PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Steelers went 8-8, which is the definition of mediocrity.
Some people make the case that the close nature of many of the losses indicates they're not that far from something better. You know the theory: A play here, a play there, and they're in the playoffs.
Given the Steelers' disappointing season, it was refreshing to see Kevin Colbert, the city's least-quoted general manager, confront the smell in the room. He said the Steelers weren't good enough and need to work at getting better.
That contradicts chairman Art Rooney II's inexplicably more sunny outlook, which blamed injuries and, incredibly, credited Mike Tomlin with doing a good job. Assuming Colbert has the authority to run things, maybe there's hope that the Steelers can realistically take a look at some of their weaknesses and address them.
When you finish third in the division, that's indisputable evidence that you have literally fallen behind the Ravens and Bengals, both of whom made the playoffs. Self-delusion doesn't cure the problems. So it's time to chop away at the deadwood, and start making improvements.
That could start with attitude. Now that Todd Haley is staying, it's imperative that he and Ben Roethlisberger exist on the same page. Instead of endorsing Tomlin for an 8-8 season, tell him that things may have started to go south when Haley and Roethlisberger were dancing away from each other soon after the coordinator was hired. Tomlin should have put a stop to that nonsense before it ever started.
There's a lot that needs to be done to get the Steelers back to a championship level. The smartest thing ownership could do is stay out of the way and let Colbert do it.
It would have been interesting to hear how Rooney might have responded to a key question that apparently wasn't asked:
Why did you lie about Bruce Arians' firing and call it a "retirement?"
If it was designed to protect Arians' pride, the strategy was misguided. He's been in coaching a long time and knows how things work. The deception didn't fool anybody anyway.
If you fired the guy, be accountable and say so.
The truly awful 1969 Steelers, Chuck Noll's first team, was 1-13. They lost six of those games by seven points or less. That didn't mean they were close to anything except a need to overhaul the roster.
When the team started winning in 1972, the turnover had been significant.
Close doesn't count. The 1969 Steelers were 1-13, and they were as awful as that record indicates.
A lot of athletes could save themselves money and aggravation with imaginary girlfriends.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org