May 21, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin (right) oversees organized team activities at the UPMC Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Cowher vs. Mike Tomlin: Round Two

I love being a Steelers fan. Even more so, I love debating with Steelers fans because, and forgive me for being biased, they are the most passionate and knowledgeable of all. After my round one match-up on Tuesday, many were questioning my sanity and what the relevance of the topic was. And while my sanity is debatable, the relevance is something else.
Whether or not we want to admit it, the Pittsburgh Steelers have some serious issues, both on and off the field. Now a coach can’t control the off the field stuff, but he can create an environment or a mentality that could translate to off the field matters. It’s also an organizational attitude as well, defined by the ownership on down. But unless you are Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder, most owners keep out of the limelight and leave team matters to the head coach.
As I look back at the 2012 season and combine that with the off the field issues over the last few years with Ben, Santonio Holmes, Chris Rainey, etc and when I hear guys publicly airing team issues, it convinces me even more that this team is in trouble and has reached a critical juncture. And to that, I have reached the equal conclusion that Mike Tomlin has lost his effectiveness as a coach and control of his team. Plain and simple, that’s my opinion. I don’t think he has the coaching style or demeanor to light a fire under these guys anymore and the fact that the above mentioned issues have come under his watch (Roethlisberger’s motorcycle accident aside) should raise some eyebrows. Obviously, by the comments I received many of you feel differently.That’s perfectly fine, I don’t question anyone’s sanity for feeling that way.
However, before I examine why I have pitted Tomlin against Cowher, let’s look at the 2012 season.

It was pointed out that the Steelers lost 5 games by a combined 15 points. Hey, hard to argue with facts. But look at some other facts: First, in their 8 wins, they beat 4 teams with winning records including 3 playoff teams (Ravens, Bengals and Redskins). However, in their 8 losses, 5 came against teams with records of .500 or below including bottom feeders such as the 4-12 Raiders and the 5-11 Browns. The others were to 6-10 Tennessee, 7-9 San Diego and 8-8 Dallas. And remember, they barely beat 2-14 Kansas City. The combined record of all the teams Pittsburgh beat in 2012 was 56-72. The records of the teams they lost to was 63-65. Now before you all throw the old cliche that you can only play who is on your schedule at me, if you can’t beat the teams worse than you, what does that say about motivation and imposing your will? And don’t hand me this business about the NFL being much more equal than it has ever been, if you’re a winner, you don’t lost to 4-12 and 5-11 teams. Tomlin does have a very nice record against the division, going 25-11, including a sterling 6-0 in 2008 their Superbowl winning year and one of the most thrilling years in memory. One should note though that over the last three years their record against the division has been 5-1 to 4-2 to 3-3 last year. As the division has improved, Pittsburgh’s record against it has declined. Blame the offense, the defense, injuries or Santa Claus, in the end it all falls on the head man, Mr. Tomlin.

So what am I saying here? I’m saying Tomlin isn’t the man. I’m also saying that if Bill Cowher were still here, I truly believe much of this off the field garbage wouldn’t be. I also think he’d be the right type of personality to get the team back on track again, whereas I don’t think Tomlin is. While I think Cowher is and was a better fit for Pittsburgh, I don’t for one minute think they should bring him back. I think the front office should look for a coach like Cowher, whose style and personality not only fit the team, but the city. It is possible to catch lightning in a bottle twice. To back up why I feel this way, I am comparing the two coaches in a series of categories. On Tuesday I looked at how Cowher would not have tolerated lazy or sloppy play, how he was not afraid to jettison dead weight, not wait for it to depart via free agency. Other than briefly benching RB and first round dog Rashard Mendenhall, Tomlin seems less willing to shake things up. And under Cowher, locker room matters would have been handled in house, not on twitter or the NFL network.
The argument for Tomlin was presented to me by saying that in his first two years with Pittsburgh, Tomlin took the team to the playoffs twice and won a Superbowl with largely a team built under Cowher. Hmmm, ok that’s great. What is that saying exactly? That Tomlin can take someone else’s players and turn them to winners? Look at Cowher’s record in his last three years: 15-1, 10-6(Superbowl) and 8-8. He didn’t exactly leave the cupboard bare. In Chuck Noll’s last three years before Cowher arrived the team was 5-11,9-7,7-9. In Cowher’s first year with largely the same team he went 11-5, one better than Tomlin. You tell me who did the better job. Oh and while Cowher walked away after his last year, so did Noll. Both could have stayed and neither was fired.
One more point about this notion of winning with a team another coach built: Bill Callahan in his first year with the Oakland Raiders took them to the Superbowl, even though it was a team built under Jon Gruden. Does that make Callahan a better coach and motivator than Gruden? Oh, and who did Callahan’s Raiders lose to? Gruden’s Tampa Bay Bucs, a team built under Tony Dungy. Does that make Gruden a better coach and motivator than Dungy?

To me, Bill Cowher’s greatest weakness as a coach was his teams’ inability to take advantage of their high seeding in the playoffs. His teams had records of 12-4,11-5,11-5,13-3,15-1 and yet time and again failed to take advantage. In their lone Superbowl victory under Cowher they were 10-6 and a sixth seed. Plus, in 10 years, Cowher’s team lost the AFC Championship at HOME 4 times. Totally unacceptable. But, in 6 of their playoff losses under Cowher it was to the team that represented the AFC in the Superbowl. The two playoff losses under Tomlin came to the Jaguars and Broncos, neither of whom made it to the Superbowl. To be fair and honest, I think the Cardinals team Tomlin beat in the Superbowl was better than the Seahawks team Cowher beat. But I think the Dallas team Cowher lost to was far better than the Packers team Tomlin lost two. And if it wasn’t for idiot O’Donnell and his two bonehead INTs, Steelers history may be a little different.

In his fourteen years with the team, Cowher’s Steelers failed to make the playoffs five times : 1998,1999,2000,2003,2006. Tomlin has been here since 2007 and has already failed to make the playoffs twice. Cowher took the team to the playoffs in his first six years. However, Tomlin has yet to have a losing record in any of his years, Cowher had four. Both coaches had teams go 9-7 and fail to make the playoffs. For Tomlin that was his third year and still with a core put together under Cowher. To me, Tomlin’s first true year with a team comprised with mostly his guys was 2010, the year they lost to Green Bay in the Superbowl. Since then they had the horrid loss in OT to Tim Tebow and the Broncos in the 2011 playoffs and last year’s lackluster 8-8.

So, with all these facts in mind, what am I saying? Tomlin has now put in half the time Cowher has so I think we can evaluate both fairly. I go back to the comment made that Tomlin took a team with most of the same players Cowher had and got them to the playoffs and a Superbowl in his first two years. Tomlin has failed to make it to the playoffs twice in six years, while Cowher failed 5 times in 14 years. Cowher’s personality defined a team, a style and a city. Tomlin? Cowher’s first losing season came in his seventh year, Tomlin is now in his seventh year. The 2012 team was uninspiring and lost to 5 teams .500 or worse, so that says alot. There is a definite lack of passion and fire on this team and a sense of laziness seems to have come over them. If I had to pick who I would want to be coaching the team right now, right at this juncture to get them fired and riled up again, I’d have to go with Cowher in a close one. That’s my opinion and point here, it’s purely on me. I think Bill Cowher or someone like him just fits the Pittsburgh Steelers better than Mike Tomlin or someone like him does.

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