View Full Version : As for Tomlin ... enough never enough

08-26-2009, 03:51 AM
As for Tomlin ... enough never enough
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Two weeks from tomorrow night, in front of a nation's insatiable pro football audience, Mike Tomlin will begin his third season as the head coach of the Steelers with nothing to accomplish that he hasn't already.

At 37.

What it took Bill Cowher 14 years to do in Pittsburgh, what it took Chuck Noll six, it has taken Mike Tomlin two. And though no one has to be persuaded that it has been an incredible year in sports in this city, Tomlin's sprint to the top of the profession seems like a marathon compared to that of Dan Bylsma, who got there in less than four months.

"I know they talked about it when coach Bylsma visited training camp," Kevin Colbert was saying after lunch yesterday. "About what they have to do now."

What they have to do now is merely the impossible, namely satisfying two roiling fan bases with merely impossible standards, but no one would be surprised if they did exactly that.

No, Mike and Dan don't have to bring home their sports' most opulent trophies every year, they just have to have a cripplingly good reason when they don't.

The Penguins open training camp inside of three weeks, and I suspect it will be as evident in the locker room of the defending Stanley Cup champions as it has been with the Steelers that neither professor is in danger of carrying himself any differently with a league title at the top of his curriculum vitae.

In the case of the NFL's Coach of the Year for 2008, the respect he has earned among the Steelers has only begun to approach its full dimensions.

"The thing that's always impressed me most about him is that he always has a plan," offensive right tackle Willie Colon said yesterday. "He always knows where we need to go and how to get there; there's never a stagnant point. He just knows how to push certain buttons to motivate this team. He's an extremely fair-minded business person. If you have the ability to get the job done, that's what matters to him. There's none of the politics or bull that you sometimes find in this business.

"He knows how to handle people and he knows when he has veterans on this ballclub and how to go about that, too."

Tomlin has come under some whispering scrutiny over what has been getting called "Camp Cupcake," in which he has given veterans plenty of days off, but the general result has been that those players are halfway through the preseason schedule in fairly good health, health being the only true barometer of preseason success. The second-guessing of the Steelers' coach is considered an unalienable right by some, but somebody ought to point out that we are suddenly talking about the NFL coach with the best winning percentage in the active 32-man fraternity.

Tomlin is 25-11 counting the postseason, and that .694 is the best on the board.

"If you look at coaches who've won the Super Bowl, a lot of them were hired in their 30s," Colbert said. "There's Shula, Noll, Shanahan, Belichick, Holmgren and more [Landry, Madden and Cowher]. But I haven't even thought of what impact [early success] might have on Mike. He's really done the same things he always did. His approach seems to be exactly the same. He doesn't seem to have gone out of his way to make anything seem like it's not business as usual.

"He's really gone about it as if last year was the same as the previous year."

But unlike his inaugural 10-6 and first available exit from the playoffs, last year was the year Tomlin delivered Pittsburgh its unprecedented sixth Lombardi Trophy as the youngest coach to win the Super Bowl. Last year, he went 15-4, meaning that he has won more games in two years than 12 of the 15 men who coached this franchise did in their entire tenures.

"He's really done a great job and, if you think of it, he did come into a situation that was similar to Bylsma's," said veteran defensive lineman Chris Hoke. "The last year with coach Cowher, there was a lot of talent here but we were just not playing that well. When Bylsma took over, same thing, a lot of talent, but talent that was really struggling."

Cowher's farewell 8-8 might not have delivered as desperate a situation as the one Bylsma flew into in February, but the conversion of the franchise to Tomlin's way of doing things has been every bit as complete.

"The best thing is that he knows that for us to get where we want to go, he's got to be at the top of his game," Colon said. "That's the kind of person you need steering the ship. We're all proud of him."