Let’s get to it:
TERRY TEETS FROM PARSONSFIELD, ME: Who was the last coach to be fired by the Steelers?
ANSWER: Bill Austin was hired in 1966 to replace Mike Nixon, whose team finished 2-12 in 1965 with him serving as an interim coach following the firing of Buddy Parker during that preseason when Parker refused to accept Dan Rooney’s authority on matters pertaining to the football business. Nixon was replaced after the 1965 season by Austin, who came to the Steelers after a stint as an assistant to Vince Lombardi in Green Bay. Art Rooney Sr. hired Austin based on Lombardi’s recommendation, but it turned out to be a recommendation by Lombardi only to get a faithful assistant a head coaching job in the NFL. After three seasons in which the Steelers posted records of 5-8-1, 4-9-1, and 2-11-1, Austin was fired and replaced by a Baltimore Colts assistant named Chuck Noll.
ANDREW NORMILE FROM SOUTH PARK, PA: Back before the rule was changed, it was unheard of that the team that won the toss elected to kick off. Now, it seems most teams do just that. Although I do get it if your team has a strong defense going against a mediocre or poor offense that this may be a sound strategy. I think normally a team is always going to be better off electing to receive the ball to start the game for no other reason than it increases odds of that team having an extra possession. So why do coaches frequently elect to kick off now?
ANSWER: You may perceive it to be a distinction without a difference, but there is a huge difference between winning the coin toss and electing to kick-off and winning the coin toss and electing to defer your choice to the start of the second half. Under the first scenario – electing to kick off – that indeed would cost you a possession, because the team that lost the opening coin toss would get the ball to start the game and then get to choose whether to receive, kick off, or defend a goal at the start of the second half. Choosing to defer just allows the team that wins the opening coin toss to make its selection at the start of the second half instead of at the start of the game.
ED PLANT FROM EDMONTON, ALBERTA, CANADA: My recollection over the past three years is that the Steelers need some help in the secondary. They have a great defensive line and some very good linebackers, but I think the secondary needs to be beefed up. Any signs of that from your perspective?
ANSWER: My assessment of the current state of the Steelers’ roster is that the back seven of the defense needs a significant injection of playmakers. Linebackers, pass rushers, cornerbacks and safeties who can make plays on the ball.
LONNY MACKEY FROM SAINT CLOUD, FL: I agree with most that Ben Roethlisberger has a couple more good years left, but I don’t know enough about Joshua Dobbs or Mason Rudolph to comment on either, but at this point isn't defense more of a need than a quarterback?
ANSWER: I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which the Steelers spend a draft pick on a quarterback.
MICHAEL ALLAY FROM NEW CASTLE, PA: What happened to Matthew Thomas? I see that he is now a member of the Baltimore Ravens. I thought that he was one of the players the coaches were excited about and looked like a guy with a big future.
ANSWER: Matthew Thomas finished the regular season on the practice squad. When the Steelers didn’t offer him a futures contract, Thomas got an offer from the Ravens and signed a futures contract with them.
ROGER HALECKY FROM GILBERT, AZ: Regarding Antonio Brown: If a trade were to happen, I don’t understand why the Steelers still have to take a $21.2 million cap hit in dead money. Why can’t his new team assume the same contract? Why can’t the Steelers get compensated for the trade and get his money off the books for 2019?
ANSWER: Because that’s the way the salary cap works. That has been a provision of the Collective Bargaining Agreement since the NFL first went to the current system of free agency tied to a salary cap in 1993.
BRENT CROASMUN FROM PADEN CITY, WV: I have been a Steelers fan since 1975. I was in high school when the Steelers won their first Super Bowl. The Steelers from the 1970s played for the love of the game. There was no drama, that I am aware of, that took place then. There were several superstars on these teams that included Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, John Stallworth, Rocky Bleier, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Mike Webster, and on and on. How did Chuck Noll keep all these guys on the same page?
ANSWER: Since you claim to be a Steelers fans since 1975, I present you the team’s 1977 season. That began with a trial in Texas for Ernie Holmes on a charge of cocaine possession. Then once training camp began, instead of being at Saint Vincent College coaching the team, Chuck Noll was in California defending himself against a defamation lawsuit filed by Oakland safety George Atkinson based on Noll referring to him during a 1976 news conference as a part of the NFL’s “criminal element.” During that trial, under cross-examination by Atkinson’s attorney, Noll was forced to include Joe Greene, Mel Blount, and Glen Edwards as players who also were part of the criminal element because of their own dirty play. Five days later, on July 16, Blount reacted to this by threatening to quit the Steelers, and he eventually sued Noll for $5 million. On July 21, 1977, Jack Lambert decided not to report to training camp, because he was unhappy with the salary he was to be paid in the option year of the contract he originally signed in 1974 as a rookie from Kent State. On July 22, Noll was cleared of the charges filed by Atkinson, but the day was ruined by Edwards’ announcement that he also was unhappy with his contract. On July 28, Lambert’s agent upped the ante a little bit, and this was the headline on the lead sports story in the Pittsburgh Press: “Agent tells Rooney: Jack wants traded.” Late in August, Noll named the team’s captains for the upcoming season, and when word got to Lambert that he had been bypassed, he voiced his disappointment publicly. Noll fired back in the media that Lambert didn’t deserve to be a captain because he held out all through training camp. Backup cornerback Jimmy Allen quit the team in October, but changed his mind the next day and came back. A couple of days before a game in Denver, Edwards left the team because he was unhappy with the new contract he had just signed, and he returned after the loss. Noll slipped on a patch of ice in Cincinnati and broke his arm on the night before a game against the Bengals that the Steelers lost. Imagine if there had been social media and sports-talk radio in 1977 for that circus.
NICHOLAS WATHKE FROM EAU CLAIRE, WI: With the likelihood of Chris Boswell having competition in training camp, could you foresee the Steelers possibly drafting a kicker should there be one available that they like?
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers will have legitimate competition for Chris Boswell in 2019, but I would absolutely not spend a draft choice on one. If the Steelers were in a situation where they had no placekicker, maybe then I could see using a draft pick on one, but since the idea is to bring in competition for Boswell, I believe someone can be found on the free agent market to do that. Actually, a veteran is probably a better fit for that assignment, and I would make it clear to the candidates that it’s going to be an open competition, and that the winner of the competition would get the job.