The Mike Tomlin Billy Cowher photo against the backdrop of the Steelers six Lombardi Trophies interspersed with images of Mike Tomlin, Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll offered Steelers Nation a priceless portrait.
After Super Bowl XLIII, Steel Curtain Rising waged a mini-campaign pushing for the Steelers to snap an actual photo of Tomlin, Cowher and Noll with the six Lombardi’s back when that was still possible, but based on what we know now, Noll’s health probably wouldn’t have allowed it.
Alas, the picture of Pittsburgh’s 3 coaches with the Steelers Six 6 Lombardi trophies never got taken.
Yet this single, powerful image conveys the legacy of excellence that defines this franchise.
The Mike Tomlin Bill Cowher photo should also serves another purpose: It reminds Steelers Nation just how lucky we are.
Cowher-Tomlin Transition Resulted in a Decade of Excellence
History doesn’t always lend itself to symmetry, but when it does it makes an occasion a little extra special.
Exactly 10 years to the day after he resigned as Steelers head coach, Bill Cowher returned to Pittsburgh to interview Mike Tomlin ahead of the Steelers AFC Wild Card game vs. the Miami Dolphins. Here’s what has happened since The Chin stepped down:
- The Steelers have never ended a season with the L’s outnumbering the W’s
- 7 of those seasons have produced playoff teams
- 4 of those seasons have resulted in AFC North Championships
- 2 Lamar Hunt AFC Championship trophies have been added to the case
- 1 Super Bowl Championship, a record 6th for the franchise, found its home in Pittsburgh
Some will write off this record by insisting “Tomlin has only won with Cowher’s players.” This site has already debunked Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock’s tired nonsense. In the pressure cooker that is the NFL, a medicore coach can only ride the coattails of a successful predecessor for a very short time.
- Barry Switzer would serve as exhibit A, and Mike Martz (nod to Jim Wexell) gives us exhibit B
Point made. Let’s move on because the Bill Cowher Mike Tomlin photo transcends both of its individual subjects to tell us something about the Pittsburgh Steelers as an organization.
The “Other” Rooney Rule Works, and Works Well
Many saw and still see Mike Tomlin’s hire as a product of “Rooney Rule.” Named after Dan Rooney, the rule requires franchises to interview minorities for head coaching vacancies. Mike Tomlin did get hired because of a Rooney Rule, but one very different from Roger Goodell’s.
As Mike Silverstein, aka “Homer J” on Going Deep with the Steelers, has pointed out time and time again, Dan Rooney’s rule for hiring coaches is pretty straight forward:
- Hire the best guy, and stick with him as long as you can.
Rooney followed that rule with Chuck Noll. Ten years later he’d added 4 Lombardi Trophies where they’d been none. Ten years removed from his hire date, Bill Cowher had yet to bring home “One for the Thumb” but he was closing in on his 4th AFC Championship game. Cowher lost that AFC Championship game as well as his next, but the Rooney’s stuck with Cowher, and he delivered in Super Bowl XL.
- Too many Steelers fans don’t quite understand how lucky they are.
In college, I roomed with a New York Jet’s fan, who endured Leon Hess’ firing of Pete Carroll after one season. Hess justified his knee-jerk decision by explaining he was 80 and wanted to win a Super Bowl before he died. Hess replaced Pete Carroll with Rich Kotite.
- For the record, Rich Kotite went 3-13 and 1-15; Pete Carroll is 103-72 and wears a Super Bowl ring.
During the same time frame, the NFL saw Ted Marchibroda take an Indianapolis Colts team that had been 1-15 in 1991, to the 1995 AFC Championship game. If you’ll remember, quick action in the end zone by Randy Fuller on a Hail Mary was what sent Pittsburgh, and not Indianapolis to Super Bowl XXX.
- Shortly afterwards, the Irsays thanked Ted Marchibroda for turning the team around by firing him and promoted his offensive coordinator Lindy Infante.
For the record, Infante took the Colts to the playoffs in the next season (where the Steelers clobbered them) and went 3-13 a year after. As my friend observed then, “Aren’t you glad you root for a team where that kind of stuff doesn’t happen?”
The answer then and now is “Yes.” And if you claim to be a Steelers fan yours should be the same.
The Playoffs are Here Steelers Nation, Enjoy Them
In just over 24 hours the Pittsburgh Steelers will host their 12 playoff game at Heinz Field.
While durability is becoming an issue, Ben Roethlisberger is still in his prime and he’s about to start a playoff game for the first time with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Players like Eli Rogers, Ladarius Green and Jesse James have stepped up during the 7 game winning streak.
- Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers, two guys whose names you probably had to look up during training camp, have also delivered big plays when it has counted.
Ryan Shazier is about to play his third playoff game. Think back to how he stepped up when all hope was lost last year the playoffs against Cincinnati, and then consider how much he’s grown since then.
Shazier isn’t the only linebacker making impact plays – he’s joined by fellow rookie Bud Dupree, and Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison – two veterans who know how to win Super Bowls. Also keep in mind the growth of rookies like Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave and Artie Burns.
Honestly, after all of that, if you’re a Steelers fan focusing on the draft or free agency, then its time to throw in your Terrible Towel.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that is entering the playoffs on a hot streak not unlike 2005 or 2008.
Does this mean Steelers Nation should count Lombardi’s before they hatch? No! There’s a reason why ESPN’s Bill Barnwell (who never likes the Steelers) is only giving Pittsburgh a 4.2% chance to win the Super Bowl.
Take the measure of the 2016 Steelers position-by-position against any number of teams in the 2016 playoffs, and the Steelers probably come up short. But during their 7 game winning streak, players from across the Steelers depth chart have shown an uncanny ability to make plays at critical moments.
- And that, my friends is a characteristic of champions.
As Chuck Noll always reminded us, it’s about the journey not the destination. But reaching the Mountain Top is a realistic possibility. Enjoy the ride Steelers Nation.