Rooney gives Tomlin, Haley vote of confidence
Turnovers and injuries, not a lack of discipline or a coaching failure, doomed a “frustrating” Steelers season that Art Rooney II believes should still be going.
In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday, the team president supported Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley but didn't disagree with the head coach's self-evaluation that he was “an 8-8 coach” during a disappointing season.
“And that's not satisfactory,” Rooney said. “Having said that, I still have a high level of confidence in Mike, and I'm confident that he's hard at work figuring out how to correct the problems.”
To Rooney, the Steelers (8-8) were a playoff-caliber team that never recovered from a succession of turnover-fueled close losses — five by three points — or Ben Roethlisberger's three-game injury layoff.
“We had plenty of opportunities to take a step forward and get ourselves in the playoffs, and we just didn't take advantage,” Rooney said. “You feel like if we had gotten into the playoffs we could have been on the same field with these teams and been competitive.”
Rooney heard fans' complaints that the Steelers weren't disciplined enough but dismissed that, saying, “If I had to point to one thing that was a concern, it was our (minus-10) turnover ratio.”
The Steelers were 5-3 before Roethlisberger injured a rib and his right shoulder Nov. 12, but they dropped five of their final seven games. They were 1-3 after Roethlisberger returned.
Until then, the offense was everything Rooney envisioned a year ago, when former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was let go and Haley was hired, in part, to keep Roethlisberger healthier and less improvisational.
“Ben was on track to have his best season as a Steeler. He was getting sacked less, getting rid of the ball. It really was everything we had hoped for,” Rooney said. “The injury obviously changed things, and we never really regained our rhythm or our balance.”
Despite ending each of the past two seasons with injuries, Roethlisberger is “in his prime,” Rooney said, “and hasn't shown anything that would lead you to think that he's starting to diminish. … I think he wants to have five, six or more years of playing at a high level, and he understands that he's got to work hard to be able to do that.”
One of Rooney's biggest concerns is a running game that produced the second-fewest yards in 34 years.
“For the Steelers to be successful, that's got to be one of the foundations, and we've got to figure that out,” he said.
Rooney wouldn't discuss pending free agents — including Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis and Rashard Mendenhall — but said every player is being evaluated, including the high-salaried James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley. The Steelers are an estimated $12 million to $15 million above the salary cap.
“They're key players that have to be difference-makers for us,” Rooney said. “Not enough of those kinds of difference-making plays were made this year by them or any other players.”
Several veterans recently said the entire team must play smarter and work harder, especially some of the younger talent.
“Those kinds of comments coming from veteran players are not to be taken lightly,” Rooney said. “We have young players that need to get better ... whether it's focus, whether it's conditioning. There's no question that players that work hard wind up being better players than players who don't.”