Tomlin said in a statement released by the team. “I want to thank Al for his contributions and efforts, and I wish him well in the future.”

Within an hour of the announcement, Everest's bio had been removed from the Steelers' website, and team employees were seen taking boxes from his office.

Such coaching staff changes are rarely made with the start of the season so close, but they do occur. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, then the Chiefs coach, fired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey in late August 2009, and the Buccaneers fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski a week before their '09 opener.

There had been no hints that Tomlin would make so dramatic a move only two days before a preseason game in Buffalo, but he expressed disappointment with the special teams following a preseason game Sunday against the Colts. Rookie Marquis Maze averaged only 1.5 yards on punt returns.

“I didn't like our return game,” said Tomlin, who has devoted significant practice time to special teams. “I thought our return game was below the line.”

Still, philosophical differences — not performances in meaningless games — commonly are the reason such changes are made so abruptly.

Through two preseason games, the Steelers were averaging 4.0 yards on punt returns to their opponents' 8.5 and 18.6 yards on kickoff returns to their opponents' 26.3.

But their kicking game has been solid. Shaun Suisham (2 for 2) and rookie Daniel Hrapmann (5 for 5) are perfect on field goal attempts, and rookie punter Drew Butler is averaging 47.5 yards, with a net of 41 yards, as incumbent Jeremy Kapinos heals from a back injury.

One major change made at the start of training camp last month was the decision — apparently by Tomlin — to remove Pro Bowl kick returner Antonio Brown from the kickoff and punt return units. Brown, a starting receiver, averaged 10.8 yards on punt returns and 27.3 yards on kickoff returns last season.

Jones was passed over for the special teams coordinator job when Bob Ligashesky was let go following three seasons from 2007-09. Everest was brought in from the 49ers to replace him, with Jones remaining as the assistant.

Jones, a former safety and running back at Alabama under coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, coached at seven colleges — including Pitt — before being hired by the Steelers.

In January, the Steelers announced Arians had retired as offensive coordinator. But it quickly became apparent he had been fired, and he accepted the same job with Indianapolis.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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