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Firing of Bicknell looks bad, but …

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

The Steelers’ firing of Jack Bicknell Jr. as offensive line coach today looks awful on its surface, given all the injuries and how they improved. But, as is usually the case, there’s more to it.k

I’m told that, contrary to at least two published reports, it’s absolutely untrue that Bicknell had his duties dialed back. He was completely responsible for all game-planning, too, though there were times Todd Haley would step in. The latter is not uncommon in the business.

Where Bicknell struggled, I’m further told, is in the area of individual instruction. Some players, notably injured center Maurkice Pouncey, became heavily involved in teaching plays and technique, both on the field and in the film room. Again, player instruction isn’t wholly uncommon, and injuries did make for a ton of extra instruction needed, but in this case the players might have raised that a level or two. And while Bicknell was loved by the players as a person, there’s also a sense I get that he might have lost them as a coach — fair or not — when times were toughest.

Bottom line, based on my talks tonight: Admiring as I’ve been — and remain — of Bicknell’s work in improving the Steelers’ line under tough circumstances, I can respect that Mike Tomlin feels he can do better.

Here’s hoping he does. This is way too much change already at a critical position in the organization.

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and more, including his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the top four columnists in the country -- highest circulation category -- by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the top three columnists in the country by the National Headliners Awards. For 2013, he was named top columnist in the state by the Keystone Awards and second-place by the Pennsylvania AP Managing Editors.


  1. I’m “a bit” surprised to learn of Bicknell’s firing, but not stunned.
    This is a team that started out 0-4….And then 2-6.
    Alot of those early losses can be credited to OL problems.
    Did they get better?…..Yes.
    But it’s hard to tell how much respect and power Bicknell lost in the first half of the season.
    They still finished the season in the bottom five rushing wise.

    The Steelers need to re-think the coaching staff and players on the field.
    Last year they talked of change, but we only saw it minimally.
    This year I’d like to see it in a big way.

  2. So Dulac is ah …. Being a Dulac again?

    • Did Gerry say something about Bicknell? If so, what? Or was it about Dejan? In which case, let it ride. Not interested in that kind of stuff.

  3. As for Pouncey, since he always gets hurt, nice to know he doubles as a good coach.
    By the way, how does Fernando Velasco figure into next year’s plans?

  4. So if it NOT true that Bicknell didnt get duties reduced, then my original point from the other thread stands.

    Bicknell was a scapegoat. He was the scapegoat for the O-Lines early struggles, and it looks like he is taking the fall for an 8-8 season, and not improving the rushing game.

    I personally think Tomlin could have made other coaching decisions, and he still might. If Bicknell was lacking in individual instruction, one would think he wouldnt have been hired in the first place, as that sort of thing would be evident in the past.

    Just really strange.

    • Something was definitely odd there. I guess if they chose really badly with that hire, better to get rid of the problem and get going in the right direction ASAP.

  5. Hello all from Shreveport Louisiana!

    I don’t know the coach, but I’m pretty sure this is the right call.

    Yes, the OL got better and it seemed as though the entire line was injured at one point, but Mike Adams, David Decastro, and Marcus Gilbert were fairly highly touted OL prospects and haven’t really panned outto their higher draft status.

    This should come back on the positionsl coach.

    Who else teaches to block the opposition by taking out your All Pro center’s knee? Just kidding DD.

    Hope everyone had a good new year. I’m still on the road and will be for a few more days.

    • Nor Cal:

      Welcome back! I hope you are enjoying the new surroundings.

      I think the lightbulb went on for DeCastro, and he is going to be a big-time Guard going forward.

      As for Adams and Gilbert, I think some of their struggles could be the positional coaching. And, maybe some of that responsibility falls on the drafting. Maybe they were just plain bad picks. I think that may be the real culprit.

      • Jim, your “bad picks” theory may be correct.

        Look at Velasco…… signed off the street, he does well.
        Just a head-scratcher.

        • I know. Sometimes I wonder if they should decide to draft a tackle, and at the last second just go in a completely other direction. Maybe if they choose a guy they don’t rate highly for that position, they’ll have more luck than they’ve had with the guys they do rate highly.

          They are pretty good at finding retreads all along the line. Maybe because other organizations are training them?

      • The “bad picks” is always a possibility.

    • It’s Lousianastlrfanrtc(Ryan)

  6. I think the Steelers need to “get it right”, and we can only trust that they will.
    There isn’t a team in the league that achieves elite status every single year.
    There will ALWAYS be a scapegoat when a team starts out 0-4, and ends with its second 8-8 season in a row.

  7. Look towards GODell

  8. So the entire determination was based on his “individual” coaching skills? How did he manage to last in the NFL as long as he has? Why would he coach a ZONE blocking scheme which would seem to require more individual coaching. If he was not good at individual coaching how did the constant changing of the OL not further weaken the position? You would think the new players would require individual attention to get them caught up. Velasco almost appeared like he had been a pro bowl player.

    It just does not add up to me that a coach with poor individual coaching skills would choose such a difficult blocking scheme to run.

    Based on the recent firings in the NFL I am sure Tomlin can find a OL coach some where. Hopefully he will do a thorough background check this time around. But based on Tomlin’s comments the other day about taking time to decide coaching futures it would appear he already had this decision made.

    • Tomlin hired Bicknell, he will hire the new coach.
      See a problem here?

      • You mean other than the fact that he’s going to be on his 4th OL coach since becoming HC of the Steelers?

        But lets be honest; does it matter who the OL coach is when your OL can’t stay healthy? Your stuck with guys that other teams felt they could not coach them into regulars in the NFL.

        Biggest problem I see for Tomlin is that he can’t fire the punter so he fired the OL coach instead.

  9. I think Tomlin has ordered all new tackling dummies for next season; the current supply obviously were not cutting it with the play of our LB’s so it’s time for them to go.

    Word has it that Woodley now had a handicap parking tag. Unfortunately he pulled a muscle trying to hang it on his mirror.

  10. Word has it Charlie Strong will sign on to be Texas HC. Just heard this on the end of the Cotton Bowl telecast.

    I honestly had no idea he would get this when I called it on yesterday’s Morning thread. I thought he would be a darkhorse.

    Blind squirrel theory in action, I guess…….



  12. Maybe some one else should hire the assistants. Does Carnell Lake get fired because our secondary sucked in 2013, Does the wr coach that was hired out of a local retirement community get replaced because our young m receivers , Moye, Brown , and broken finger not make any contribution? What about a defensive line coach that restricted the dl for so long from being pass rushers when our opponents are passing 60 % of the time. How many special teams coaches does Mike get to fire and hire till he gets it right, geeeeezeee what a mess. What about our rb coach, how is that run game doing, ???

    • All year long I’ve heard Steeler fans screaming for the head of literally every coach on this staff.
      When it happens….Some choose to decide it was the “wrong one.”
      The same thing happened with Bruce Arians.
      I couldn’t sit through a quarter of a Steeler game without hearing some fan scream…Fire Arians!
      When he was finally fired….It’s a mistake!
      Make up your mind.
      They’re never going to call YOU for advise……

      • Yes, the Monday Morning QB’s are always quick to jump on the various coaches with 20-20 hindsight. I do it, too. I believe Dick LeBeau’s time has passed (though my opinion on this had been percolating for over a season before I spoke up).
        And I definitely agree that the Arians-bashers were wrong. Haley is coming around, but Arians wasn’t broke when we fixed him.

  13. the biggest problem i see is the lack of advancement of Adams, a 2nd round pick who should be a fixture for 8 years, and Gilbert, who gave up a ton of sacks and hurries from the right side. perhaps they should be flipped. and for that alone, there should be some questions. And, that zone blocking scheme we heard so much about was scrapped early probably because of horrible execution. he had mini camp to work on both issues and came up short. true, the OL came on strong at the end, but we still were at the bottom of the pack rushing this year.

  14. Probably, the OL coach’s firing is the first of many other changes to come since this is likely the last year for some Steelers veterans as well, so I’ll be watching to see what else happens now.

  15. The first person(s) I would fire would be the scout(s) responsible for recommending that Adams be drafted. We have done much better on the offensive line with castoffs from other teams and undrafted free agents.

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