Mike Tomlin led the Pittsburgh Steelers through one of the toughest schedules in the past 25 years and then to victory in Super Bowl 43.
I'm not taking anything away from his coaching abilities or trying to diminish what he has accomplished in just two years at the helm. I would like to point out, however, that the team that won the Super Bowl was comprised almost entirely of Cowher era players.
Don't believe me?
Let's go through the offense first.
Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, Heath Miller, Willie Parker, Max Starks, Kemeoatu, Willie Colon, and Stapleton were either drafted or brought in by Cowher. That means the only starting offensive player Tomlin put on the field in 2008 was center Justin Hartwig. Mewelde Moore also played a lot due to injuires to Parker, but he wasn't a starter on the depth chart.
Defensive starters were Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Kiesel, James Harrison, James Farrior, Larry Foote, Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden and Troy Polamalu. They were all Cowher "guys". Mike Tomlin's players were LaMarr Woodley and Gary Clark. Even Jeff Reed was brought in by Cowher.
That means Cowher provided 19 of the 22 starters on offense and defense for coach Tomlin. And of the three players Tomlin fielded last year, Woodley was Tomlin's only draft pick. One could argue that Timmons played over half the snaps last year on defense so I'll give Tomlin partial credit for him.
I don't know if Cowher would have won the Super Bowl with this group of players.
He had an amazing ability to get the most out of his players during the regular season only to be out-coached in big play-off games. The point of this article is to show that the current team is almost entirely Cowher's. As Cowher's players eventually retire, it will slowly become more and more "Tomlin's team."
The future of the Steelers dominance will rest heavily on Tomlin's ability to draft not just role players but superstars. Cowher provided all of the biggest names on the Steelers roster: Big Ben, Ward, Polamalu, Harrison and Parker. Cowher either drafted big names or found them through the undrafted free agent market and developed them in the system.
As the Tomlin era enters its third season, the jury is still out on his drafting ability. Woodley is a superstar in the making and Timmons will finally get his chance after sitting behind Foote the previous two years.
But Tony Hills, Limas Sweed, Mendenhall and the rest of his first year draft class have yet to produce. We won't know about this year's draft class for at least a couple seasons. However Tomlin is laying the foundation now for the future of the Steelers. Whether they continue to put Lombardi trophies on the mantle will depend on the players Tomlin plugs in as the Cowher players phase out.
In the next few years, the team will truly become Tomlin's. Let's hope his eye for talent is as sharp as Cowher's.