The writing is reportedly on the wall that Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada will not be back next season. With that in mind, Steelers reporters and writers have begun hypothesizing who might replace Canada.
SB Nation’s Michael Beck threw three names into the ring, including one more out-of-the-box candidate in former Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich.
Promoting Mike Sullivan into the offensive coordinator role is one of the more clear moves the Steelers could make. Head coach Mike Tomlin has twice previously promoted a coach on the Steelers staff to offensive coordinator — Bruce Arians in 2007 and Randy Fichtner in 2018.
Frank Reich is a solid candidate too and available. He has been floated as a possible candidate for the Steelers offensive coordinator role since the Indianapolis Colts fired him on November 7.
But Leftwich is a less obvious choice. While he has experience as an NFL offensive coordinator and has a tie to the organization, Leftwich still has a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
How Leftwich Fits as Candidate to Replace Canada
Leftwich qualifies for the Steelers offensive coordinator role based on Beck’s qualification of having a tie to the organization.
While he’s never coached for the Steelers, Leftwich had two different stints as backup quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger. He served as “Big Ben’s” backup on the team’s way to a Super Bowl championship in 2008. Leftwich then returned to play for the Steelers from 2010-12.
Leftwich lost his only start for the Steelers against the Baltimore Ravens in 2012. Over 8 appearances with Pittsburgh, Leftwich completed 53.1% of his passes while averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. He also had 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
The former quarterback received his first opportunity to coach at 36 years old on Arians’ staff with the Arizona Cardinals. He rose from intern to offensive coordinator in just two years and then followed Arians to Tampa Bay to be offensive coordinator of the Buccaneers.
He’s been in that role for four years and experienced tremendous success. Jameis Winston threw for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns (also with 30 interceptions) in his only season in Leftwich’s offense. Then with Tom Brady, Leftwich’s unit took the next step forward, posting all those yards with far fewer turnovers and leading the team to consecutive division titles and a Super Bowl.
There will be questions for the Buccaneers after the 2022 season. Brady is expected to leave, and with Arians in retirement now, perhaps Leftwich will see this offseason as an opportunity to coach elsewhere.
It’s possible that Leftwich also receives attention for head coach openings.
Of course, Leftwich can’t really be a candidate for the Steelers offensive coordinator role with Canada still in the position. But while appearing on 93.7 The Fan on December 26, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo revealed that the organization anticipates the Pittsburgh OC role opening up after the season.
“I fully expect a change to be made at the end of the season,” Fittipaldo said. “The players know. The people inside the building know.”
The Steelers are ranked 29th in points and 23rd in offensive yards this season under Canada. Last year, Canada’s first as Pittsburgh offensive coordinator, they were 21st in points and 23rd in yards.
Tomlin Will Only Consider Candidates With ‘Tie to the Organization?’
As Beck pointed out, Tomlin has gained the reputation as a head coach who wants his coordinators to have a previous connection to the Steelers. But that hasn’t always been the case with his previous big hires.
Canada himself had no tie to the Steelers, or the NFL for that matter, before Tomlin hired him in 2021. Tomlin and Canada had a previous relationship only because Tomlin’s son played for Canada at Maryland.
Although he was a Pittsburgh native, Todd Haley didn’t have a previous tie to the Steelers either. Haley served as Steelers offensive coordinator from 2012-17 and remains arguably the most successful OC of Tomlin’s tenure in Pittsburgh.
Finally, current Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin also didn’t have much of a tie to the organization before getting hired. Austin’s only connection was from when he was on the Ravens coaching staff from 2011-13. Steelers assistant general manager Andy Weidl was a Baltimore scout at the same time.
There are some excellent potential candidates to replace Canada who do have ties to the Steelers. But if a great candidate without a direct connection comes along, it seems doubtful Tomlin will rule him out of the process just for that reason.