Has Tomlin benefited from an inherited team?

Has Tomlin benefited from an inherited team?

In 2007, the Pittsburgh Steelers, after much speculation by fans and media alike, tapped a relatively unknown defensive backs coach as their new head coach.  Mike Tomlin grabbed the reigns of this storied franchise, and within two years had added yet another Lombardi trophy to the collection.  He can undoubtedly be considered a success by NFL standards; especially after guiding his team to yet another Super Bowl appearance just a few years later.  However, is this success a product of his inheriting the team from his predecessor, the great Bill Cowher {bowing my head in reverence at the mention of this name}?

A completely unanswerable question stems logically from this:  Would Tomlin have had this level of success if he had been hired as coach of, say, the Buffalo Bills?  Doubtful, because of the level of talent he would have inherited there was far inferior to what he walked into in Pittsburgh.  Tomlin had bestowed upon him a proven winning hand, one short season removed from a championship.  A team and staff that already know how to win is a phenomenal advantage right out of the gates.  Now that team is aging and slowly but surely moving on, and with the passage of time has come a trailing off of win column totals and playoff appearances, not to mention division titles, which was a foregone conclusion 10 short years ago.  Oh, how we miss Sunday January Strip District trips to obtain “AFC North Champion” t-shirts at bargain basement prices…but I digress.

The draft has been kind to Mr. Tomlin in recent years, but how much say does the franchise’s Director of Football Operations, Kevin Colbert, have in making the final decision, as opposed to Tomlin?  It stands to reason that experience in this field would trump all, but Tomlin is the one who has to deal with the players day in and day out for their entire career here in Western PA.  We all know that the Rooneys stand for character, and don’t do characters.  This envelopes all aspects of a player’s behavior on and off the field, and does not exclude work ethic.  The blue collar culture embraced by all who have had any level of success while wearing the Black and Gold is indicative of how well this approach works, and Tomlin’s dedication to proliferating this environment is one of the primary reasons he was hired.  His job is to instill this mindset into each and every player on his roster, and for all intents and purposes, he seems to have done this well with as many players as possible.

With all of these factors in mind, it becomes apparent that the answer to this debate over whether success was inherited or produced is two-fold.  Yes and no.  Tomlin would not have two Super Bowl appearances in six seasons if he were coach of the Browns (NOBODY is that good of a coach!), but it takes some actual coaching to get into those positions.  You can’t win championships on talent alone.  Don’t believe me?  Ask Ray Shero.

The bigger question at hand will not be answered this season, or next, but in 10 years, when we have a Pittsburgh Steelers Coach sized body of work to analyze, and the current roster of players has moved on to their next station.  THEN we will see how successful of a coach Tomlin has been.


Eric Cork

Eric is a contributing writer for Pittsburgh Sporting News.

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