LATROBE, Pa. — Todd Haley laughs about it, Ben Roethlisberger shrugs.
Neither believe anything will deter them from winning games for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The quarterback and new coach shrug off concerns about two strong personalities uniting, offseason chatter be dadgummed. Haley called the worries “comical.”
“I’ve heard some of it just through feedback as much as anything,” Haley said Wednesday at Steelers training camp. “Friends calling and saying, ‘What’s going on with you and Ben?’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean what’s going on?'”
Roethlisberger said things got blown up when Haley was hired and added the two have had good “ebb and flow” early in training camp.
“We’re going to work together,” Roethlisberger said.
The two insist that they can and will play nice this season.
They best do so. It’s no stretch that the success of 2012 Steelers may come down to their quarterback and how well he and Haley mesh. Receiver Mike Wallace is not in camp. Running back Rashard Mendenhall is recovering from knee surgery. Hines Ward is retired. Roethlisberger, now 30, steps forward as the unchallenged leader of the offense.
He does so adjusting to the personality of a new coordinator and style of play. The Steelers replaced Bruce Arians after losing to Denver in the playoffs even though Roethlisberger and Arians were very close and very successful together. Consensus is that the move was made by Art Rooney II, who grew weary of the pass-oriented offense Arians ran — and weary of the lack of time spent practicing the running game.
Roethlisberger loved Arians because he’s an aggressive guy whose personality fits nearly perfectly with Roethlisberger’s. Arians also gave Roethlisberger a lot of freedom in calling and changing plays.
Haley comes from the Bill Parcells school that believes in the importance of running the ball and not taking too many chances. He comes home to the city where he grew up (after he was fired as coach of the Chiefs). His father Dick played for the Steelers, then worked in the front office. Todd Haley has never been called warm and fuzzy, so when Haley and Roethlisberger didn’t communicate shortly after Haley was hired, the outside perception was that the two could not and would not get along.
Roethlisberger scoffed, saying league rules kept them from communicating.
Haley at times seems to be a walking contradiction. He’s looked on as a buttoned-down, conservative coordinator, but when he ran the Arizona offense in 2008 that lost to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, Kurt Warner threw for 4,583 yards and Larry Fitzgerald caught passes for 1,431 yards. Arizona also had two other 1,000-yard receivers.
He also has this image of being an irascible personality.
But Steelers receiver Antonio Brown said Haley has not turned out to be anything like he was made out to be.
“Definitely a big difference (with Haley and Arians),” Brown said. “Todd is really a cool guy, man. Shaking guys’ hands, putting in extra time with guys, visiting with guys. Bruce wasn’t really that type of guy. He didn’t really shake guys’ hands or communicate with them too often. He just went about his business.
“A guy like Todd is more team oriented and more fluent, communicative with the players, more trying to make it work, and work together with all the men. So he’s trying to get to know everyone. That’s something special to be a part of.
“He’s a great guy.”
Haley admits he can blow up on the sidelines, but said sometimes it’s contrived to get a reaction from a player.
“I take a great deal of pride in my passion for the game,” he said, “but it’s also what the situation dictated at the time.”
Haley stresses that the best offenses run successfully when they have to and throw successfully when they have to. He points out that most teams he’s joined were struggling, but the Steelers have not been struggling so his need to put his stamp on the offense is not as strong.
“You have to adjust to the team and the situation you have,” he said.
There also will be adjustments as the personalities become accustomed to one another — and probably even disagreements. Roethlisberger will hold the ball in the face of a locomotive bearing down on him to make a big play. Early in camp, Haley stressed the check down. Those things must be worked out, as with any new partnership. But Haley understands that, in Roethlisberger, he has a quarterback with a rare talent for fighting off the pass rush to make a play. His forte — shedding tacklers and making throws downfield — can put him at risk, but is part of his game.
“Ben’s the type of player you want to be around,” Haley said. “When you make a bad call or things break down, he can make it right.”
“But at the same time I think Ben is capable of playing the game in a number of different ways. I think there’s going to be times where we’re directing the ball coming out in a certain fashion, other times he’s going to be Ben and use one of his greatest strengths, which is a great field vision and finding guys that are open when he’s under duress.”
Haley sees building the relationship as part of coaching. He says he’ll give Roethlisberger leeway to make and change calls “with preparation.” And he pointed out that he remains good friends with former players like Warner, Fitzgerald and Keyshawn Johnson.
“But at the same time,” Haley said, “I coached them and they responded as players the way they needed to respond.”