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Arians’ departure a shell game of semantics

Pittsburgh Steelers v Arizona Cardinals

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23: Quarterbacks Charlie Batch #16, Byron Leftwich, and Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers talk with offensive co-ordinator Bruce Arians (C) during their game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

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Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has retired. Jason LaCanfora of NFL Network reports that the retirement occurred after the Steelers told Arians that his contract would not be renewed.

But the same source who tells LaCanfora that Arians was told his contract wouldn’t be renewed told LaCanfora that Arians wasn’t fired.

It’s a matter of semantics. When an employee under contract has that contract expire and the employer tells the employee that contract won’t be renewed, the employee necessarily has been . . . wait for it . . . fired. It happened to Mike Tice in Minnesota six years ago, and it has happened to countless other head coaches and assistant coaches whose contracts end along with their employment.

Millions of Americans show up for work every day without contracts for employment. They’re called “at-will” employees, which means that the relationship continues only as long as both sides want it to continue. And if/when the employer decides not to continue the relationship, the employee has been, yes, fired.

But the story gets even more interesting. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains that coach Mike Tomlin had told Arians on multiple occasions that Tomlin wanted Arians to return in 2012, and that Arians had told others he had planned to be back. Citing unnamed sources, Dulac says that the decision came from someone higher in the organization than Tomlin, even though owner Art Rooney II said on WDVE radio before Friday’s retirement announcement that Arians’ status was “really Mike’s decision.”

If Tomlin was indeed trumped, it’s at least the second time this year that a Tomlin decision was vetoed by someone else in the organization. Tomlin, as others have reported and as PFT has learned, led running back Tiki Barber to believe that the Steelers would sign him -- and Tomlin ultimately was prevented from doing so.

The bigger question will be whether and to what extent this move adversely affects the relationship between the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Per Dulac, Roethlisberger is upset that Arians won’t be back.

Roethlisberger’s discontent also could arise at least in part from the fact that, unlike two years ago, he was unable to save Arians’ job.