Jan 29, 2013, New Orleans, LA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers former coach Bill Cowher at CBS sports Super Bowl XLVII press conference at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Cowher vs. Mike Tomlin: Round One

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.
Final Analysis?
Round One to Cowher.

follow me on twitter @scott8871

Next Steelers Game View full schedule »
Sunday, Sep 77 Sep1:00Cleveland BrownsBuy Tickets
Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: Bill Cowher Mike Tomlin Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Adam Banig

    Lol. You got to be kidding me right?

    Tomlin has been to 2 superbowls and won one also, in less time. Tomlin hasn’t had a losing season. Cowher had several. Mike Tomlin became the youngest NFL head coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl. Tomlin is only 41, steelers fans are beyond lucky to have a coach so young who’s accomplished so much.

    I’ve seen Tomlin yell at guys plenty of times and call them out for not performing well. The steelers were 8-8 last season, which isn’t bad for a team with a lot of new parts and old parts that needed replaced and are being replaced right now. They’re in transition, show some patience.

    A better story would be how many times Cowher chocked in the playoffs before winning one and how Tomlin took over, they didn’t miss a beat and he worked well with the staff and players.

    • scott sinclair

      remember I said this is round one. I’ll get to playoff chokes and records soon. I think Tomlin will have an advantage there, we’ll see

      • Adam Banig

        Fair enough and I’m not crapping on Cowher. I just think if you also examine some of the personnel mistakes in Cowher’s time closer, Hood and the other guys you mentioned aren’t so bad.

        Hoods a run stuffer as most 3-4 DEs are, especially playing on the left side of the DL.

        Anyways. Tomlin nor Cowher were the GM that picked those players. Tomlin had a 3rd round and 6th round WR turn out to be pro bowlers.

        Cowher had Plaxico Buress in Pitt, Troy Edwards.

        Tell me, who did better with less there?

        • Craig

          I think you have to look at the fact that Tomlin ‘inherited’ a pretty well built team by the time Cowher left. You can’t tell me that the Steelers wouldn’t have have had close to the same ‘history’ as they did from 2007-2010 if Cowher were still coaching.

          Now that this squad is his own, he’s done an ‘ok’ job at developing the younger players, but has yet to produce any kind of juggernauts that Steeler fans want to hang their hat on so badly. It’s hard to compare apples to apples on these two. Two different ears in the NFL, different rules, etc.

          I think they each have their own positives, but the lore and myth of Cowher is the tipping point thus far.

          • Adam Banig

            I don’t think you remember the 90s Cowher and those teams. Tbh

            He was a great motivator, he was a great coach but so is Tomlin and Tomlin’s been more successful in his first6 seasons than Cowher was.

            To me the fact he has a lot of Cowher’s players is moot. He’s done a better job coaching those players and history proves that.

  • Trey Brooks

    Cowher missed the playoffs three straight years. He also lost 4 afc championship games. Cowher never could make in game adjustments. You talk about having a coach in your face I don’t think so. Correct me if iam wrong Chuck Noll won 4 SuperBowls he wasn’t exactly a in your face style coach right. Tomlin has already won 2 AFC championship games and one superbowl, what more do you want. No team can go 12-4 every year. Relax buddy Tomlin is a top 5 coach in this league.

  • Doc

    Comparing these two coaches is not an apples to apples deal. Cowher coached when defenses could be dominating. You name one defense last year that truly dominated. The Seahawks might be the closest but even they gave up significant points and yards in a couple games last season (Atlanta, Washington) I saw your beloved 49ers give up 200 yards rushing at home to Ahmad Bradshaw 24 points in the first half to Atlanta. The Texans get their hats handed to them by the Patriots, twice. We won’t even talk about the Ravens and how it took a career game from Tory Smith to beat the Pats at home or the Broncos in the playoffs. Cowher is content to be in the studio because he knows how difficult it would be to coach a defense-oriented team in today’s NFL.

    Our issue has been the same for the last few years. Offensive execution. We can not put teams away because we are horrible in the red zone, in situations that require the offense to hold onto the ball for an extended period of time, or heck, just to get a first down! That’s the difference between the Steelers and those other teams you mentioned. They execute when they need to. We don’t. Maybe that’s Tomlin’s fault too but Cowher was no offensive guru either, which is why his team’s lost so many AFC championship games.

    Do you think it’s a coincidence that the team started declining when the NFL started instituting all these rules regarding hard hits against the defense?
    I think Tomlin and LeBeau have done an excellent job transitioning this defense to one that can still play well under the new rules. Once the offense gets Haley’s ball control offense down, we’ll be back on top.

    • scott sinclair


      Not so sure the 49ers are my ‘beloved’..I am writing for the Steelers. Yes, every great defense has a bad game. I think the 49ers come closest to being dominant. As you said, it’s an offensive driven league by far. What is the Steelers offensive personality? Who defines that? The co-ordinator or the head coach? When Cowher was at the helm, the team had an offensive identity:running the football whether it was Barry Foster, Bam Morris or Jerome Bettis. That coupled with defense was Steeler/Bill Cowher football. Under Tomlin this team has no identity. It’s not up to Todd Haley or Bruce Arians to define a team’s offensive philosophy, it’s the job of the head coach. He then goes and hires someone to execute that philosophy. Please tell me what Tomlin’s offensive philosophy is. Even a defensive minded coach like Rex Ryan has the type of offense he wants to run in mind. Even you called it ‘Haley’s ball control’. Haley is not the head coach.

      And as for the rule changes, hard hits are one thing. This team does nor create turnovers the way it once did. Their sacks are on the decline as well. Cowher put guys on notice and wasn’t afraid to bench or cut under performing players. Hood and Heyward are not impact guys, I don’t care what the scheme is or their roles are. Casey Hampton was a role guy and he played his role as well as anyone for a while. I really think if neither guy steps up, both need to be gone. I don’t think Tomlin has the you know whats to do it.

  • Doc

    I was just kidding about the 49ers comment. I know you support the Steelers as much as anyone and you have some valid points.

    I’m not enthralled with everything Tomlin’s doing either, but I do think you have to recognize that football has changed, drastically. Back during the Cowher era, the team that had the most talent and was most consistent during the season usually won the championship, or at least competed for it. Now, it is the team playing the best and the most healthy at the end of the season. I think Tomlin realizes he cost the team a chance to go to the super bowl by starting very unhealthy Ben against the 49ers two years ago. (The same could be said about Cowher starting an ineffective Bettis in the 2001 AFC championship game.) Since then, I believe Tomlin is attempting to establish an offense that keeps Ben upright and relatively healthy throughout the season so he would be a full up round going into the playoffs. It was a great strategy, but it just didn’t work out last year. If you remember, until Ben’s injury, our offense was the best on 3rd down by far in the league (despite Wallace’s lackluster play) and it looked like we were on our way to the AFC North title.

    I just think you’re holding Tomlin to a higher standard than any other coach in the league. What happened to the ‘dynasty’ in Green Bay after the 2010 season? The Giants? The Saints? The Patriots? There is too much parody in this league to expect that any coach will have all the answers every year. Maybe if we played in the AFC East the last decade we would have a better track record. Even in the East, I think the Patriots are about to receive a rude awakening, because Miami is loaded for bear this season.

    In hindsight it’s easy to pick out the good things you remember about a coach and ignore the bad. If your want to argue styles and their effectiveness, fine. But Tomlin didn’t throw the pick against the Bengals and Cowboys last year, Ben did. AB fumbled against the Raiders and Cowboys, not Tomlin. My favorite player, Ike Taylor had some culpability early in the season as well.

    Based on your logic, we should really be lobbying for Chuck Noll to come back. I think you would find neither he or Cowher would have the success they had in the past because the game has changed.

    • scott sinclair

      never considered Noll! hmmm.
      And I too think New England’s time is up soon.
      Agreed, injuries and who is playing the hottest down the stretch really play a factor. Look at the Giants in their last two superbowls.

      • Adam Banig

        I agree. Belicheck will retire when the only Qb he could win with in 20 years of being a HC retires

  • [email protected]

    Dude! We lost 5 games last year by 15 points. Coaching change? How do you think one ends up with a Rex Ryan? By playing musical chairs with head coaches as you are suggesting!

  • Adam Banig

    2006 steelers 8-8 with Cowher, no playoffs!

    2007 steelers with Tomlin, 10-6, divison championship

    2008 steelers with Tomlin, 12-4, division championship, afc championship, Super Bowl Chapionship!

    That’s all you need to know right there. Mostly same players from 06 through 08 teams. Tomlin performed better with the same talent after the steelers win it all in 05-06

    • Trey Brooks

      brilliant synopsis my friend.

    • scott sinclair

      ok….I understand your point.

      • Adam Banig

        Good luck. Article 1 was a fail. ;)

        • scott sinclair

          I love being a Steelers fan! we are the most passionate of all! this is great

          • Adam Banig

            Well I mean what’s the point of this article?

            Cowher decided he didn’t want to coach anymore.

            It’s not like they fired Cowher for Tomlin.

            So I don’t think most steelers fans understand what you’re trying to prove here. There is no doubt that Tomlin has continued a great line of steelers coaches over the last 40 years, who were hired in their 30s and won as young coaches right away.

            I don’t think most of us see the point in even writing an article such as this, unless you want Cowher back but I doubt that is happening and I doubt most steelers fans would take him back.

          • scott sinclair

            The ‘point’ of this article is to demonstrate how this team has unraveled under Tomlin. When you look at a variety of factors, to me Tomlin has no handle on his team. I don’t think this would have happened under Cowher. That point may be debatable which is why I am comparing the two. I am saying at this point and moving forward, I don’t think Mike Tomlin is a good fit here. Is he a good coach? I never said he was a bad one. I just think Cowher had a better demeanor, had a better control on his team, and his personality and style defined the team. I don’t know what Tomlin’s style is and his comment “we’re going to unleash hell”, fell on deaf ears. Whether or not we want to admit it, the team is at a critical juncture. Their personnel isn’t what it was and I don’t know if Tomlin is the guy anymore. I think the team needs a guy like Cowher of Jim Harbaugh moving forward. I’m not saying they bring Cowher back, rather I am saying while Cowher had 3 straight losing seasons, I think he still had control and they improved their personnel. Cowher wasn’t afraid to bench guys or shake things up. Again, I don’t see that in Tomlin. He seems willing to just let things play out and fall where they may. Cowher wouldn’t. Oh Cowher had his issues alright which I will address, but I am looking at whose style and demeanor would at this juncture be a better fit to re-ignite what is right now a lackluster team going again. Since I think Cowher’s would be, I am showing why by comparing the two. I think Tomlin has lost things quicker than Cowher did and I’m showing why. My point is Tomlin doesn’t fit anymore in my opinion and I will show why I feel that way.

          • Craig

            I see lots of your points, but I would have to counter that Tomlin is very willing to bench guys. The question is, is he all over the map about how he does so?

            Examples: Benched Gilbert for ‘not being prepared’ for the following week (meaning he practiced like crap and didn’t study up). That’s a good kind of bench.

            But then he’s willing to put his own personal philosophies ahead of the team and bench a guy for a while if he fumbles. During the Cleveland ‘Fumblepocalypse,’ he benched every running back that fumbled during the game. Even when it was clear that they needed the best back on the field to win that game, he still sat out Dwyer, Redman. That was a critical game that they needed to win and I think he put principle ahead of the team win.

            The Cleveland game tells me a lack of control and a lack of confidence about who he decides to start games. The lack of confidence does not derive from a skill level, but rather a lack of control and discipline on Tomlin’s part.

            Looking forward to Part 2!

          • Trey Brooks

            cowher not afraid to bench people, really. it took cowher forever to bench kordell stewert. He also fired up the patriots before the afc championship game by telling his team to get their travel plans for the superbowl out of the way. which the patriots used as bulletin board material

  • Dan

    How many SB would Cowher won if he had Big Ben.. ? Scary thought. Every other piece of the team was beautiful. How do you blame Cowher for “throw the game” Odonnell . We were losing by 3 at that point. And this was the Dallas Cowboys in their prime. In that superbowl Emmit Smith had like 57 yards rushing and that was in his prime. Missing piece was a Quarterback. Cowwer had crap quarterbacks. If he had a good quarterback it would have been a lot of Superbowls. Theres no comparison in my mind. Just to note there also wasn’t any locker room problems. Never could imagine The Steelers having team issues inside the locker room like this team had last year. Also never thought I would see the ego driven players on a Steelers team with names like the money crew. Steelers changed and it hasn’t been for the better.