PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers fired embattled offensive coordinator Matt Canada on Tuesday, two-plus years into a tenure in which the team struggled to generate points and yards with regularity.
Head coach Mike Tomlin announced the move two days after the Steelers managed just 10 points in a dismal loss to Cleveland, saying in a statement that he appreciated Canada’s “hard work and dedication.”
That dedication, however, wasn’t enough to help Pittsburgh’s offense break out of a familiar pattern that has dogged the franchise in recent years. The Steelers (6-4) have remained in playoff contention in spite of an offense that ranks 28th in yards and points.
Frustration outside the organization has been mounting for months. Fans chanted “Fire Canada” during a win over Cleveland on Sept. 18, a refrain that became ubiquitous throughout the region and meme-worthy on social media.
While Tomlin defended Canada for weeks, frustration inside the locker room may have reached a breaking point after the Steelers were held to 249 yards — including just 106 passing — against the Browns. Running back Najee Harris said in the aftermath that he was getting “tired of this (stuff)” with wide receiver Diontae Johnson saying simply “you saw the game” when asked what might be wrong.
Perhaps most damning for Canada is the way quarterback Kenny Pickett’s growth has stagnated. Drafted in the first round in 2022, Pickett put together a promising rookie season a year ago and showed flashes of being a difference-maker during the preseason this summer.
It all vanished once the games started to count. Pickett has just six touchdown passes — just two since the beginning of October — and his accuracy has dipped even after the Steelers moved Canada from the coach’s box to the sideline recently in an effort to facilitate better communication and flow.
While the decision was applauded by the players during wins over Tennessee and Green Bay, the offense took another significant step backward against the Browns.
There was no immediate word on who will take over playcalling duties, though quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan — who previously served as offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay and with the New York Giants — figures to be given the job on an interim basis.
The decision comes with the Steelers about ready to start a manageable stretch in their schedule. None of their next five opponents — Cincinnati (twice), New England, Arizona and Indianapolis — are currently over .500.
Pittsburgh likely needs simply a small uptick in production in its bid to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing out a year ago. The emergence of the run game last winter fueled a 7-2 push that helped Canada keep his job.
Yet the steps Tomlin expected Pickett — and in turn, the rest of the offense — to make in 2023 have not materialized on a consistent basis. The Steelers have been outgained in all 10 games this season, including last week in Cleveland when the Browns started rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback.
Thompson-Robinson guided Cleveland to a late game-winning drive, a drive that came after Pickett threw three incompletions on Pittsburgh’s penultimate possession, none of them anywhere near their target.
While Tomlin said afterward the team does not second guess the decision-making during the game, less than 48 hours later he went ahead and made a move that was likely inevitable but also surprising, if only because of the timing.
Pittsburgh has long been a model of stability and rarely makes a coaching move during the season. But with Pickett seeming to regress and options becoming increasingly limited, Tomlin decided there was only one big move left.