Coach A had a 71-41 record and won five division titles in his first seven NFL seasons. He was 5-6 in the postseason, including 1-2 in AFC championship games. His 1995 team lost to Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.
Coach B is 71-41 with three division titles in his first seven NFL seasons. Amazing coincidence, right? He is 5-2 in the postseason, including 2-0 in AFC championship games. His 2008 team beat Arizona to win Super Bowl XLIII, making him, at 36, the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. His 2010 team lost to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV.
Coach A is Bill Cowher, in case you hadn’t guessed. He coached eight more seasons with the Steelers, finishing with a 149-90-1 record and eight division championships. He was 12-9 in the postseason. His 2005 team won Super Bowl XL.
And Coach B?
The prediction here is Mike Tomlin will last longer with the Steelers and be more successful than Cowher.
That is not the majority opinion around here. Many in Steelers Nation would love the franchise to fire Tomlin and bring back Cowher. Is it just me or is Cowher much more popular now than when he coached? Didn’t fans rip him for failing to win the big games — he lost four AFC championship games at home — before he finally won the Super Bowl in his 14th season? People forget so easily.
There is plenty of discontent with Tomlin as the Steelers prepare to open the season Sunday at Heinz Field against the Cleveland Browns. Many wanted him gone yesterday. Much of the displeasure is because the team didn’t look good in the exhibition season and went 8-8 in each of the past two seasons and failed to make the playoffs. At least some of it, sadly, is racially motivated. All of it is misguided.
Tomlin is one of the elite coaches in the NFL and will be for a long time.
The Rooneys get it. They know what they have in Tomlin, who has a contract through the 2016 season. That’s why there is very little chance, if any, that Tomlin will be fired even if the Steelers miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season. The Rooneys won’t be happy, but they know, even if many of their team’s fans don’t, that every season doesn’t end in the Super Bowl. Cowher’s teams failed to make the playoffs three years in a row from 1998-2000 and management gave him an extension. The Steelers missed the postseason five times in Cowher’s final nine seasons.
The marijuana charges against Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount last month didn’t do much for Tomlin’s popularity. There is a perception that he is an undisciplined coach with an undisciplined team. There have been a number of off-field incidents during his watch, the most serious being Alameda Ta’amu’s drunken-driving rampage on the South Side in October 2012.
But are Tomlin’s players more undisciplined than John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens? Five Ravens were arrested during the offseason, including running back Ray Rice in a domestic-abuse case. Are Tomlin’s players worse than Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers? The 49ers will be without suspended star linebacker Aldon Smith for nine games this season and defensive tackle Ray McDonald could be facing a long suspension after being charged with felony domestic violence last week.
It is different time for the NFL. There is much more pressure to win. All teams take chances on good players with troubled backgrounds and often get burned. That includes the Steelers. They drafted Santonio Holmes, Mike Adams, Ta’amu, and Chris Rainey. They brought in Blount during the offseason even though he was suspended three times at Oregon and is with his fourth NFL team in five years. So much for the Steelers Way being morally superior to the other NFL clubs.
The belief that these problems wouldn’t be happening if Cowher were in charge is nonsensical. He wasn’t the iron-fisted boss that many believe. I keep going back to something running back Jerome Bettis said after wide receiver Plaxico Burress left the Steelers to sign with the New York Giants, coached by tough-guy Tom Coughlin. “I know [Burress] is not a stickler for the rules and Coughlin is all about rules. … Coach Cowher allowed us a lot of flexibility. He never fined us for anything. You came late, you never got fined. You never got reprimanded for anything.”
Don’t get the wrong idea. Cowher was a great coach, a borderline Hall of Fame coach. But Tomlin also is a strong coach. The fact that a few of his knucklehead players have acted like idiots doesn’t change that.
Tomlin will get the Steelers back to the playoffs this season as long as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy. Their no-huddle offense should be terrific, plenty good enough to cover for what could be a mediocre defense. The AFC North Division is weak. The Steelers will win it with a 10-6 record, maybe 11-5.
That would silence some of Tomlin’s critics, but not all. Many will continue to insist he wins only because he has Cowher’s players, notably the Hall of Fame-bound Roethlisberger. The last time I checked, it takes more than a great quarterback to win. Others won’t ever give Tomlin credit merely because he is black. They are convinced he got the Steelers job and will keep it only because of the Rooney Rule. It really can be a sad, sad world.
Tomlin is strong enough to deal with all of it.
The Steelers are lucky to have him as their coach.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.