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Change at the Offensive Coordinator position? Let’s not get our hopes up

It’s no secret that many Steelers fans don’t like Matt Canada. Many feel he shouldn’t remain as the Steelers’ Offensive Coordinator, but with the Steelers making little to no change so far, it seems that he will keep that title for yet another year.

With that being more likely the case, all we can do is hope we see some change in his play-calling and style of offense for the Steelers.  But how many said that after a disappointing first season as OC last year? Even with more youth and mobility at the QB position, it was pretty much the same offense as when Ben was playing. Obviously, it is yet to be determined how the offense will play out next year.

If it resembles how the offense has been, then it would be safe to say it would be more evident for Canada to go. But not via a firing, as it is a tendency for the Steelers not to fire a coach. They let the contracts of former coaches expire. Coaches like Todd Haley and Randy Fichtner, our two previous OCs.  This upcoming season, Matt Canada has one year left on his contract.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only tendency (more so a tradition) the Steelers tend to have. A tendency that has gone stale. A tendency that has recently done the Steelers more harm than good.

The Steelers history of promoting within

The in-house promotion has been something the Steelers are no stranger to doing for several years. They have done so on both sides of the ball, resulting in a negative impact, especially for the offense. Ever since Todd Haley (last OC that wasn’t an in-house promotion) left the Steelers, the void at OC has been filled by the Steelers’ QB coach.

Randy Fichtner was promoted to OC after Haley’s departure in 2018. Fichtner had been the Steelers’ QB coach from 2010-2017 before being both OC and QB coach in 2018-2019. Matt Canada would then arrive to the organization in 2020, becoming the QB coach, as Fichtner would solely take on OC duties. After three disappointing seasons as OC, Randy Fichtner was let go after his contract wasn’t renewed.

As we all know, Matt Canada was promoted to OC in 2021 and hadn’t the replacement we all hoped he’d be. It seems like Matt Canada is going down the same path that Randy Fichtner went. And if the Steelers continue their tendency with the OC position, the next guy in line to take that role could be the current Steelers’ QB coach, Mike Sullivan.

Who is Steelers Quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan?

In 2021, the Steelers hired Mike Sullivan as the new QB coach. Unlike Fichtner and Canada, Sullivan has many years of experience in the NFL, 18 to be exact, with several teams. To give some backstory, Mike Sullivan had started his NFL coaching career with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a defensive quality control coordinator in 2002 and offensive assistant in 2003.

In 2004, he became the New York Giants’ WR coach. He would work with Steve Smith and former Steeler Plaxico Burress. He held that title until 2009 before becoming the QB coach in 2010-2011 and returning to the position in 2015, where he worked with Eli Manning. As their QB coach, he even had a stint with the Denver Broncos in 2018.

Mike Sullivan is also no stranger to the OC position as he was the OC for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2012-2013 and the New York Giants from 2016-2017. Something that has been said countless times for the Steelers OC position is that they could use somebody with experience and not somebody from within the organization. But Sullivan is someone that the Steelers may want to avoid as we look back at both of Mike Sullivan’s stints as Offensive Coordinator.

Mike Sullivan as Steelers new Offensive Coordinator

In his first season as Buccaneers’ OC in 2012, he managed to showcase a promising season for Tampa Bay as he aided in the offense to be ranked 9th in total offense, averaging 24.3 PPG, 363.8 YPG, but Tampa Bay would only obtain a 7-9 record. In 2013, the Buccaneers offense couldn’t live up to their performance from 2012 and was quite disappointing.

They were ranked 32nd in total offense, averaging 18 PPG, 277 YPG, and having a 4-12 record, which resulted in Mike Sullivan being fired from his duties. He would get a second shot at OC as he was promoted from QB coach to OC for the Giants in 2016 after the Giants’ longtime head coach Tom Coughlin left the organization and Ben McAdoo (Giants’ OC in 2014-2015) became head coach.

Much like his first season as the Bucs’ OC, there was some potential for the Giants offense in 2016. Although their offense was ranked 25th in total offense, averaging 19.4 PPG and 330.7 YPG, they managed to have an 11-5 record and make the playoffs before ultimately losing to the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round, 38-13.

In 2017, a similar outcome would happen during his second year with the Bucs, as the Giants ended up missing the playoffs with a 3-13 record and having their offense ranked 21st in total offense, but averaging 15.4 PPG and 314.2 YPG. At the end of the 2017 NFL season, he left the Giants organization to explore opportunities around the league. He ended up joining the Broncos to become their QB coach.

With Mike Sullivan’s previous NFL OC experiences, there was definitely some good in there if you want to hold on to that. But overall, it seems to me that both stints were quite underwhelming and short-lived for Sullivan. There also seemed to be a pattern in there when he was OC. Then you look at the Steelers’ pattern at OC.

The possibility of bringing both those patterns together doesn’t seem like the brightest idea, considering how the Steelers’ offense has been the past few years. We can continue to think, “There’s no way the offense can get worse.” Yet they manage to do so. The Steelers’ tendency to promote from within is a big part of that reason.

I’m bringing this to light now because I, unfortunately, see this being the case. The Steelers have shown they don’t get out of their ways. They haven’t done anything that makes me think overwise. So even if Matt Canada leaves, how confident can we say that change will happen when history tends to repeat itself for the Steelers.

If all that I mentioned here line up, we may be on the verge of seeing the same outcome as previous seasons.

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