Steelers fire OC Matt Canada after offensive struggles

ByABC News
November 21, 2023, 8:59 AM

PITTSBURGH -- Citing offensive inconsistencies and lack of improvement, Pittsburgh Steelers have fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada, coach Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday.

"I did not come to this decision lightly, to be really transparent with you," Tomlin said. "It is my role to absorb and protect those that I work with, and this doesn't feel like that. Obviously, I'm not interested in assigning blame or deflecting in any way.

"I got a lot of respect for Matt personally and professionally. It was not easy, but I thought it was necessary. This is a results-oriented business, and to be short, the improvements were not rapid enough or consistent enough for us to proceed."

Tomlin also emphasized he didn't make the decision with general manager Omar Khan or team president and owner Art Rooney II.

"Leadership is lonely," Tomlin said. "I don't run from it. I run to it. It was mine and mine alone."

Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference that running backs coach Eddie Faulkner will take over offensive coordinator duties, but quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan will take the "bulk" of the playcalling responsibilities.

The Steelers are the only team in the league where the offensive playcaller is neither the offensive coordinator nor the head coach.

"The strength of the pack is the pack, and when you're faced with challenges, I just think that's the natural and appropriate thing is you distribute responsibility," Tomlin said.

Canada, 51, had been the Steelers' offensive coordinator since 2021.

His firing marks the first time the Steelers have made a head coach or coordinator change midseason since 1941, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That season, the Steelers had three head coaches -- Bert Bell (who went 0-2 and was the half-owner of the team), Aldo Donelli (who went 0-5) and Walt Kiesling (who went 1-2-1).

The Steelers' offense has struggled through Canada's tenure as offensive coordinator, never eclipsing 400 yards of offense in his 45-game career, including playoffs. The Steelers were the only team in that stretch to not reach 400 yards, while 31 other teams hit that benchmark at least four times each. The Steelers were also outgained in 31 of their 45 games with Canada as offensive coordinator, including their 2021 AFC wild-card loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The latest example came Sunday in a 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns, when the Steelers were outgained for the 10th time this season.

"Our most recent performance was a component of it," Tomlin said, "but I just think you know when you're there, to be blunt and short about the answer."

After the loss Sunday, running back Najee Harris was vocal about his frustration with the offense. He was asked whether the team's winning record was encouraging despite the offensive struggles.

"You could do two things," Harris said. "You could look at the record and say, 'OK, we're still good right now.' Or we could look at the record and be like, 'If we keep playing this type of football, how long is that s--- going to last?' I look at it like, 'How long that s--- going to last?' Y'all could look at it like it's a good record, but I mean, it's the NFL. Winning how we did, it's not going to get us nowhere."

Tomlin declined to share the exact timing of when he came to the decision, and he added he didn't tell the locker room before the Steelers announced the move on social media Tuesday morning.

"The tipping point is when I made the decision," Tomlin said.

Pittsburgh is 6-4 but has a negative point differential (-29) and has been outgained in every game this season. The Steelers rank 28th in points per game (16.6), 28th in offensive yards per game (280.1) and 31st in passing yards per game (170) this season.

"You got to score touchdowns in this business," Tomlin said. "You got to win games in this business, and just the totality of it has us where we are today."

Asked what he wanted to see differently in his offense going forward, Tomlin reiterated the need to get in the end zone, something the Steelers have only done 16 times this season. "I just want to see points," Tomlin said. "I want to engineer victory more fluidly, and points do that."

Second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett, who Tomlin confirmed remains the starter, is ranked 25th in the NFL in passing yards (1,722) and 28th in QBR (35.7). Pickett also has just six passing touchdowns this season. Other quarterbacks with six passing touchdowns include Zach Wilson and Desmond Ridder. Tommy DeVito and Will Levis also have six passing touchdowns, doing so in just four games.

Tomlin, though, dismissed the idea that the final seven games of the season under a new offensive coordinator and playcaller would be critical to Pickett's long-term development.

"I'm focused on this week in terms of the development of Kenny," Tomlin said. "We're not urinating on the fire, man. We're getting ready to play a football game and win this week. That is the only agenda here. It's not big picture and 2024 and all of that. This organization is not wired like that."