On Tuesday, the Steelers extended Mike Tomlin’s contract through the 2016 season. I had wondered in a post earlier in the month if it was too soon for the Steelers to consider extending Tomlin. There are some valid (albeit small on the scale) doubts about his coaching prowess by leading a team that was essentially built by another coach and whether he is truly the leader of this team (see Bruce Arians firing/retiring). Regardless of whether you agree with the extension or feel that the Steelers should have waited to see if the Todd Haley experiment pans out, you have to admire what the Steeler have accomplished with their head coaches.
Should Tomlin coach the Steelers through his final year in his new deal, then the Steelers will have had a total of three coaches in 48 years. Total. Almost 50 years. 1969-2016. That’s astounding. Since the expansion – no not the expansion of the Houston Texans, I’m talking the merger – the Steelers have had the fewest coaches throughout the NFL walk through their doors. Along with that, since the merger, the Steelers have never fired a coach. We are at a period of time in the NFL where leashes are short and at least 3-4 firings happen per season and even perhaps a mid-season boot in the rear. The Steelers? None of that.
1969, 1992, and 2007. A very unique thing has unfolded in Pittsburgh regarding the Steelers – Generational Coaching. My family is almost a perfect example of that. My dad was 19 when Chuck Noll took the reigns of the Steelers. He didn’t quite ‘grow up’ with Chuck (being 19), but the maturity of his fandom did during Noll’s tenure and the four Super Bowl wins under his watch. I was 12 when Bill Cowher stepped in and filled Noll’s shoes. That was right at the time when my sports experiences expanded. I grew from just watching the Pirates and Penguins constantly to watching this guy with a mean look and a huge-ass chin constantly yell on the sidelines. And I loved every minute of it. It’s one major reason why I’m a huge fan today. So I certainly grew up with Bill Cowher as my head coach. My son is now 2 and is already watching stretches of football with his me on Sunday afternoons. If Tomlin stays in Pittsburgh for at least as long as Cowher did, then my son will be about 11 when that time rolls around. Three generations – my dad, me, and my son – have grown up (or will) with our own coaches.
I am in awe of every time I think of those 48 years and the stability that it instills in an organization. Some time ago back in the 70’s, the Rooney family figured out the perfect formula for having a physical football team with a coach to lead them to success. Sure, all three have had their low points during their time in Pittsburgh, but all three have been consistent in winning and leading this franchise to six Super Bowl victories between them. Retaining a coaches for that long speaks volumes to the kind of class this organization embodies. It also shows how amazingly good the organization is at picking out the ‘right’ coach. And, the ‘right’ coach isn’t just someone who can win a football game. The right coach is someone who promotes the philosophies of the organization while leading the team to success. Knoll, Cowher, and Tomlin all had and have that ‘special something’ about them that makes them perfect for the Steelers. They all share a common thread – class. They share even beyond that. When was the last time you heard either of these three coaches in post game interviews blame an individual or blame a group of guys on the team? I don’t think I’m too far off when I say, ‘Never.’ They take accountability upon themselves when they lose a football game and give all the credit to the players when they do. Their jobs are to prepare players to win, and if the team doesn’t then they didn’t prepare well enough. That’s selfish, shameless and just plain classy. Though Tomlin is the only one to say the exact words, they all lived by this philosophy – ‘The standard is the standard’
I hope that Tomlin continues the tradition of a classy winning football organization. I hope my son can grow up and feel proud about him the way I feel proud about Cowher and my dad feels proud about Noll. It is in large part a reason why Steeler Nation is vast and strong. These are men we grow up with. Men we may see much like we see our own fathers.
I look forward to the next six seasons with Tomlin. Just stay classy and keep winning.