Forging Steel: Inside the Pittsburgh Steelers Coaching Staff

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Forging Steel: Inside the Pittsburgh Steelers Coaching Staff
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Mike Tomlin arrived in Pittsburgh in January of 2007 as only the third head coach of the Steelers in since 1969, and with large shoes to fill: the previous two coaches had been to six Super Bowls, with five wins.

Having worked under Tony Dungy as a defensive backs coach for five seasons (2001-2005) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and with Dungy having played and coached with the Steelers under Chuck Noll, it seemed like the great Pittsburgh football tradition was coming full circle.

Tomlin came to the Steelers after spending the 2006 season as the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings had the NFL's eighth-best total defense, and the best defense against the run, having not allowed a single 100-yard rusher the entire season.

It has been a common trend that a new head coach aims to bring about a new administration with new assistant coaches and a new approach to how their team will play.

Tomlin bucked that trend. He kept a number of assistants from his predecessor Bill Cowher's tenure, and even promoted then-wide receivers coach Bruce Arians to offensive coordinator.

Even more so, he took long-time defensive line coach John Mitchell and made him his assistant head coach. He retained Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Keith Butler, preserving the defensive integrity that has made Pittsburgh so well-reputed in recent years.

Ken Anderson was brought in as quarterbacks coach to provide the kind of mentor that Ben Roethlisberger could thrive under, having played with the same kind of scrambling style as Big Ben in a very successful playing career as a professional.

So far, Tomlin, et al have a 22-10 regular season record, a 3-1 postseason record, two AFC North Division championships, and a Vince Lombardi trophy, an NFL-best sixth for Pittsburgh. This group of men has created a stable of leadership that has a proven track record of success, both collectively and in their individual careers.

 

Keith Butler, Linebackers Coach

Butler was hired as the Steelers' linebackers coach in 2003, after working with the Cleveland Browns from 1999-2002 at the same position. The result of his work in Pittsburgh in the past six seasons is arguably the best linebacking corps in football.

That group, with players such as Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, James Farrior, Larry Foote, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and Lawrence Timmons has helped Pittsburgh rank perennially among the NFL's best defenses.

Even more impressive is their continued success despite the departures of Porter, Haggans, and Foote (this off-season), and the insertion of Harrison, Woodley, and now, Timmons.

Butler has taken a second-round draft pick in Woodley and an undrafted free agent in Harrison and helped to create an outside linebacker duo that produced 26.5 sacks in their first year together, more than any other pair in football.

Harrison, having only finished his second season as a starter, has 24.5 sacks, two Pro Bowl nominations, an All-Pro nomination, and a Defensive Player of the Year award in that span.

Butler, before becoming an assistant under Tomlin, shares a history with Tomlin: the two were assistants together at the University of Memphis.

 

Ken Anderson, Quarterback Coach

Anderson played 16 seasons in the NFL as a quarterback with the Cincinnati Bengals, the longest playing career in team history. He also holds the team's all-time marks in completions (2,654), passing yards (32,838), and touchdown passes (197).

Known as a scrambler, like Ben Roethlisberger, he rushed for 2,220 yards and 20 touchdowns. He won four NFL passing titles, was named to four Pro Bowls, and was first-team All-Pro in 1981.

Anderson was the quarterback coach in Cincinnati for a total of five seasons, and was offensive coordinator for five more. He then served with the Jacksonville Jaguars for four years before being brought to the Steelers in 2007.

In two seasons under Anderson's tutelage, Roethlisberger has completed 545 of 873 passes (62.4%) for 6,455 yards, 49 touchdowns and only 26 interceptions. Roethlisberger set team season records in touchdowns (32) and QB rating (104.1) in 2007.

 

Bruce Arians, Offensive Coordinator

The man known affectionately by his players as "B.A." (not Baracus, sorry, A-Team fans) is a coach with a track record that leaves both his supporters and critics divided.

He has been a notable mentor to his quarterbacks, Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning the most notable (Arians was the quarterback coach for the Indianapolis Colts from 1998-2000).

Also as a wide receivers coach, he has helped guide Hines Ward to two Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl MVP award, and the Steelers' all-time records in career receptions and receiving yards.

Of his total 31 seasons of coaching experience, seven of them were as head coach of Temple University, and three as offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns.

 

Dick LeBeau, Defensive Coordinator

With 49 years of experience as an NFL coach as a player and coach, it's no wonder his players refer to him as "Coach Dad": he has been in professional football longer than all of his players and a number of his coaching colleagues have been alive.

LeBeau is in his second stint with Pittsburgh, after coaching the secondary from 1992-94, and then the defense from 1995-96. He then spent four seasons as the Bengals' assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, three as their head coach, and then one with the Buffalo Bills before returning to Pittsburgh in 2004.

While in his first stint in Cincinnati as defensive coordinator (1984-91), LeBeau designed what became known as the "Zone Blitz."

It was constructed as a 3-4 alignment with a variation of blitzes, stunts, and zone coverage schemes in the front seven, with the intent of disrupting an offense's timing after the snap.

It was created mainly to combat Bill Walsh's "West Coast Offense", which was growing in popularity during the San Francisco 49ers' championship run in the 1980s, and it fell just one Joe Montana comeback victory short of succeeding in Super Bowl XXIII.

Nearly 20 years later, LeBeau's scheme has made Pittsburgh one of the best defenses in football, and has brought a bigger league-wide awareness of the 3-4.

Even more impressive than his career as a coach is his career as a player: he still holds the NFL all-time record of 171 consecutive games for a cornerback and is currently tied for seventh all-time with 62 career interceptions.

During the Steelers' championship run in 2005, as an effort to raise more awareness for LeBeau as a Hall of Fame candidate, a number of his defensive players wore throwback jerseys from the Detroit Lions, LeBeau's former team, with his number, 44.

 

John Mitchell, Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach

The second man in the Steelers' coaching chain of command is also one of the most low-profile, but has a world-class resume. Mitchell has coached football for 36 seasons, including 18 in the NFL, 16 in the collegiate ranks, and two in the now-defunct United States Football League.

Mitchell has been the Steelers' defensive line coach since 1994, having helped to develop homegrown products Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, and Chris Hoke.

Under his guidance, the Steelers defensive line helped the defense become the third-best run defense in the league, not having allowed a single 100-yard rusher the entire season.

Mitchell was an All-American defensive end at Alabama, becoming the first African-American player ever to play for the Crimson Tide. He began his coaching career in 1973 as the defensive line coach at Alabama for the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant.

After leaving Alabama, he coached the Arkansas defensive line for six seasons under Lou Holtz, and also became the first African-American defensive coordinator in Southeast Conference (SEC) history with LSU in 1990.

 

Mike Tomlin, Head Coach

The Hampton, Va. native was a three-year starter at William and Mary at wide receiver, and finished his college career with a school-record 20 touchdown receptions. He was also an All-Yankee Conference selection in 1994.

Tomlin began his coaching career as a wide receivers coach at Virginia Military Institute in 1995, then spent the next five years in various capacities at Memphis, Arkansas State, Tennessee-Martin, and the University of Cincinnati before joining Tampa Bay.

Tomlin won a Super Bowl ring as Tampa's defensive backs coach in 2002, and the game's MVP was one of his charges, safety Dexter Jackson.

As the Vikings' defensive coordinator, Tomlin had the rare opportunity to coach a former college teammate. That teammate was veteran safety Darren Sharper.

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