Surviving the Off Season, Part 5: Trashing Tomlin
The black box
This is a term that has been associated with behavioral psychology, a branch of the discipline that didn’t concern itself with describing the mechanisms that were at work driving human behavior. Something happened in that black box and behaviors came out. What happened in the box was anyone’s guess.
It’s just like coaching in the NFL.
Criticizing a head coach becomes an easy eye-of-the-beholder exercise because few really have a clue as to what precisely goes on in the black box that is team preparation.
The few that do know are bound either by ethics or the threat of expulsion to be circumspect about what they know. Those who do leak the details of what goes on behind closed doors, the “anonymous source,” can only be trusted so far, since anonymity provides a perfect platform from which to pursue an agenda involving, among other possibilities, misinformation or sabotage.
This provides an opportunity for a critic to assert a coach is guilty of all manner of crimes and pathologies, unburdened by having to adhere to any real standards of proof. Let’s take an example.
From time to time the team will struggle with tackling. This leads to claims by his critics that Tomlin doesn’t adequately or properly coach tackling. But let’s consider this little video snippet involving Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi.
What are we to assume? That the guy who many believe to be the greatest coach of all time didn’t teach his team how to tackle? Can we extrapolate from this that whenever someone fails a test, the onus falls on the teacher?
Besides this very obvious lead-the-horse-to-water-but-can’t-make-them-drink scenario, there are two other factors that might be involved in the perception of shoddy tackling that serve as alternatives to the coach is incompetent narrative.
First is the fact that there is less time to practice anything. In Noll’s day there were padded practice twice a day for more weeks than are available now. It’s usually a good idea to practice tackling in pads.
Second, we sometimes forget that they pay the offensive players too. Early this past season DeAngelo Williams described how the requirement for certain plays to work was that he be successful in making one player miss a tackle.
But in the black box reality the agenda of promoting the notion that Tomlin is an overrated fraud does not require the consideration of alternatives or even facts. As stated earlier, selective information is mobilized in service to a predetermined construct. That, along with a heavy dose of Attitude, constitutes an irrefutable Truth.
The other black box
A lot of people don’t want to go there, but it would be intellectually irresponsible not to at this juncture. And here’s at least one reason why.
About a quarter of a century ago I was serving as president of my community association. One day a delegation from one of our subdivisions brought to my attention that they had been canvassed with newsletters from the Manassas, the Virginia branch of the Ku Klux Klan. The content of the newsletter was largely unremarkable except for one item I remember clearly to this day. It was a recruitment piece inviting people to join the Manassas KKK, provided they were able to do the following.
‘If you are one of those people who go around saying [N-word] this, and [N-word], we can’t use you. Because we don’t do that anymore’.
Understand that this didn’t represent a transformation or softening of philosophy, but a change in tactics embedded in the protocols of discussing matters of race to this day. White supremacist strategy is to assert that racism no longer exists. This inoculates in advance of everything that follows. Statements and positions, no matter how outrageous, cannot be racist because it has already been determined (unilaterally) that racism no longer exists. Therefore what is presented is simply the frank airing of an unfortunate truth. Got it?
It would be ridiculous if it didn’t work so well.
Beyond the challenges inherent in the office of head coach, Tomlin is clearly (or maybe not so clearly to the gullible) also criticized for what he is, not who he is, or what he has done. These critics are often charming, even chivalrous in their critiques. Tomlin, they say, is a very nice man, but the unfortunate truth is that he’s just not up for the demands of the job.
Of course there are those who are cruder in their approach. ‘Bug eyed’ is a particular favorite. But you have to remember, these folks wouldn’t make the cut for the Manassas KKK.
Ironically, this predicament comes about because of the ethical and consistent business practices of the Rooney family.
One of the better but relatively unremarked upon stories from this past Super Bowl cycle was the selection of former Steelers player and coaching assistant Tony Dungy into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dungy’s career path is full of complexities. Noll stated flatly in the early eighties that Dungy possessed the qualities to be a successful head coach, but it would be about a decade and a half before he got the opportunity to do so. Part of the reason, as pointed out by Bill Nunn, is Dungy’s demeanor, which ran counter to that of the profane, hard-nosed disciplinarian that many believe to the essential character traits for the successful coach.
But I don’t believe it is unreasonable to assume there were also other considerations at play. A decade and a half into the 21st Century, we are far more accepting of persons of color in leadership positions on the field (quarterback) and on the sidelines (head coach) and front office (GM). Ownership is still an issue. Anyone genuinely conversant concerning the history of the league knows the process has been painfully slow.
Owners, based upon their personal biases or what they perceived to be that of their customer base, were cautious in their hiring practices. Candidates often had to be overqualified to offset perceptions to the contrary. In this sense Dungy was probably hired later (and fired earlier) in Tampa than what might be the case, given his qualifications and later performance.
The process the Rooneys followed in hiring Tomlin could be viewed as evolutionary, even provocative or revolutionary, given that no special consideration was given to Tomlin (despite the protestations to the contrary).
The Steelers have followed a consistent template in its head coaching hires over nearly fifty years—a young, relatively unknown defensive assistant (always a coordinator). Push back has come in the form of a preference for better known candidates with local ties. Joe Paterno as opposed to Chuck Noll, Russ Grimm as opposed to Tomlin. Many fans are, predictably, unhappy until the newcomer proves himself. However, because of what Tomlin is, there is a more perverse twist to fan resistance for some.
The naïve may see this as a specific set of policies and practices. In fact, it is code.
Roughly translated, it means this: An opportunity was extended to an unworthy individual from an undesirable caste depriving one from a more favored caste who is by definition better qualified or, at least, more deserving.
The construct was in play long before the existence of affirmative action. Unfortunately, it will likely exist long after affirmative action is gone. It has nothing to do with affirmative action. ‘Affirmative action’ is just the handle that is used to keep from getting kicked out of the Manassas KKK for being crudely obvious.
This may contribute to the persistent resistance to facts (his record, the Super Bowls, the popularity among players and staff) by some of Tomlin’s critics. Facts are only relevant as they support preconceived conclusions. Otherwise they are an annoyance that are to be circumvented, just like the in-laws who when inconvenienced by unmet expectations simply change the level of the bar.
This is the dual-edged nature of belief—potentially empowering and liberating, or suppressing and limiting. This explains why the attacks from some quarters will almost certainly continue, regardless of his accomplishments and those of his teams. The belief system is resistant to facts, resistant to rationality.
But I do believe that most stop short of total delusion. So I have devised a response to the ‘unfortunate truth’ that Tomlin is lacking. Here goes.
You believe Tomlin should be replaced? Fine. Let’s get specific. First we must obviously agree that his replacement has to better than he has been, which shouldn’t be a problem, right? So, let’s begin. Oh, and by the way, as Hombre says, you have to show your work. The burden of proof is on you. Because you say so is not good enough. Plausible explanations must be given as to why an assertion could be true.
Tomlin is heading into his tenth season. His replacement must be able to last at least that long, right? There have to be plenty of candidates out there who have put in that much time at the top, or clearly show that potential.
Not only must the new person last a decade, the standard is no losing seasons during that time. Piece of cake. In fact, there should be a contract provision that if the record is 7-9 or worse then termination is automatic.
Multiple Super Bowl appearances are expected and, of course, multiple wins. Even a failure like Tomlin managed at least one. Two or more within the first ten years would have to be the standard.
No fair using Tomlin’s players. Since Tomlin was able to use Cowher’s players there will be a special allowance. The new coach can have whatever players from the Cowher era that remain or can be coaxed out of retirement. From the current roster that would be Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth and Greg Warren. Beyond that, get your own damn players. It’ll be easy. Anyone can do it. Start with five or six cornerbacks.
We will be looking forward to your list of candidates.
Full disclosure, I’m an avid Tomlin fan. 100% think he’s a top 5 coach, always have. I don’t want him to go anywhere, and I don’t think he will be.
I also understand that you were being purposefully facetious toward the end of the article, but I’ll play some devils advocate because it’s a subject that is always worth discussing.
“Tomlin is heading into his tenth season. His replacement must be able to last at least that long, right?”…The pretty obvious fact is Mike Tomlin inherited a tremendously talented team. An almost transcendent defense, a very young franchise quarterback and the best owners perhaps in all of sports. The only other guy I can remember in recent history to walk into such a favourable situation is John Gruden in Tampa. Generally teams as talented as the Steelers were in ’07 dom’t get new Head Coaches. He didn’t win with Cowher’s players, but we can’t pretend that his phenomenal success early had nothing to do with the incredible position he inherited. He’s putting the Cowher’s players notion to bed right now by winning with his own rebuilt team, but yeah…
Tomlin is not above reproach, there have been some aspects of the teams play that has been lacking during his tenure. Tackling has been simply shitty at times. Yeah the practices are shorter, but so are everyone elses. The Steelers on defense generally tackle worse than the other elite teams I watch. I don’t know if the stats bear that out but I believe that.
There has been a complete systematic failure in the franchise to draft and develop secondary talent during Tomlin’s tenure. It’s been utterly abysmal. This problem pretty much speaks for itself, not good…
Clock management. Dreadful.
The Steelers play down to poor opposition. Fact. This is perhaps the worst aspect of Tomlin’s tenure because it leads to…
The Steelers can’t stack wins, which leads to uneccessary dog fights to even make the playoffs, leads to bad seeding, leads to playing on the road. The Steelers have never won more than 5 games in-a-row in the nine seaons Mike Tomlin has been Head Coach. For a team that has been as good as this one has, this is actually ridiculous. This is the fact that, I think, most seperates Mike Tomlin from Bill Belichik.
When problems that are usually ascribed to the players persist over long periods of time, it is the coaches fault. He needs to coach better, hire other people who coach better or get new players. During the miserable back to back 8-8 seasons, the Steelers offense couldn’t score in the red zone, the running game was mostly sub-par and the offensive line was dreadful. The secondary was terrible, the defense was sloppy, ill-disciplined and the Steelers couldn’t sack the quarterback, not to mention a bad penchant for committing penalties. These are all things that, to Tomlin’s credit, he fixed. He made various tweaks and changes and for the most part all the above problems in this paragraph have been fixed.
I remember writing an article on BTSC during the 2014 season after the loss to the Bucs, saying essentially that Tomlin has earned our trust to turn things around until he looks like he’s lost the locker room. He never has, because he is an exceptional coach.
All these things are fair to say: Tomlin inherited a great team which contributed considerably to his success, he has significant flaws as a Head Coach, People criticize him simply because he is black, people criticise him because he deserves to be criticised, his positive qualities far outweigh his negative ones.
A couple of areas where I would take issue.
If the team he inherited was so great doesn’t this reflect even more negatively on Bill Cowher? Cowher’s 2006 team had players not available to Tomlin, such as Alan Faneca, Joey Porter and Jeff Hartings, yet they were only able to post the dreaded 8-8 record. Compare the 2005 Super Bowl squad with that of the 2008 team. The worst of the offensive linemen (Max Starks) in ’05 was probably the best of the ’08 group that also featured a center (Jeff Hartwig) who would certainly be rated the weakest Steeler at that position in fifty years, and a free agent center (Darnell Stapleton) at right guard. ’05 had a healthy Willie Parker who was backed up by a Hall of Famer in Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley. In ’08 the feature back for several games was Mewelde Moore. In spite of it all that ’05 team was a sixth seed entry into the playoffs. On the other hand, the ’08 team, playing the most difficult schedule anyone had faced in over thirty years, won their division and a second seed. Yet the idea persists that Tomlin had too many advantages to fail. If that was true what was Cowher’s excuse?
Btw. Perhaps others have commented upon this but 2015 was the second time in a decade that a sixth seeded Steelers team met a number one seeded team led by Peyton Manning and had a crucial fumble in the fourth quarter of a close game. Fortunately, Bettis’ fumble had a happy ending because one of the best field goal kickers in the league did a Josh Scobee at the end. What do you think Cowher’s legacy, as well as the team’s would be if they had lost that game?
Nobody saddles Jon Gruden with having done it with Tony Dungy’s players, even though the team he faced in the Super Bowl was his Oakland Raider squad that he couldn’t get into the big game on his own steam, he accomplished nothing with the Bucs afterward. Mike McCarthy is the beneficiary of a great organization and a quarterback who many argue is the best in the league. Yet he has failed to get back to the Super Bowl.
Riviera and Carolina in 2015, Belichick in 2007, Cowher in 2004, Dungy in 2005, Noll in 1976, all did a great job of stacking wins, but none won the games they needed to win to make those records meaningful beyond their transitory entertainment value, and their efforts are soon forgotten. Bud Grant and Marv Levy did extraordinary work but failed to secure championships, so they are out of the discussions of the best coaches.
Belichick has consistently won in a relatively weak division. Cincinnati, for example is castigated for not winning playoff games, but they make the playoffs. The AFC North puts three teams in the playoffs a lot, relatively speaking. That might make stacking wins a bit difficult. Belichick also has a reputation of, well, cheating to succeed. While Tomlin’s teams may well play down to the level of their opponents in the regular season, Belichick (alone with Cowher) do it in the playoffs. By themselves the Pats have made Eli Manning a Hall of Fame quarterback by losing twice to a Giants team that backed into the playoffs with near .500 records. Only Seattle’s stupidity spared them in 2014.
Viewing the world through Steelers colored glasses. How come when Bell, Brown and Bryant make plays we laud their greatness, but don’t say that the other team were lousy tacklers? And wouldn’t a significant amount of the blame there fall on LeBeau? How is it between Cowher and Tomlin he unlearned how to coach? I can’t recall who said it, but one of the better known beat writers points out that pretty much every fan base in the league complains about clock management save those for sins are so great no amount of clock management could possibly save them.
Eye of the beholder.
I’ll just reply paragraph by paragraph…
Tomlin did have Porter available, he cut him though. That’s semantics but anyway. I’m not making any comment on Cowher’s success, although he clearly under performed in 2006, Super bowl hangover or whatever I don’t know. I never once even inferred that Tomlin had too many advantages to succeed he did a phenomenal job in 2008,although I will say there were some considerable roster differences. Big Ben was a much, much better quarterback. James Harrison had become James Harrison. Ike Taylor had grown into a solid/above average player. Polamalu was a better player. Basically all the way along the defense the talent that was already there from Cowher’s era had improved. Tomlin of course contributed to all these improvements but really, there was a large element of good fortune to them.
I saddle Gruden with winning with Dungy’s players, 100%. Gruden’s ridiculously overrated.
I don;t think you can make any cohesive argument that convinces me that stacking wins isn’t important. It’s a big deal, and it has been a big problem for the Steelers. Riviera, Cowher and Belichik all make it to the Super Bowl/ conference Championship game that year, and it would be silly to take away from the fact hey rode home field advantage all the way to their destination. Yeah they ultimately lost but this is football, you know the other team has good players too/any given sunday etc.
It’s kind of unrealistic to say Belichik has a history of playing down to his opponents when those opponents are either in the Super Bowl or AFC championship game. Those Giants beat 3 other playoff teams as well. Tomlin, on the other hand, has recently lost to the 4 win Bucs, the 4 or 5 win Jets, the Browns, the god awful Ryan Mallet Ravens. That’s just off the top of my head in the last couple of seasons. Yeah every team occasionally drops a clunker, but the Steelers just lose to inferior teams more frequently than they ever should.
There’s merit of course to the notion that playing in the AFC North, no doubt that has contributed to the inability to stack wins, but that’s not really good. Great coaches should be getting 12 wins and at least some home field advantage, especially with a top 3 quarterback., that’s just the end of it. (and of course, BB was injured this year but the point stands).
Yeah when the Steelers play Brown/Bell level players, I’m not counting those as missed tackles, although I honestly can’t mind the last time the Steelers played individual players of the calibre in space. It’s when you’re not tackling Mohammed Sanu and Forsett, thats the problem.
I’m not making any points about LeBeau, the Steelers have tackled poorly for long enough that it’s reflecting on the coaches efforts. Maybe the switch to Butler will help clean things up, remains to be seen.
and Finally, Tomlin’s uses of timeouts towards the end of the 2nd and 4th quarter lack any coherent plan, the Steelers routinely take too long to get plays off when in hurry up, the whole thing is just below par, and not good enough for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. You might believe it’s in the eye of the beholder, fair enough, but I don’t. I think he just doesn’t excel in clock management. Sometimes It’ll be good, most times it will be lacking.
As relates to stacking. I would say timing is important. 2004 team were very impressive in this regard including beating both the eventual SB champs (Pats) and runner up (Eagles), but for most the more impressive achievement was the 2005 team running the table in December. Tom Coughlin’s teams were very good in December when they were able to win two championships. Tomlin’s teams have been credited with being good in December as well. You can stack wins to the ceiling in September and October, but you better be able to deliver in the winter. Ask the Bengals.
Clock management. In terms of coaching priorities where would one rank this? We are all aware that teams have assistants whose jobs are to track things like timeouts, challenges, extra point issues and the like. I would also add that neither Carolina or New England distinguished themselves in these areas this past post season. Let me stick with my assertion that it is more of a universal concern, and add that I don’t think it has nearly the importance that armchair observers ascribe to it. The most important element of coaching is leadership, and preparation before the fact. This is a management issue.
Interesting comments Jack. Ivan was pretty comprehensive in his response, but let me add a few points.
About tackling: A few days after the Denver game, a friend of mine who is sort of a Cardinals/Broncos/Colts fan (guy is from Indy but now lives in Pheonix and wants to move to Denver) remarked, “I’m impressed with how well your team tackles.”
That not coming from God, but it was interesting to see that from an unbiased 3rd party.
Regarding some of your points about Tomlin.
Yes, it is true that Mike Tomlin won Super Bowl 2008, and a goodly number of the players were selected by Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher (I bring Colbert’s name into it, because we really don’t know how that process works.)
But why should that somehow be seen as a knock on Tomlin?
Getting handed a Super Bowl ready team by no means assures you of success. OK, there’s Barry Switzer, outside of that who else is there (and yes, George Seifert won one on his own.)
In contrast, the Packers tanked after Lombardi left. When Bill Parcells stepped down from the Giants, Ray Handley got named head coach, and he was an utter disaster. Richie Pettibone became the Redskins coach 2 years removed from a Super Bowl Championship, and went 4-12 or something like that.
On the issue of the trap games, I agree with you. That is Tomlin’s Achilles heel.
I’m not saying it’s a knock on Tomlin that he inherited a great team, it’s just important to acknowledge that he did and contributed largely to how well he done early, and directly to his super bowl win because virtually all the important talent was there, sans LaMarr Woodley.
It’s empirically obvious that talent alone doesn’t win anything, and Tomlin has done an incredible job of actually running the whole ship, basically doing the Head Coaches job, and it’s obvious he’s one of the great coaches.
He just had a big leg up on the process…
Trap games: Is it Tomlin or scheme or is it Ben? For some reason, I don’t remember Ben having good games for the games we lost.
For those that want Tomlin fired they never seem to present an alternative, personally I don’t think they can find any names to bring forward. I’m happy with the Coach that we have because there is no one else out there that would do a better or equal job. I’m not a big fan of Affirmative Action for the reasons that were stated (I believe Justice Thomas on the SCOTUS is not a big fan of it either).
What drives me crazy is that the Steelers seem to play down to their opponent which has led me to develop my Adversity Theory – which states that the more adversity the Steelers face the more they succeed. Has anyone else noticed this or I am I just crazy?
We should be thankful that the Steelers have a foundation of strong, stable ownership. Just think of those poor bastards that follow the Stains, Bungals and Cryboys…..
I’m answering both you and Jack on the “playing down to bad teams” theory – Bob Labriola had a lot to say on that earlier in 2015, and I expanded upon it, in this article:
And expanding upon another Bob Labriola asked and answered, I did an article about Tomlin’s clock management:
I’m not saying either article is the last word, but I am arguing for taking a look from a different angle at both issues…
Rebecca/Mike, I saw Bob Labriola’s answer, and he’s right about that in terms of the numbers.
Still, the Steelers under Tomlin have had a nasty habit of losing winnable games to far inferior opponents. Its an ugly tendency that manifested itself in 2007, 2009, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Note that this was a non-issue in 2008 (in fact, during that year, the Steelers lost to a number of the “studs” on their schedule, but cleaned up elsewhere, and of course peaked in time for the playoffs.)
And yet the Steelers also win games that they shouldn’t win.
I think this is where fan perception gets too cloudy. Just because the fans think Team A is terrible and an easy win does not make it reality. These are all professionals. They are all capable. And it may be true that if you play Team A 100 times, that you win 80 of them. But you also lose 20 of them…and that’s not to be discounted.
Very good point. It’s easy to forget how thin the talent line is, and just because a team is not well-coached or managed or whatever doesn’t mean they won’t occasionally surprise everyone.
My theory is the Red Pencil. Is it that the Steelers play down to level of the opponent, or do these teams up their level of play in wanting to measure themselves against an organization they respect? On the other hand no team can red pencil all of their games.
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Great article, Ivan. Really fine analysis of Tomlin’s detractors.
I, too, am a Tomlin supporter and fan. I am one of the few who was very slow to embrace Cowher. I liked his style but I always thought we lost games we should have won, especially big games. I believe the Cowher era teams played down to their competition more often than Tomlin’s teams, but I can’t prove it. It’s a visceral thought.
I think Tomlin’s team now is different than his early teams, different as in better. What I mean by that is the earlier teams were more dependent on defense. In games where the defense did not shut down the opponent, the chances of coming from behind were not so good, as the offense was not as explosive as it is now. Now and for the next few years, the offense should remain potent and a force to keep us in any game.
I don’t know if Tomlin designed it this way, but he’s not really a serendipitous kind of guy. If the rebuilding of the defense continues to progress, another SB appearance, maybe two, is clearly attainable. I’m not so sure that the 2015 team was not SB caliber except for injuries to all pro players, Ben, Pouncey, Bell and AB.
Tomlin’s greatest achievement, IMO is rebuilding a defense on the fly, replacing so many irreplaceable players without a losing season. Jack’s criticism of being unable to stack wins is directly attributable to the rebuilding effort. On defense, Taylor, Clark, Polamalu, Woodley, Farrior, Foote, Smith, Keisel and Hampton have been replaced in a relatively short period of time. I think the current defense is a player or two away from being a formidable defense, maybe not as good as the SB 40 and 43 teams, but definitely a defense of winning games in its own right.
Great discussion. I hope others will join in.
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+1 on stacking wins, etc. – it’s easy to forget what “rebuilding” tends to look like in other franchises. Maybe it would be easier in the long run to just tank for a few years, clean out all the “deadwood” at once, and so on, but it isn’t the way the Rooneys do business. And that “deadwood” is actual people, which is also worth remembering – people that have been very important to the franchise at one time or another, or might be in the future. How many people would have called William Gay “deadwood” four or five years ago? We would have been dead without him last season, that’s for sure…
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Replying to both you and Rebecca concerning stacking wins, Tomlin has NEVER stacked more than. Not during the Super Bowl window, when all those great players you mentioned were playing, or during the rebuilding phase.
Rebuilding doesn’t really play into the inability to stack wins at all, it existed well before it happened, although Tomlin’s rebuilding of this team should be the guidebook for all other teams in future.
Your ‘stacking of wins’ is a pile 5 wins high. If a team will win 11 or 12 games…you’d prefer that at least half of those were won consecutively? I don’t see why that matters. 11-5 is 11-5. You do want the best football to be played at the end of the year, but that’s not necessarily the same as a winning streak.
Not necessarily about when games are won, but that over a 9 year period the team has never won more than 5-in-a-row is I think indicative of the problem. They are not consistently great, even when they have had great players. They drop games to inferior teams. Yeah they have gotten to 10 wins and 11 wins last couple of years but that could have easily been 12 and 13 with 1st round byes and home field.
Its been a probelm for Tomlins entire tenure, lack of consistency leading to “bad” losses , think about how much playoff seeding we’ve given up.
I agree on Cowher, at least to an extent. I think that during the first phase of his time in Pittsburgh (until ’00), over confidence was his Achilles heel (see the 1994 AFC Championship Game…..)
Later during his tenure, that problem corrected itself.
With Tomlin I’m not sure why it happens, but it does happen.
I agree with Ivan and Jack. Stacking wins doesn’t mean sh*t if you are not ultimately successful in the big games. On the other hand, if you are able to stack the wins, you place yourself in an advantageous position via home field, seed, etc. to be ultimately successful. Stacking wins is great but you have to close the deal.
I’m with Ivan on the playing down issue. It seems to me, teams get jacked up to play us. It’s easy to forget our success and history comes with a big, fat target which incites the opposition to get up for us. We have to be at our best all the time, a burden not carried but by a handful of teams. Such is the price of success. I just think it’s easier for us to slip than perennially mediocre teams. New England is one of the few that seem to be able to avoid most upsets, and indeed, they have their down games too.
Roxie’s right that Tomlin’s greatest achievement was rebuilding the team after the Super Bowl window closed and the defense became too old, too slow, and too overpaid. The last part – with all the restructured contracts – was a severe case of salary cap hell, which made the task even more daunting. At one point, including pre-season, they lost 11 out of 13 games over two seasons, but, somehow, even with all the changes, they stayed at .500 both years. Other teams go 4-12 when they do a complete transition. For Coach T, losing seasons don’t measure up to the standard.
Tomlin has never lost the locker room, and this past year – with all the injuries – was irrefutable evidence that guys play their hearts out for him.
There are complainers who said the game passed Noll by, that Cowher was a choke artist when the big games came around, and that Tomlin is terrible at clock management and has won only one playoff game in five years. All coaches get that stuff. Of course, Coach T won’t be able to satisfy a good portion of his detractors until he successfully transitions to Caucasian. (Spoiler alert: ain’t gonna happen.)
He’s a first-rate leader of men, an excellent executive, and a damned fine football coach. Except when the Steelers play teams that such. When that happens, take the points.
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Typo alert in the last paragraph above: “Except when the Steelers play teams that suck. When that happens, take the points.”
Homer regrets the typo and apologizes for any inconvenience.
Inconvenience? I ran out and put my retirement savings on “teams that such” and now what do I do??!
There is one point that I don’t believe I have seen. We have all heard how Tomlin won the Superbowl with Cowher’s players, but haven’t we also seen how quickly a rookie head coach can dismantle a team? Look at what McDaniels did in Denver or Kelly in Philadelphia. How many times have we seen a brand spanking new head coach want to install his system, getting rid of players and coaches that don’t fit his mold. An example of this would be the Cutler for Orton deal. How did that work out? Understandably most new coaches don’t really want to deal with “this is how we have always done things and it worked for us.” So we see a transition of assistants, some will quit, some will be fired over the next couple of years. If they are lucky the team may be a contender in three or four years.
Let’s imagine getting hired to be an NFL Head Coach, being hired over two in house candidates, both of whom have their own supporters. Can you say “Awkward?” I knew you could. We’ll say that one of those candidates was the former offensive coordinator, so one of your first jobs will be to find a new OC. So who would you hire? If you are like most people, you would probably look for someone that you have worked with before, in college or in the NFL. With your new OC comes a new system, new terminology and a new play book.
Now let’s imagine that our defensive coordinator is a legend who has more experience in the NFL as a head coach, assistant coach or player than you have had years of life. No pressure here. Imagine coming in to be this guy’s boss. Now we’ll say that you came from a system that used a particular defense, one that you brought with you to other jobs. Let’s say it was a 4-3 employing a lot of cover 2. This is what you know. So being that you are the head coach and that you have your own ideas and your own system, people will have to adjust to what you want to do. We will say that this DC, is a 3-4 guy so what you want to do and what he wants to do don’t really align. Time to get a new DC, one that will run your system. That’s OK, the legend probably wouldn’t handle it well when you are fumbling around making rookie mistakes.
Now we will look at the players. Because the former coach drafted for a 3-4 not the 4-3 you are running, and some of the offensive players don’t fit what your OC want to do, time to start turning the roster over. Let’s say that some of these players are close to your age, just for the heck of it we will even say that you played against one of the prominent defensive starters while you were in college. Did I tell you that you were one of the youngest head coaches in the league while still wet behind the ears? (BTW I am old enough to say that.) Could you, in this situation, gain respect from these players and could you maintain discipline? Just for giggles we’ll throw in that most of these guys won a Superbowl two years before.
I will admit that Tomlin came into a good situation, but would anyone reasonable fault him for making any of the above changes? With a new coach comes change, sports fans know it and they expect it. But what he did instead made me realize that we had a winner.
When he was hired over Whiz and Russ Grimm, he came in and found an OC, promoting from within, instead of bringing in one of his friends, keeping relatively the same system, playbook and terminology. BA did some tweaking but no wholesale changes. He looked at his staff and kept it mostly intact ”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” He saw that he had a genius DC, who was one of the designers of the modern 3-4 defense, and even though Tomlin was a 4-3 Tampa 2 coach, he swallowed his ego and learned from the best.
He quickly gained the respect of his coaches and players, making Pittsburgh one of the places where athletes want to be. Coaches have turned down opportunities to get new jobs because they wanted to stay in Pittsburg and with Tomlin.
We have all heard that Tomlin won with Cowher’s players, and to that I reply “horse puckey.” Yes Cowher was coach when most were drafted, but by the time of the Superbowl they were undoubtedly Tomlin’s players. And let’s not forget that while Lamar Woodley didn’t win the game, his strip sack of Warner killed a comeback attempt and put the game away.
I have a hard time deciding which season was Tomlin’s best coaching job. Was it this past season because of all of the injuries, where we saw that his players really believe in the “next man up” philosophy. Was it the year that Ben was suspended for four games and they still went to the Superbowl, even though they had such a tough schedule. I have to think it is between they year they started off 2-6 and finished 8-8 because the team didn’t quit, they players believed in themselves and their coaches and Tomlin never lost the locker room or was it the job he did the first year when he didn’t make mass changes, didn’t let his ego get in the way and he had people in place to do a job and he let them do it.
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I like the points you make. Let me make another by flipping the ‘winning with another man’s players bit’. Makes you wonder why coaches who are at risk of being fired or are fired don’t embrace this one.
Couldn’t Mike Munchak have said ‘It wasn’t me, it was Jeff Fisher’s players.’ The fact that this completely absurd idea manages to hold on as long as it has suggests a desperation to discredit without admitting to the world or oneself the foundational reason as to why.
Great thoughts. Next time you’re going to write an article let me know and we’ll front-page it : ) Seriously…this is good stuff.
Thank you, I will.I appreciate the thought.
Good article. Good thread. You folks are making me smile.
There is nothing I can add that hasn’t been said by the previous posters. I like Tomlin. He isn’t perfect. No one is. He is damn good though. If there is anyone who is going to win a SB with this line up, it is going to be him.
Dang, I forgot to sign this one as well.