Bouchette on the Steelers : No Grimm fairy tale

Plots and subplots abounded when the Steelers hired Mike Tomlin

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There likely will be only a few (thousand) questions about it this week in Tampa, so let's get right to the tale about how Ken Whisenhunt wound up as coach of the Arizona Cardinals, Mike Tomlin as coach of the Steelers and Russ Grimm still holding the job of an assistant head coach, in Arizona.

After Bill Cowher's resignation as the Steelers' coach, the Rooneys focused on four men to replace him. Two were on their staff, Whisenhunt and Grimm. Two others were defensive coordinators, Mike Tomlin in Minnesota and Ron Rivera in Chicago.

At the behest of Cowher, the Steelers also interviewed one of his former offensive coordinators, Chan Gailey, as a courtesy. They received permission to talk to Houston Texans assistant coach/offense Mike Sherman, but they never interviewed him for the job.

When the Bears reached the Super Bowl, the Steelers dropped Rivera from their list because they did not want to wait that long to hire a coach.

Grimm also interviewed for the job in Arizona and Whisenhunt interviewed in Miami and Atlanta. As a Georgia native who graduated from Georgia Tech, Whisenhunt would have loved to coach the Falcons. But he told Atlanta management that he would wait to see what the Steelers would do before taking another job, and the Falcons, naturally, were unwilling to go that route.

The Steelers thought highly of Whisenhunt, but they favored Grimm. So, when the Cardinals invited Whisenhunt to a second interview, word was passed to him that he likely would not get the Steelers' job.

That left it between Grimm and Tomlin. On Saturday, Jan. 20, 2007, Grimm and his representatives believed he was offered the job and that he accepted. Sunday, Tomlin was hired, and the club announced it Monday. Grimm was allowed out of his contract as assistant head coach by the Steelers, and he joined Whisenhunt's staff.

Steelers president Art Rooney II acknowledged at the time that contract numbers were discussed with Grimm but insisted nothing was final.

"I think we made it clear at the time we spoke that it was not final, and we were going to speak again on Sunday," Rooney said two years ago.

The Rooneys insisted that league officials did not pressure them to hire Tomlin as their first minority coach. Some league officials did not do themselves any favors, however, when two days before he was hired they told some national correspondents that Tomlin would be the Steelers' next coach.

"Let's put it this way, I think I know where both of the leaks came from and I think it's unfortunate when people talk about something when you're dealing with these things," Rooney said, then quoted an old Yogi Berra saying. "It ain't over 'til it's over, and people were claiming something was over when it was not."

Whatever happened, it worked out well for Tomlin and Whisenhunt, the Steelers and Cardinals, who square off across the sideline in the Super Bowl next Sunday. Grimm will be there, too, as Arizona's assistant head coach and offensive line coach.

But, in another ironic twist in Grimm's bid to become an NFL head coach, the victories by the Cardinals and Steelers in the conference championship games last Sunday may have cost him. The New York Jets were said to be awaiting the outcomes of the championship games last weekend. If the Cardinals had lost, he might be the coach today of the New York Jets. They were unwilling to wait and hired Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, whose team lost at Heinz Field last Sunday.

Some official statements

Perhaps it is coincidence that Mike Pereira will retire as NFL vice president of officiating after a season in which his officials performed so poorly.

It has been a season filled with controversial calls and blatantly wrong calls, particularly through the use of instant replay. It began early and infamously with referee Ed Hochuli's admitted error on a pass-incompletion/fumble call in Denver, and the mistakes never let up.

Two of the more obvious ones occurred at Heinz Field, each wrongly overturned by a referee after viewing instant replay. One was Troy Polamalu's touchdown return at the end of the Steelers' regular-game against San Diego. The other was Santonio Holmes' touchdown against Baltimore in the AFC championship game.

Each was initially ruled a touchdown, then overturned. The league admitted the error on the Polamalu score, but do not look for any acknowledgment on Holmes' non-touchdown. Holmes dropped the ball when he hit the ground, and referee Bill Carollo ruled after viewing the replay that he did not make a football move after he caught the pass, and thus he ruled it an incompletion.

As Mike Tomlin subtly put it Tuesday, "So the side step that he had after he caught the ball was not believed to be a football move."

Pereira, by all accounts, was good at his job and brought more of an openness to his position. Perhaps, the next man who holds that job can improve the work of those under him on the field.

Clark off the hook

So, Ryan Clark was not fined for his legal tackle of Willis McGahee that caused a fumble near the end of the AFC championship game Sunday.

Clark is now 2 for 2 on avoiding fines for legal hits this season that some judged to be outside the rules. A headline on the New York Times website blared, "Ravens' McGahee Injured on Helmet-To-Helmet Hit."

A paragraph in Greg Bishop's story under the headline read:

"Safety Ryan Clark stepped in to make the tackle, his helmet colliding squarely with McGahee's helmet. The impact was forceful and powerful and instant."

And legal, because there was no square colliding of helmets. Clark dipped his right shoulder into McGahee, who lowered his head at the last instant and took the brunt of the hit to his helmet. His concussion was more McGahee's fault than Clark's, but there was no fault on the play. It was a tackle, a tough one at that, but perfectly legal in a violent sport.

The new buzzwords in football are "helmet to helmet" and "concussion." The league is correct in cracking down on blatant illegal hits of all kinds, but it needs no help from those who instantaneously want to fine and suspend players for hits and tackles that remain legal in the sport.



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