As the Steelers head into year eight with Mike Tomlin as the head coach, it’s hard to not look at the similarities between Tomlin and Bill Cowher. After their first seven seasons both coaches had a record of 71-41 and also had five playoff victories. So my question is which coach would you have chosen after seven years?
Obviously Tomlin has won a Super Bowl and been to another one, while Coach Cowher won one AFC Championship but lost in Super Bowl XXX during his first seven years. But you could make the argument that Tomlin took over the Steelers at a very opportune time. Tomlin’s first Super Bowl team had Cowher’s fingerprints all over it considering Cowher had just taken the Steelers to a Super Bowl championship three years earlier.
Coach Cowher was not put into the same situation as Tomlin when he took over for Chuck Noll in 1992. The Steelers at that time were not a Super Bowl contender. In fact they had missed the playoffs six times in the final seven seasons under Noll, so Cowher taking over and making the playoffs six straight years and making the team’s first Super Bowl appearance since the 1979 season was very impressive. Cowher also won five division titles in his first seven years and only missed the playoffs one time (his seventh year). Tomlin has made four playoff appearances and won three AFC North titles but has missed the playoffs three times, two years in a row in years six and seven.
It is a tough hypothetical question to answer because we know that Cowher ended out winning a Super Bowl. But after seven seasons with a Super Bowl loss and two AFC Championships losses, there were questions of whether Cowher could or ever would win the big one. Tomlin on the other hand took care of those doubts in year two and then won another AFC Championship just two years later.
In my opinion I’m taking Cowher over Tomlin mostly because of the situation he took over and the quarterbacks Cowher had compared to Tomlin. In Cowher’s first seven years he had three different majority starting quarterbacks, Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomczak, and Kordell Stewart. I have a soft spot for Kordell since he is the reason I became a Steelers fan but he clearly wasn’t Ben Roethlisberger – neither was O’Donnell or Tomczak. Tomlin has been fortunate in having only one QB in Big Ben. Plus, taking over a team that hadn’t won 10 games since 1983 and bringing them to the playoffs immediately and making them a serious Super Bowl contender in his first six years was a tougher challenge than Tomlin faced.
Coach Cowher lasted 15 seasons in Pittsburgh, so only time will tell how Tomlin stacks up to Cowher when it’s all said and done. Even though I’d take Cowher after seven seasons, Steelers Nation should be happy that Tomlin stacks very well with the hopefully future Hall of Fame coach.