It was no great surprise to anyone when Bill Cowher announced his retirement in 2007 to spend more time with his family. But his departure caused much concern among Steelers fans everywhere. Who would replace him? How would the next season pan out?
For months Steeler Nation waited while the drama played out. Would the job go to the heir apparent, Ken Whisenhunt? What about Russ Grimm? After all, they both served under Cowher and were most familiar with the routine. Either of them would have been an excellent choice.
Fast forward and enter Mike Tomlin.
At the time, I remember saying, “Who?!” I was disappointed in the Steelers organization for not showing a little more loyalty. I was convinced that Tomlin, with no head coaching experience, was a mistake—and a big one. I believed wholeheartedly that the Steelers were doomed to be the bottom-dwellers of the AFC North.
Well, I know when it’s time to eat crow.
Tomlin as the 16th head coach in Steelers history, and only the third since 1969, not only proved me wrong, he’s earned my respect. Not only did he rise to the challenge of filling the shoes of those who went before him, he surpassed most fans’ expectations, leading the Steelers to a 10-6 season, a divisional title, and a trip to the playoffs his first season.
Oh, and let’s not forget the defense was the league’s best that year. His second year, he became the youngest head coach to lead his team to the Super Bowl, and win. Not too shabby, coach.
I would be remiss in not saying that as impressive as Tomlin’s tenure has been thus far, he didn’t do it alone. The saying goes that a man doesn’t have to know all the answers, he just has to surround himself with the people who do.
That’s what Tomlin has done with the likes of Dick LeBeau, Bruce Arians, Bob Ligashesky, Ken Anderson and the rest of the Steelers coaching staff.
The Steelers’ decision to bring back Dick LeBeau as the Defensive Coordinator in the 2004 season has proven to be a wise move. They not only won the Super Bowl the following year, but again three years later.
His fifty plus years in the NFL as both a player and a coach have led some of his former players to clamor for his admittance to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At 71, I affectionately refer to him as the "Jack LeLanne of football."
A man that can boast his record as the man with the third most interceptions in the league of all time, I’d say he knows a little about how read an offense. He has used that expertise to take the Steelers defense to the top of the league yet again.
The offense is nothing to sneeze at thanks to Bruce Arians. It’s argued by many that Arians is slow to make in-game adjustments when needed, but when the chips are down let’s give credit where credit is due.
His play calling and his ability to read a defense led the Steelers’ offense to score just over 21 points and 300 yards per game. No, it’s not the best, but combined with the defense and special teams, it all comes out in the wash.
In his first year as the Special Teams Coordinator Bob Ligashesky seemingly earned Tomlin’s respect with his motivational style. Ligashesky is as involved with the action as the players he coaches. The 2009 season should see even more improvement from the Special Teams, especially with the return of Sepulveda.
With the experience of his staff, his ability to run a tight-ship, and the talent of his players at his fingertips, Tomlin’s road to the Hall of Fame is paved in Black ‘n Gold.