Imagine 10 years into the future...
It is now the year 2020, and you are asked the question "Who was the best Steelers coach of all time?"
Who would you choose?
Here are your candidates:
1. Chuck Noll
After nearly 40 years of misery since their founding in 1933, the Steelers underwent a complete role-reversal under Noll, becoming one of the most successful franchises in the NFL.
On defence, Noll implemented the famous "Steel-Curtain." On offence, the Steelers became a potent force with the help of Noll draft picks Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, and receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.
Noll coached the Steelers for 23 years, posting 15 winning seasons, making the playoffs 12 times, winning 10 division championships, and becoming the only coach (to this day) ever to win four Super Bowls.
Despite his famously low profile, Noll was finally recognized as the NFL's coach of the year in 1989, his 21st season. After a disastrous start, his unheralded team bounced back to make the playoffs, defeat the Houston Oilers, and almost upset the Denver Broncos, losing by a point on a John Elway last-minute drive.
2. Bill Cowher
Taking over from Noll in 1992 was Pittsburgh-native Bill Cowher. Cowher and his famous jaw quickly became beloved to Steelers fans, as "Coach" led the Steelers to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons, an NFL record.
Cowher implemented the then-novel 3-4 defence, and employed a ball-control offence relying on steady gains from the running game led by Jerome "the Bus" Bettis to keep the opposing offence off the field and minimize turnovers.
In his 15 seasons as coach, Cowher's Steelers made the playoffs 10 times, won eight division championships, and appeared in two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XL in 2006.
Cowher's finest season was 2005-06 when, in a do-or-die situation, the Steelers won their final four games of the season, three playoff games on the road as a wild card team, and then the Super Bowl.
Cowher was named coach of the year in 1992, his first season, at age 35.
3. Mike Tomlin
Before you write off Tomlin from consideration, remember, it is the year 2020 that you are pondering this question.
And as Steelers owner Art Rooney recently said following the disappointing 2009 season, "Mike's going to be our coach for a long period of time. That's certainly our intention."
In his first three years as coach, Tomlin has posted winning seasons in all three. The Steelers have made the playoffs twice, won their division twice, and won the Super Bowl in only Tomlin's second season.
Facing a very tough schedule in 2008 that had many wondering whether the Steelers would make the playoffs, the Steelers plowed straight through the heart of it in fine fashion. Continuing to win through the playoffs, a Steeler victory in Super Bowl XLIII made Tomlin the youngest Super Bowl-winning coach in NFL history.
In 2009, the Steelers rebounded from a midseason losing streak to win three tough games to finish the season 9-7. They remained in playoff contention after they left the field in Week 17, later eliminated based on tiebreakers.
The Steelers beat the best teams on their schedule. Of their seven losses, five were by three points, and all seven were by seven points or less. Despite missing the playoffs, the Steelers finished fifth in defence and seventh on offence out of the 32-team league.
Possessing a young star quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and game-changing safety Troy Polamalu on defence, if Tomlin can shore up a few key weaknesses, the Steelers are in good position to be a contender for many years to come.
What more might Tomlin accomplish if he remains the Steelers coach for 10 more seasons?
Decide your answer to that question, and then pick your choice for the best Steelers coach, looking back in the year 2020...