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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: Todd Haley could help Browns, but not enough

| Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, 10:30 p.m.
Former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley on the sidelines during the 2017 season.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley on the sidelines during the 2017 season.
Former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley on the sidelines during the 2017 season.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley on the sidelines during the 2017 season.

You won't have Todd Haley to kick around anymore!

Wait. Actually, you will.

If there is one thing Pittsburgh does well, it's kick around Cleveland. And, reports are that Todd Haley will be hired as the new offensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns.

This is simply the latest piece of low-hanging fruit for Steelers fans to pluck from the comedy-Giving Tree that is the Browns' organization.

• Does Tequila Cowboy have a Cleveland location for the welcoming party?

• Have the Browns started practicing a wide pitch on 4th-and-1 yet?

• Have the Browns already ripped the QB sneak page from the playbook?

• Is Haley renting or buying in Cleveland?

• Did Haley sign his new contract on a cocktail napkin ?

Sometimes the jokes write themselves.

For Browns optimists — if such a group exists — Haley is well schooled on the defenses and coaching staffs of AFC North opponents. The Browns also will improve once Hue Jackson yields play-calling duties.

Plus, for all the faults Pittsburghers love to point out about Haley — getting too cute on short-yardage snaps, trying to out-think obvious personnel advantages like the Week 5 loss to Jacksonville and frequent underachievement in the red zone — he does have positive attributes.

Haley coordinated the Cardinals to the Super Bowl, the Steelers to the AFC championship and the Chiefs to the playoffs.

Haley also has a well-deserved reputation for coaching to the strengths of his star players. The issue in Cleveland, though, becomes: Who, exactly, are those star players?

The Browns haven't sniffed a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger or Kurt Warner since the franchise came back into existence. Josh Gordon is very talented, but he isn't Antonio Brown or Larry Fitzgerald. Cleveland's backs have potential but not the ceilings of Jamal Charles or Le'Veon Bell.

Let's not even bother comparing offensive lines, either. Cleveland allowed 50 sacks to just 24 for the Steelers in 2017.

Then there are the personnel-management concerns. Three offensive position coaches bailed on the Steelers after Haley's first year here. Many believe Mike Munchak and/or Randy Fichtner would've left if Haley was retained.

That was on top of the constant passive-aggressive references to play calling and game planning made by Roethlisberger throughout the Haley era.

When a play worked, Roethlisberger usually talked about how it was something he called or checked into. When a play call or decision failed, it was something that “came in from the sideline.”

I wonder if as much checking out of plays (or at least references to such decisions) will be necessary now that Fichtner — Big Ben's beloved position coach — is replacing Haley as coordinator.

Roethlisberger tried to downplay the alleged angst between he and Haley in the days before Haley's contract wasn't renewed.

“You're always going to have rifts,” Roethlisberger told 93.7 last Tuesday. “That's players and coaches. It's not just coach Haley and I. There's always issues in a competitive field like we have.”

To his credit, Haley rarely quipped back at Roethlisberger. And Haley does have supporters.

“You want a guy like that in your corner,” Warner said on the The Rich Eisen Show. “You want a guy like that pushing you every day.”

In the end, it didn't work out for Haley in Pittsburgh. That's a weird thing to write about an offensive coordinator whose team put up the numbers it did over his final four years.

Haley's offenses finished between fourth and tenth each year in points per game between 2014-17. They finished between seventh and second annually in yards over that time frame. Each team reached the playoffs as well.

Haley is going to a football city that throws parades for going winless, from a football city where anything less than a Super Bowl parade is cause for dismissal.

Up there 3-13 would be a sign of progress. Here 13-3 doesn't get you a new contract.

No, Haley shouldn't have been so vilified here. And yes, he still could've done better.

I bet Haley helps the Browns get better. After 0-16, it couldn't be any worse, right?

But much like his time with the Steelers, “better” won't be good enough.

Because “better” and “good enough” have very different definitions between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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