I know there’s an old adage to not kick a coach when his team is down, however certain times call for violating such adages. After the lackluster 2012 campaign, I must say right up front I have no faith right now in Mike Tomlin to turn things around in Pittsburgh. Yes, I’ve heard the trash Mike Wallace has been spewing and I’m wondering if I should torch the photo he autographed for me two years ago. Yet Wallace’s venom, coupled with the things Ryan Clark said at the end of last year and into this off season, makes you wonder if there is something very wrong in steel town.
Now I don’t begrudge either Wallace nor Clark the opportunity to voice their opinions, and maybe we longtime fans should just accept this as the 21st century Steelers, unafraid to voice their opinion in public. However, when you begin to add up all the pieces: Wallace’s holdout and generally lazy play last year, Lamar Woodley’s weight and desire, Rashard Mendenhall’s dogging it, the off the field arrests, the public airing of team issues, and an overall sense of apathy on the part of everyone in black and gold, one gets the sense that maybe it’s time for the winds of change to blow through the Pittsburgh Steelers, starting at the top regardless of what happens this season. And by the top I mean the head coach.
First off, I don’t dislike Mike Tomlin, I just don’t think he fits here anymore. Trust me, I’d much rather have him than Rex Ryan, Norv Turner or any of the Oakland Raiders coaches over the last ten years stalking our sidelines, but if that’s the bar I’m holding him to, what does that say? Imagine what an offensive guru like Sean Payton would be like, or a no b.s. guy like Jim Harbaugh instead of Tomlin. Or imagine if Bill Cowher was back on the sidelines for the Steelers. Now that would be a welcome sight.
I know Cowher is quite comfy in the confines of the NFL today studios, but the NFL just isn’t the same without him. I still think he’ll be coaching the Carolina Panthers in the near future, so his return to Pittsburgh is nothing more than a dream. But with all the malcontents and off the field nonsense over the last few years, I think a no nonsense guy like Cowher would straighten things out and get things back on track very quickly. And for all of you who are going to tell me how the Steelers had the top ranked defense on paper, I’d reply just that: ON PAPER! This is not a unit that strikes fear into anyone anymore, the 49ers, Bears and Ravens have far superior defenses and I think the Bengals and Texans are the next two to vault into the top echelon with those three. The Steelers are old and don’t create enough turnovers or sacks to be considered elite anymore. When Cowher was coach, the team created both sacks and turnovers and were ranked at or near the top on paper as well. It can be done, just not with Tomlin (and Dick Lebeau) anymore.
Tomlin just doesn’t have that in- your -face, jaw jut out front style. Cowher was not afraid to get in any of his players’ faces and tell them exactly what was on his mind at that moment. The great sound byte where he was in linebacker Greg Lloyd’s face, hands on Lloyd’s shoulder pads pleading “rush the quaterback! do you hear me, rush the quaterback!” was vintage Cowher. Name me one great Tomlin sound byte. Yep, I couldn’t either. But great sound bytes do not translate into great coaches (hello Rex Ryan), so that is not the standard I am holding Tomlin to. My point is Cowher was a fiery, intense presence on the sidelines and that’s what this team needs right now. As I’ve said before, I don’t see that same type of fire in Tomlin. I don’t think he’s the kind of coach that will spout rousing words and stir his team into action. Coaches have to do that from time to time and Tomlin’s time has come. So far, I haven’t heard anything that changes my view of him right now. Different coaches have different styles and any coaches’ style can wear thin at any time and I’m sure Cowher’s did. However, this is a new crop of Steelers, far removed from Cowher’s last year and quite frankly they are an uninspiring bunch. I wish Troy Polamalu was more of a vocal team leader, and if he won’t be, I’m fine with Ryan Clark taking that role. Someone has to, if the coach won’t.
So why call this round one? The answer is over the next several weeks, I am going to compare the two coaches head to head in certain categories such as drafting, game day coaching, etc. In this opening round, note that in his first year, Cowher was not afraid to jettison dead weight such as former first round picks Tom Ricketts and Huey Richardson right off the bat. Both were absolute busts in a decade full of busts prior to them (Aaron Jones, Daryl Sims, Mark Malone for example) As I wrote in one of my first posts, I feel 2009 first rounder Ziggy Hood should have been given the push out along with 2008 first round dog Rashard Mendenhall. I’m tired of the excuses regarding Hood that it’s Lebeau’s complex scheme that has stunted Hood’s growth, if the kid was an impact player he would’ve been out there sooner and more often. Polamalu started from day one and Casey Hampton and Lamar Woodley made immediate contributions. Hood? Nothing. If Cowher was here, Hood would not be. Tomlin seems uninterested in getting rid of deadweight and making a statement which the cutting of Hood was signify. And I’m not so sure that Cam Heyward shouldn’t be out after this year, if he fails to make any type of impact as well. In today’s NFL it’s win now or be a spectator. And while I am very well aware of Pittsburgh’s record over the last several years, they were spectators in 2012. I fear unless Tomlin does something different they will be in 2013 as well.
Round One to Cowher.
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