Just Crying Out For A Comeback - By John Smathers

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Everyone is trying to look forward this week, to a new coach and a new era of Steelers football. I am, too, but I have to look back to look forward.

Ben RoethlisbergerI know the last thing you want to think about right now is Kordell Stewart, of all people. But bear with me.

When it comes to Kordell, a lot of things might come to mind. Slash. Failure. Crying. But the first thing I think of is ... Chan Gailey. Gailey served the Steelers as offensive coordinator for two years and he made Stewart a star in 1997, when Stewart accounted for 32 touchdowns, including 21 passing and 11 rushing. It's not exactly Tomlinson-esque but real impressive nevertheless.

The point is, Stewart and Gailey hit it off well. Then Gailey left and took a job with the Dallas Cowboys. Ray Sherman took over for Gailey in 1998, but Stewart and Sherman weren't such a good match.

Maybe Stewart would have continued to evolve under Gailey and who knows how far Stewart would have gone. But then again, we're talking about Kordell Stewart.

At any rate, Sherman's tenure lasted just one year and near the end of that year, Stewart had his famous meltdown on the sideline in Tampa. It was raining that December Sunday, but those weren't raindrops streaming down Kordell's cheeks.

Two more OCs came and went in Stewart's remaining years with the Steelers. A lack of continuity at offensive coordinator contributed to Stewart's inconsistently for the next few years. He never really got back to 1997 form.

Now before I go any further, understand this: I'm not comparing Stewart and Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger is a Steelers quarterback. Stewart was backup punter for the Ravens who dreamed he was Steelers quarterback. But as we wait to see who is hired as the Steelers head coach, and who that man wants as his OC, it's worth remembering how important an offensive coordinator can be in any quarterback's development, or any quarterback's comeback, for that matter.

Roethlisberger, fresh off a miserable 2006 that featured 23 interceptions and a 75.4 passer rating, is positioned perfectly to become the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year in 2007. That's a fitting subject for a 34-year-old quarterback, but a little odd for a 24-year-old quarterback less than one year removed from earning a Super Bowl ring. But that seems like ions ago now, doesn't it?

If Big Ben gets his wish, as he stated on the ESPN's 'Sunday NFL Countdown' on Sunday, the Steelers will hire an offense-minded coach, so Roethlisberger can 'throw the ball a little bit.' He wants a player-friendly coach, like Cowher.

That's great, but how about a quarterback-friendly offensive coordinator to go with it? I think that's more important, especially if Roethlisberger wants to return to his 2005 form or even better.

Despite the 2006 setbacks, outgoing offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt did a great job with Roethlisberger's development in three years. The question is, will the Steelers hire another Sherman instead of another Gailey or Whisenhunt?

I think Russ Grimm would be great for Roethlisberger if he doesn't land the head coaching position, but the Steelers might have a better candidate in wide receivers coach Bruce Arians.

That's not news. Arians is already the most mentioned name when offensive coordinator comes up. But you don't hear a lot about why.

During his three-year tenure as Cleveland's OC, Arians couldn't do much for Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb, mainly because Butch Davis jerked them both around so much. But in 2002, the Browns improved in virtually every major offensive category from the three years prior to his arrival. For his efforts, Davis fired Arians -- a classic case of a coordinator paying for the head coach's sins.

Arians, a former quarterback at Virginia Tech, really made his mark on the NFL in his three years as the Colts' quarterbacks coach, which coincided with Peyton Manning's first three years in the league (1998-2000). During that time, Manning amassed 12,387 passing yards and 58 touchdowns, before he was even 25.

What might Arians do with a quarterback who already has three years under his belt with a solid coordinator? Arians has been on staff since 2004 and could work with Roethlisberger as well as Whisenhunt did (or Stewart did with Gailey) ... unless they clash over modes of transportation to the South Side. Take note of this Arians quote:

"I've seen four (motorcycle-related) deaths up close and personal. I refuse to let my kids ride, and I don't ride."

Hopefully, Arians wouldn't look on Roethlisberger as a son. Then again, maybe he should.

Anyway, Arians also was the running backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs during a four-year run that produced three playoff seasons, and the running back coach at Alabama on the last Bear Bryant team to finish unbeaten in the SEC.

These days, Hines Ward raves about how much Arians has helped in his development.

I guess we'll have to wait and see. This really could be the so-called breakout year for Big Ben that some have been waiting for, if not a comeback year. But if Roethlisberger is crying on the sideline in December, you'll know the Steelers really blew it again.