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Steelers' moves hardly inspiring

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Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007

For all I know, Ken Anderson is the finest quarterback guru this side of Bill Walsh.

I just can't find any evidence to support such a notion.

In fact, Anderson mentored two of the more spectacular quarterback busts on record -- David Klingler and Akili Smith -- and didn't fare much better with Byron Leftwich.

The only thing missing from his resume is a stint with Ryan Leaf.

That's why it seemed so curious when new Steelers coach Mike Tomlin fired Mark Whipple, who was doing just fine as Ben Roethlisberger's tutor, and hired Anderson, 57, as the new quarterbacks coach.

Obviously, Roethlisberger had a poor season, but I'd be willing to match his first three years with those of just about any quarterback in NFL history.

Anderson is one of several hires/promotions on the Steelers' staff that can fairly be described as underwhelming, if not seriously perplexing.

Even the new head coach sports a spotty resume. Tomlin has one year's experience as a coordinator, and while people are quick to point out that his Minnesota Vikings defense led the league against the run, it also was tied for last against the pass and registered a paltry 30 sacks.

That's not saying Tomlin was a poor choice. The man deserves a fair chance -- and the Rooneys deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to hiring coaches.

I'm as impressed as everyone else with Tomlin's light-up-the-room charisma. I liked his decision -- assuming it was his -- to retain the core of the defensive staff, headed by coordinator Dick LeBeau.

The decisions on offense and special teams, however, are open to question.

Tomlin promoted Bruce Arians from wide receivers coach to coordinator and hired Larry Zierlein to coach the line. The only other time those two held the same positions in the NFL was with the Cleveland Browns.

They worked together from 2001-03, without much success.

The Browns finished 30th, 21st and 27th in the NFL in total offense, 31st, 23rd and 20th in rushing offense. Their only respectable year was 2002, when they hung 33 points on the Steelers in a playoff game and would have won if not for a Dennis Northcutt drop.

Maybe you could pin their poor numbers on mediocre personnel and a shaky head coach in Butch Davis. Arians, 54, and Zierlein, 62, are well-respected coaching vets -- Arians tutored Peyton Manning in Indianapolis -- but the fact is they failed in Cleveland.

That makes them an unknown entity in their current roles.

It's also entirely possible Anderson has fallen victim to the personnel around him and that nobody could have helped Klingler (drafted sixth overall in 1992) or Smith (third overall in 1999).

Anderson was the Bengals' quarterbacks coach from 1993-95 and 2001-02, their offensive coordinator from 1996-2000. The team did not make the playoffs in that span, though Anderson did some good work developing Jeff Blake.

Jacksonville hired Anderson as quarterbacks coach in 2003, the same year it drafted Leftwich seventh overall. Four seasons later, Leftwich is a mess. His one-time backup, talented David Garrard, failed to seize the job this season after he replaced an injured Leftwich, leaving the Jaguars with a quarterback quandary.

Anderson was fired earlier this month.

Which brings us to new special teams coach Bob Ligashesky.

Again, it's possible Ligashesky is going to become the special-teams version of Bill Belichick. He had some good years at Bowling Green. But if I'm the guy doing the hiring, and I'm looking at his recent job performance, I'm cringing.

In 2003, Ligashesky coached Pitt's special teams. The Panthers were last in the Big East in kickoff and punt returns. They also finished 116th in kickoff coverage, which might not seem bad until you consider 117 teams played Division I-A football.

In St. Louis this season, Ligashesky's units allowed an NFC-worst three kick-return touchdowns. The Rams somehow managed to finish below the Steelers in punt and kick return average (27th and 26th, respectively) and had the 28th-best kickoff coverage team. The punt coverage was better -- 10th overall -- but allowed a touchdown.

Ligashesky was fired last week.

"He's a good coach with a bright future," Rams coach Scott Linehan told reporters. "But we needed to make some improvements on special teams."

So do the Steelers. Here's hoping Ligashesky, a Sto-Rox High School graduate, can help.

But as with much of the reconfigured Steelers staff, you have to wonder.




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