When the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their strike coach to a college job late in the 2012 season, Sean Kugler ended the year before he left.
When their offensive line coach accepted a college position this year, Adrian Klemm stayed on the staff for one more game before Mike Tomlin let him out of his contract.
Tomlin said Tuesday that Klemm was allowed to leave for Oregon with two weeks left in the regular season to eliminate the “perception” of distraction as the Steelers chase a playoff berth.
When Klemm accepted a job with Oregon last week, he was expected to leave the Steelers at the end of the season. The organization then announced on Monday that Klemm would be leaving with immediate effect, with assistant Chris Morgan taking on the job on an interim basis for the remainder of the year.
“The move eliminates the potential of distraction questions,” Tomlin said at his weekly press conference. “Let me be clear, I had no qualms about Klemm’s commitment and willingness to work in great detail, but it’s the potential perception you want to fight whether it’s inside or outside.”
“You want to eliminate questions before they develop. It’s a critical phase of the season for us, a critical week. The road is extremely narrow. We’re circling the wagons, and that was one of the ways I thought it would be appropriate to do this this week to get the win and be focused individually, collectively and professionally.”
Nine years earlier, Kugler was hired in December as the head coach at his alma mater, UTEP. He took the job on the condition that he finish the season with the Steelers, who finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
In Oregon, Klemm will be the game’s associate head coach and coordinator, in addition to coaching the Ducks offensive linemen. His last game with the Steelers was a 36-10 loss at Kansas City, dropping the record to 7-7-1.
Morgan will lead the offensive line when the Steelers face the Cleveland Browns Monday night, the Baltimore Ravens in the regular season finale on January 9, and all possible post-season games.
“It provides tremendous clarity for us as we focus on the final part of this season,” Tomlin said of the timing of Klemm’s departure. “It gives me the opportunity to evaluate C-Mo, who will have the opportunity to move up in his role.”
In 15 games with the Steelers, Klemm oversaw an offensive line with two rookie starters and only one player remaining in his position as starter as of 2020. The Steelers are number 29 out of 32 teams in hasty distance, the line has allowed 35. sacks and the offense has played five games without scoring a touchdown in the first half.
Those rookies, center Kendrick Green and left-tackle Dan Moore Jr., have at times struggled to make the transition to the pros under Klemm’s tutelage.
Klemm, 44, was the team’s assistant line coach for two seasons before his promotion in February following the resignation of predecessor Shaun Sarrett.
Morgan was the offensive coach for six seasons before accepting the job as Klemm’s assistant this year. He also worked on staff in Oakland, Washington and Seattle.
Tomlin said Morgan will be a candidate for the full-time job.
“I’m excited about the spider and what its perspective will bring us,” Tomlin said. “We also have an extra day for preparation. There’s a greater chance there from a schematic and planning standpoint to make its presence felt, so I’m excited and optimistic about that.”
While it’s unusual for NFL coaches under contract to accept collegiate-level jobs, it happened to Kugler in 2012. Tomlin noted that the “landscape being coached changes every year.”
“We see decisions being made earlier in the process,” Tomlin said. “The processes go faster, people hire people. The financial component makes college football much more competitive.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .