PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II is getting tired of having his club watch the Super Bowl on TV.
Rooney would rather the Steelers be there in person on the field. And with the franchise riding a seven-year drought since its most recent postseason victory — the team's longest gap between playoff wins since the 1970 merger — Rooney is getting antsy.
“I think all of us that have been around for a little while are anxious to take this next step and getting a little impatient and we need to see the kind of improvement we all want to see,” Rooney said on Monday.
Pittsburgh used a late-season surge to finish 10-7 and earn a wild-card berth before being quickly sent home in a first-round loss to Buffalo.
There was some speculation outside the building late in the season that longtime coach Mike Tomlin was entertaining taking a break, speculation Tomlin tamped down two weeks ago and Rooney dismissed during his season-ending news conference.
The Steelers and the NFL's longest-tenured head coach are working on a contract extension that will keep Tomlin in town beyond the 2024 season.
“I think the players still respond to Mike and that’s No. 1,” Rooney said “He still has the key characteristics that we saw when we hired him. He can keep the attention of a group of 20-year-olds for a whole season and keep them in the fight for the whole way. So still feel good about Mike.”
Tomlin is 173-100-2 in 17 seasons with the Steelers and has never finished below .500. Yet Pittsburgh also hasn't won a playoff game since beating Kansas City in the divisional round after the 2016 season. The Steelers have dropped five straight playoff games, four by at least double digits.
“We’ve had enough of this, it’s time to get some wins, it’s time to take these next steps,” Rooney said.
Steps the Steelers will attempt to take in 2024 with — at least for now — Kenny Pickett at quarterback. Pickett struggled at times during his first full season as the starter and served as the backup over the final two weeks as longtime third-stringer Mason Rudolph helped key a surge that carried the Steelers into the playoffs.
Despite the very obvious growing pains Rooney remains bullish on Pickett, who is under contract for at least two more seasons.
“We still feel good about Kenny Pickett and his future, but he knows he needs to work hard to take the next step,” Rooney said. “And we’ve talked about that and one of the things we liked about Kenny in terms of his career at (the University of Pittsburgh) was how hard he worked and he took a step every year. So we’re looking for that to happen here."
Rooney indicated the Steelers are also interested in holding on to Rudolph, who can become a free agent in March. He also didn't rule out bringing in someone else, be it in the draft or on the open market.
“You can’t discount what Mason did and can’t discount the fact that having competition will be good for everybody,” Rooney said. “And I think Mike feels that way and we all feel that way. So I’d say there’s still more to come to see who’s in the room on the quarterback room. We start camp this summer.”
More pressing than figuring out the quarterback room is figuring out who will be the one calling the plays. The Steelers are in the interview process for a new offensive coordinator and have already talked to Houston Texans quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson — himself a former Steeler — and former Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith among others.
The goal for whoever gets the job is obvious.
“We need to do everything we can to make sure we get quality play out of our quarterback position going forward,” Rooney said, later adding, "so, somebody that believes in that and comes in and can work with this roster, do what’s kind of already built here in terms of the roster and some of the skill sets that we have; I think that’s what we’re looking for.”
Rooney added the team is finishing up a bid that will allow the club to host the NFL draft at some point in “the not-too-distant future.” The Steelers have also hired consultants to take a look at 22-year-old Acrisure Stadium to see what enhancements can be made to keep the club in the venue down the road.
“We like the stadium, think it is a great facility and with the right kinds of improvements can continue to be our home for a long time,” he said.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL