Tim Benz: More to Mike Munchak’s departure from Steelers than meets the eye?
There’s an easy way to explain the departure of Mike Munchak.
That’s why you shouldn’t accept it. It’s too easy.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost their prized offensive line coach to the Denver Broncos. He took the same job there. Perhaps for more money. But from a job title point of view, it’s a lateral move.
The Twitter-friendly way to tell the story is to say that Munchak left for the Broncos offer for family reasons. If you put it out there like that, it gets likes and retweets, and we all get a warm fuzzy in our hearts.
Munchak has a daughter and granddaughter in Colorado. So that explanation makes sense.
Munchak seems to be an honest, stand-up guy. That’s why his players love him so much. His linemen gush about him. Ben Roethlisberger openly campaigned to keep him. James Conner gave him credit for aiding his quick development this year. Le’Veon Bell fawned over him late last season when the Arizona Cardinals called on Munchak as a potential head coach.
He’s adored by the offense to a similar level that Dick LeBeau was by his defensive players on the Super Bowl teams of the mid-2000’s.
But the catch-all explanation “he just left for family” isn’t good enough.
From Munchak, if he wants to offer that quote eventually, it is. But from the Steelers, it isn’t.
Why was Munchak’s contract allowed to expire so that such a move was possible? He should’ve at least been given a hefty raise and contract extension. Maybe a promotion to “associate head coach,” or some similar title, as well. That would’ve prevented the Broncos from hiring him away.
Or maybe he should’ve been given the offensive coordinator’s job last year instead of Randy Fichtner after Todd Haley was dismissed.
Let’s be honest. Fichtner’s interaction with Roethlisberger really wouldn’t be all that different if he were still just the quarterback’s coach as opposed to the offensive coordinator. In fact, I’d argue having Munchak in charge would’ve brought more run balance to an offense that threw the ball 67.39 percent of the time. That was the second highest total in the NFL this year.
Plus, it’s not like anyone was beating down Fichtner’s door. He simply got promoted the moment Todd Haley was fired, and I haven’t heard rumors of him getting head coaching looks this offseason.
If that role-change wouldn’t have been dramatic enough for Munchak’s liking, firing Mike Tomlin and giving Munchak the Steelers head coaching job was an option. I endorsed that notion.
Many pontificated that Munchak wouldn’t want to be a head coach after getting fired in Tennessee. It sure seemed that way when he decided to turn down a second interview for the Arizona coaching job last offseason. Back then, the Scranton native also pointed to “family reasons” as to why he didn’t want to leave Pittsburgh.
Yet, he interviewed for the Broncos open coaching job this offseason. Now he’s jumping onto the coaching staff of Vic Fangio — the guy who beat him out for the gig — in Denver.
That looks a little weird. So does leaving an offensive line Munchak helped mold into one of the best in the league.
Here are some theories as to why Munchak may have left, besides just family proximity.
• He’s fatigued by the constant chaos in the Steelers locker room and wants out.
Well, I can’t argue with that.
• He wants Tomlin to be more of a disciplinarian in that job, as he would be.
• The Steelers didn’t want to extend Munchak because he’d be a “coach-in-waiting” threat to Tomlin.
I get it. But Munchak’s departure makes Tomlin’s job harder this year because the Steelers are worse without him.
• The Steelers didn’t want to extend Munchak because they didn’t want to get into a bidding war over a position coach. Or, they just wanted to grant him the courtesy of leaving if he desired.
Neither answer is acceptable.
Steelers fans have every right to wonder about any of these possibilities because the right thing wasn’t done. Munchak wasn’t given the proper position or contract to keep him on the South Side.
It’s fair to ask if “family matters” would have played such a role if either of those conditions had been met. I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the concept of Munchak stepping back to an offensive line coach role in Denver if he had been a head coach or coordinator in Pittsburgh.
Or even an offensive line coach in Pittsburgh under a contract that had been extended in a more timely fashion.