View Full Version : Tomlin top coach in this season of adversity

01-03-2011, 06:28 AM
Tomlin top coach in this season of adversity
Monday, January 03, 2011
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mike Tomlin should be the NFL Coach of the Year.

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CLEVELAND -- On a brittle cold day when the Ohio State Highway Patrol was out in force presenting the colors for pregame ceremonies, the Steelers still managed to blow through Cleveland Browns Stadium at 100 mph toward the playoffs.

What, no ticket?

Well no, you can't ticket a flyover.

But this final regular-season tuneup wasn't as much about the raw dimensions of the Steelers' dominance; it was about the very nature of it. It's one thing to point out, for example, that by 4 p.m. Sunday, the Browns had allowed as many touchdowns (5) in the past three hours as the Steelers have from scrimmage in the past seven weeks. It was two things to emphasize that the much-despised Bruce Arians offense scored on all five first-half possessions and seven of its first eight on the way to a 41-3 lead. But the truest thing about these 2010 Steelers is the effective fountain of motivational excellence that continues to hide in plain sight.

Mike Tomlin, though it likely matters little to him and isn't exactly a campaign issue elsewhere in the organization, should be the NFL Coach of the Year.

"I'm in 100 percent agreement with that," said team president Art Rooney II after the solidification of a third AFC North Division championship in Tomlin's first four seasons. "Nobody's ever been through a season like this. It should be unanimous. With all due respect, there are plenty of worthy candidates, but it was a very challenging year."

If you flash back to the middle-of-the-night phone call Tomlin answered from his franchise quarterback the first week of March, presumably outlining the night the lights nearly went out (on this season) in Georgia, no one would have given Tomlin a puncher's chance to bring this team home a winner, much less a 12-4 tornado with a bye and a home game in January, a conference force that has leveled its last two opponents by a combined 68-12.

It's not just that Ben Roethlisberger's resultant suspension spanned the season's first four games, but the full autumnal highway that stretched in front of Tomlin included serious injuries to both starting defensive ends, to the best defensive player in the game, to one of the league's top tight ends, and to an offensive line that had only two players start every game. Never mind that the people he could rely on were expected to pass their primes in this season as well -- James Farrior, Casey Hampton, Hines Ward -- if they hadn't already.

So, sorted out, it went like this:

Steelers without Ben, 3-1. Steelers with Ben, 9-3. We all know the difference No. 7 makes around here, but Tomlin didn't allow the rest of the football world to see it.

"Mike understands this team, knows what we need, knows what we don't need, knows how we need to practice; he's just a great coach," said Brett Keisel, the defensive end who missed five games while bookend Aaron Smith missed 10. "I remember him telling us that we have a great team, and even though we all know we were going to be without a great quarterback, that it's still a team game and that we could still win that way."

The team that won here so demonstrably Sunday pretty much moved Tomlin to tears.

"I love the spirit of the men in that locker room," Tomlin said from a misty place beneath the latest in Steelers titlewear -- his AFC North championship cap. "I'm just proud of them."

Bill Belichick lifted a transitional New England team to the No. 1 seed for this postseason. Rex Ryan got just enough of his own bravado out of the way for the Jets to succeed. Jim Campbell withstood all manner of serious injuries to key components of the Indianapolis Colts, but neither they nor any other of Rooney's other intended worthies had his franchise quarterback put off limits until Oct. 17.

"Everything we've done here is a credit to him," said veteran guard Chris Kemoeatu. "He's just like another player to us. He's a players' coach. Everybody feeds off Mike T. We play like his personality, the swagger he has, and he makes sure we play to that standard. Coach T keeps it real. If he feels some kind of way about you, he's going to let you know straight out. He's not going to feed you any bull. Everything he says is the reality of it."

The reality of it is that the team Mike Tomlin brought to the wire this season thundered home with a near-flawless performance. At the point where this final act was half over, the Steelers had 273 yards of offense, no sacks, no turnovers, no penalties, and was 3 for 3 in the red zone. The defense had intercepted three Colt McCoy passes and the special teams, despite kicking off six times, had not allowed a return of more than 17 yards. They were not required to punt.

In two weeks he'll send them out again with a trip to the AFC championship game on the line at Heinz Field. Any failures will be directly ascribed to the head coach, but that won't mean it's fair.

He's 43-21 on the Steelers sideline, the same record as Bill Cowher had after four years, except that Tomlin won the Super Bowl on his way.

But there is no way that 2008 was his best coaching job. We're in the middle of that right now.

"We knew what was in front of us," he said at the edge of his third postseason. "We knew the obstacles and we knew some of the adversity was created by us."

Some of it?

Only the biggest part of it.

I doubt anyone else could have brought them through it.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author

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