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Tribune News Service
Joe Starkey

Joe Starkey: Question the Matt Canada decision, but don't doubt the Steelers' desire to win

PITTSBURGH — If you're among those believing Matt Canada's contract status played even a 0.001% role in keeping him for another season, then you think very little of Art Rooney II and his football franchise.

Maybe the Steelers have become a garden variety franchise with an inflated opinion of itself, but I would never doubt their desire to win. I would never insult them like this.

Canada has one year left on his contract. More people than you'd think seem to believe that fact contributed to the Steelers committing to their offensive coordinator for a third season.

According to that line of logic, even if the Steelers had doubts about Canada, they were going to make him finish his contract rather than find a better alternative and pay Canada to not work.

You simply cannot believe that.

If you do, then you believe the Steelers would prioritize a few bucks or a minor matter of principle over the pursuit of winning, over the development of franchise centerpiece Kenny Pickett. I don't happen to agree with extending the Canada era, but I wouldn't think of insulting the Steelers so brutally.

Honestly, I can't imagine a worse slight. These are the Steelers, not the Pirates. They actually try to win, every year, all the time, even to their own detriment (going 4-13 with a couple of nice Pickett comebacks would have been perfect this season, for example).

And again, the implication is that the Steelers would keep a coordinator they didn't necessarily want in order to avoid paying him to sit.

Can you imagine Rooney, Mike Tomlin and general manager Omar Khan discussing Canada's future, leaning toward moving on from him, and then having Rooney stand up and say, "Gentlemen, our concerns are legitimate — he might not be right for the job — but we have this policy on contracts. We have to keep him."

They pay debts on players who don't play anymore, you know. They could easily pay a coach a million dollars or so not to coach. I mean, this team had $31 million worth of dead money commitments this season. They were still paying debts on everyone from Ben Roethlisberger to Melvin Ingram and Joe Schobert, for goodness sake.

I don't think it's a matter of principle, either. I don't think the Steelers brass said, "You know what, even if Matt's not right for the job, it's only right to honor his contract."

Also, there is precedent for dumping an offensive coordinator still under contract. Kevin Gilbride was headed into Year 3 after the 2000 season when Bill Cowher woke up one day and decided he couldn't take it anymore. His passing game under Gilbride had gone from 29th to ... 29th, and Cowher was ready to move on. Dan Rooney signed off on the move. The Steelers brought in Mike Mularkey and improved from 9-7 to 13-3.

So if you hear anybody spreading this Canada contract malarkey, please intervene. It's your public duty.

All of which has nothing to do with whether the Steelers made the right move. The scary part is that Tomlin and Rooney appear to have harbored zero thoughts about moving on from Canada (whose offense, incidentally, averaged two points fewer than Gilbride's last offense here).

I have a couple of thoughts on that ...

—To be fair, Canada made a case for himself over the final nine games. I didn't think it would even reach that point. I think he disproved the charge that his offense was junior-high level, low bar that it was. You don't regularly roll up 300 yards if your offense is pee-wee level.

If I were a lawyer making his case to Canada's bosses, I'd say, "The franchise quarterback got better and is clearly on the rise, and the running game was consistently good for about nine games — isn't that what you wanted most, Mr. Rooney? They rolled up big yards on the Raiders in bad conditions and on a good Ravens defense, they're young and they're obviously getting better. My client lost a year watching Big Ben run the show, then dealt with Checkdown Trubisky and a rookie. You owe him a real shot with his kind of quarterback in place for camp — and the quarterback loves him."

—OK, the attorney for the other side might counter with, "They went from historically horrific to average. So what? They went from literally never scoring in the first quarter to mixing in a few field goals and the odd touchdown — that's when a player crosses the thick white line with the ball in his hands, in case you'd forgotten. And is this the coordinator who's going to deliver the kind of explosive, sophisticated passing attack that can compete with the superior offensive minds and quarterbacks in the AFC? How come he hardly ran any play-action even though they were running the ball effectively? Wasn't he supposed to be a play-action guy? Did you ever hear anybody tell you, 'Wow, Canada's a step ahead here. This is brilliant stuff.' Run another jet sweep to Gunner, why don't you? Throw another third-down pass short of the sticks. There is nothing from his first 35 games that suggests Matt Canada is the guy to extract maximum potential from your young quarterback."

I lean toward the latter. As I mentioned in this space Wednesday, the least the Steelers can do is put egos aside and bring in a senior advisor to assist Canada and Tomlin moving forward.

It also might help if Canada didn't come off as paranoid and arrogant in his weekly media address, but we all know how that works: If the Steelers start piling up points, paranoid and arrogant quickly morph into (lovably) quirky and brilliant.

Either way, it won't be dull around here.

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