Pa­tience could pay off for Mun­chak

The Citizens' Voice - - SPORTS - DON­NIE COLLINS Com­men­tary

Vic Fan­gio said some­thing dur­ing his in­tro­duc­tory press con­fer­ence with the Den­ver Bron­cos on Thurs­day that im­me­di­ately brought to mind the man he beat out for the job.

He talked about foot­ball teams prevent­ing a

“death by inches,” about how dis­ci­pline can turn youin­toa win­ner if you have it, form a sure loser if you don’t.

“If you’re run­ning a meet­ing ... and a player walks in, say 30 sec­onds late, 45 sec­onds late — that act in it of it­self re­ally has no im­pact on whether you’re go­ing to win or lose that week,” Fan­gio said. “But if you let it slide, the next day there’s two or three guys late, or it went from 30 sec­onds to two min­utes. It causes an avalanche of prob­lems.

“That’s death by inches.” It’s so im­por­tant a phi­los­o­phy to Fan­gio that the phi­los­o­phy prac­ti­cally dom­i­nated his job in­ter­view.

Bron­cos gen­eral man­ager John El­way re­ferred to it when in­tro­duc­ing Fan­gio, say­ing the Dun­more na­tive promised him dur­ing his job in­ter­view that “we will not kill our­selves by inches.”

That in­ter­view, by the way, pushed Fan­gio ahead of Scran­ton na­tive Mike Mun­chak to be the Bron­cos head coach.

In Pitts­burgh this sea­son, where Mun­chak coached the of­fen­sive line to an­other strong cam­paign, the Steel­ers mea­sured their death in the miles to which those inches piled up.

Star run­ning back Le’veon Bell sat out the sea­son in a con­tract dis­pute. Star re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown pouted his way off the prac­tice field days be­fore a crit­i­cal Week 17 game, then out of the lineup and most likely out of the Steel City al­to­gether.

They fum­bled games away. They missed field goals with the game on the line. They had late leads evap­o­rate in front of a de­fense that looked help­less when it mat­tered.

This is what “death by inches” got them: They lost to good teams. They lost to bad teams. They dropped four of their last six games and missed the play­offs after start­ing the sea­son 7-2-1.

Un­less he de­cides to join the Bron­cos as their of­fen­sive line coach — Den­ver is re­port­edly at­tempt­ing to lure him there — it’s likely Mun­chak will re­turn to Pitts­burgh as of­fen­sive line coach next sea­son.

That’s good news for the Steel­ers, who des­per­ately need him back. But it might seem like a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment for a tremen­dous Xs and Os coach and wildly re­spected man who for two con­sec­u­tive off­sea­sons was tan­ta­liz­ingly close to be­com­ing a head coach again (he with­drew his name from con­sid­er­a­tion after the 2017 sea­son when he emerged as the fron­trun­ner for the Ari­zona Car­di­nals job.)

That whole “death by inches” talk Fan­gio gave Thurs­day, though, might be ex­actly the rea­son Mun­chak is where he needs to be after all this shakes out, any­way.

It’s fair to won­der if, a year from now, the per­fect head­coach­ing sit­u­a­tion Mun­chak has been look­ing for might open up in Pitts­burgh.

Clearly, the at­tribute El­way most sought out when look­ing for the next Bron­cos coach was the dis­ci­plined ap­proach Fan­gio promised. Mun­chak ob­vi­ously fit that mold too, or he wouldn’t have been the run­ner up.

It’s also fair to won­der, right now, if the Steel­ers’ head coach is get­ting the kind of re­spect from his play­ers that guys like Mun­chak and Fan­gio com­mand.

Look, Mike Tom­lin has been a good coach for the Steel­ers, for a long time. Twelve years might seem like an eye­blink when you con­sider Chuck Noll got 23 sea­sons, and Bill Cowher held that seat for 15 after him. That’s an eter­nity in to­day’s NFL. Only two NFL coaches — New Eng­land’s Bill Belichick and New Or­leans’ Sean Pay­ton — have held their jobs longer than Tom­lin has been in Pitts­burgh.

There were signs the last few sea­sons Tom­lin isn’t ex­actly get­ting the most out of play­ers. For­mer All-pro line­backer James Har­ri­son re­port­edly fell asleep in meet­ings and left the sta­dium be­fore kick­off to­ward the end of his run on days he wasn’t on the ac­tive ros­ter. Brown aired a pro­fan­ity-laden postgame rant by Tom­lin about the Pa­tri­ots on Face­book in 2017, the week be­fore the Steel­ers played them in the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game. Bell vowed on sev­eral oc­ca­sions he’d re­port to the team at some point this sea­son, but he didn’t com­mu­ni­cate any plans to his head coach. Quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger, frankly, does what­ever he wants, and his care­less­ness with the ball (16 in­ter­cep­tions) has hurt the team as much as his pro­lific pass­ing has helped it.

Those inches lead up to yards that mat­ter, for sure.

Tom­lin un­doubt­edly will re­turn in 2019, be­cause the Steel­ers value con­ti­nu­ity at head coach.

Even­tu­ally, though, the buck will get plopped onto Tom­lin’s desk, and with the Browns and Ravens emerg­ing in the AFC North, that time might be near­ing.

Prevent­ing “death by inches” got Fan­gio a job in Den­ver, and if fail­ing to do so pushes Tom­lin out the door in Pitts­burgh, the per­fect kind of coach to re­place him is Mun­chak.


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