Don't sell Tomlin short

NFL.com pundit deigns to list Five Most Prepared Coaches

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Though there is no clinical term for it -- at least there shouldn't be -- the lust to list remains plainly evident among your humans, who still make up the bulk of the national football audience.

The primal urge to list the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Dwarfs and the Seven Wonders of the World, to which someone is always adding an eighth, has had a wicked spillover, condemning us to centuries and even millennia of top-10 lists, of 12-step programs, of 50 ways to leave your lover, the all-time 100 best this and the all-time 100 worst that, which generally involves Sylvester Stallone.

This week's topical irritant appears on NFL.com, and it's called the Five Most Prepared Coaches, or the five playoff coaches who will have their teams most prepared for the divisional playoffs.

I don't think those are the same thing, but that's neither there nor here.

Prepared by the redoubtable Thomas George, the FMPC list looks like a made-to-order accompaniment to his typically cogent commentary for people who can no longer read the full text of anything that doesn't appear on the screen of something they can carry in their pockets -- not to be bitter.

But this list has problems.

To begin with, since there are only eight teams in the divisional playoffs, two of the coaches on the Five Most Prepared Coaches list would also appear, if my math is correct, on the Five Least Prepared Coaches list, were it to exist, and wouldn't that create a little more interest?

Anyway, if you haven't seen it, the Five Most Prepared Coaches here on the eve of the divisional round are said to be John Fox of the Carolina Panthers, Tom Coughlin of the New York Football Giants, Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Tuxedos, Norv Turner of the San Diego Chargers and John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens, in that very order.

Relatively unprepared, apparently, would be the remaining three, Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles, Ken Whisenhunt of the Arizona Cardinals and the Steelers' Mike Tomlin.

Whisenhunt, Bill Cowher's last offensive coordinator, can plausibly be judged to be relatively unprepared based on the way his team has played in the Eastern time zone, where it was traumatized in five of its seven losses, the last two by 28 and 40 points. Arizona's best game in the East this year came at Carolina, where the Cardinals play tomorrow night. In that one, the Cardinals out-gained the Panthers, 425-351, but let a second-half lead slip away and lost, 27-23. This would be a difficult trip on its face for Whisenhunt, but now that Fox is the Most Prepared Coach, I don't see the Cardinals keeping it within four touchdowns.

Reid, on the other hand, has as many playoff victories as Fisher and Turner combined, as many as Fox and Turner combined, more than Turner, Harbaugh and Whisenhunt put together, and more than any other coach remaining, including Coughlin. How he came to be relatively unprepared is quite the mystery.

All of which brings us to Tomlin, who doesn't need me to defend him from the perils of the lust to list. We're in full recognition that such lists as the Five Most Prepared Coaches are for amusement only, at best, and are, often as not, a preposterous undertaking, as tastes vary even more wildly than clinical evaluation. Were I to list the best movies ever made, for example, I'd start with "Psycho," whereas others would start with "Revenge of the Nerds IV" or even the Elvis tour de force, "Girl Happy."

But the omission of Tomlin from the Five Most Prepared Coaches (and for all we know the Seven Most Prepared Coaches) is just wrong.

It's true that Tomlin is at least 10 years younger than any of the remaining head coaches and a full quarter-century younger than Coughlin, who when Tomlin was born was already a head coach, leading the orange and burnt umber Tigers of Rochester Institute of Technology into their legendary frays.

It's further true that of the eight remaining playoff coaches, Tomlin is the only one without a playoff victory, even if he had one until there were 37 seconds left in the only playoff game he ever coached.

But there simply is no evidence that even implies that Tomlin's team is unprepared, presuming that teams that are unprepared would be taken apart in this league. Of Tomlin's 11 career losses, only three have been by more than a touchdown, only two by more than 10 points. None of the remaining coaches has a higher winning percentage than Tomlin, and none of them should even hope the Steelers will be unprepared, least of all Turner, the fourth Most Prepared, who happens to be 18 games under .500 for his career.

There's never been much purpose in getting yourself on the list of people who underestimate Mike Tomlin.



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