I am stuck at home today babysitting my sick daughter. I began reading a 1995 Lindy?s football annual and found this article. Thought it might be an interesting read in these quiet days leading up to training camp. Look forward to some feedback.
Experienced Erhardt was Cowher?s first choice
It was late January 1992 and Bill Cowher, having just been named coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers at the tender age of 34, was putting together his staff of assistants.
The first spot he was looking to fill was offensive coordinator. His top two candidates: Ron Erhardt, who had been assistant head coach of the New York Giants in 1991, and Mike Shanahan, who had been Offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos in 1991.
Erhardt, who was approaching his 61st birthday and had been coaching in the NFL since Cowher was 16, had spent 10 seasons as an assistant for the Giants. He also had been an assistant and head coach for the New England Patriots.
But Erhardt, made his mark as the offensive coordinator on the Giants? two Super Bowl winning teams. He was a master at building strong, ball-hogging running attacks. The approach was dull, but effective.
Shanahan was 39. He was in his second stint as an assistant with the broncos after a brief stretch as the head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders. Besides getting the most out of quarterbacks skills, his forte was designing innovative and explosive passing games. Shanahan?s approach was exciting and effective.
?I was talking with Ron and Mike at the time and it just seemed that Ron was a guy who had been on the East Coast and dealt with the inclement weather and, at the same time, he really had the run mentality.? Cowher recalls. ?And that was the kind of what I was looking for.?
Shanahan, of course, went on to become offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers. And his tutelage of quarterback Steve Young played a major role in Young?s individual dominance last season as well as to the offensive success that helped the Niners dominate Super Bowl XXIX.
It also led to Shanahan?s becoming a red hot head coaching property, and now he is at the helm of the Broncos.
But you won?t hear Cowher express any regrets for choosing Erhardt over Shanahan. Not after putting together an impressive 33-19 record in his first three seasons as an NFL head coach. Not after the Steelers rode the leagues No. 1 rushing attack last year to a 12-4 mark and the 1994 AFC Championship game.
?I came in at a very young age,? Cowher says. ?Ron has been there and I was very satisfied with the role that he was going to provide for our team and, at the same time, it meant a lot of experience to myself. He?s been outstanding. His experience, in itself, has been invaluable.
His philosophy coincides with my thinking that you have to control the ball and play sound defence. So we?ve both been able to work very well with one another and with him doing what I wanted to do when I came in and being able to turn that over to him and incorporate a very sound and effective system.
?He was the first and probably the most important hire that I made.?
The Steelers offence is hardly known as a scoring machine and drew heavy criticism from fans and media last season during a 14-quarter stretch when it generated only one touchdown.
But, in typical Erhardt fashion, it did plenty of things right. Besides leading the NFL in rushing, it also turned the ball over a league-low 17 times (no other team had fewer than 22 and the NFL league average was 30) and produced 138 rushing first downs (well above the league average of 97)
?I?m not exaggerating,? former Giants quarterback and NFL television analyst Phil Simms says. ?There are at least three or four HFL head coaches who have told me that Ron Erhardt knows more about the running game and teaches it better than anyone in NFL History.?
Simms also points out that Erhardt?s running knowledge isn?t appreciated anywhere near as much as it should be. He recalls that last season, while co-hosting a weekly TV show for NFL films in which he and Ron Jaworski dissected film of plays by certain teams, it took about 12 weeks before either selected a run. And Simms picked what he considered a classic from Erhardt?s playbook.
?It was a thing of beauty,? Simms says. ?It was an eight-yard run, but the Pittsburgh Steelers rant that play more cleanly and more clearly the way it was drawn on the blackboard than any running play being run by anybody.?
?I?m telling you, Vince Lombardi is up there smiling?.?
After winning Super Bowl XXV, Bill Parcells stepped down as head coach of the Giants. That resulted in a string of bizarre moves in which Ray Handley was promoted, ahead of Erhardt, as head coach and then diminished Erhardt?s role before allowing his contract to expire.
In 1993, Parcells returned to head coaching with the Patriots. His first choice for offensive coordinator was, of course, Erhardt. The Steelers refused to grant Parcells formal permission to speak with him, although they weren?t acting purely out of desire to make certain that Erhardt stayed put.
Erhardt made it known to Steelers management that, despite his ling friendship with Parcells, he felt honour bound to remain in Pittsburgh.
?Bill Cowher didn?t know me from a bale of Hay,? says Erhardt, a native of North Dakota. ?He gave me an opportunity when I had nothing. I felt I owed him some loyalty.?
Lindy?s Football Annuals 1995 (page 126)
Each time I read an old article I am continually amazed at the similarities that keep popping up (as mentioned in previous posts) with early Cowher and early Tomlin eras.
Looking forward to 2007, we see that Mike Tomlin ensures that he has on staff an experienced and highly respected co-ordinator. In this case that man is of course Dick LeBeau, the defensive genius and master of the blitz.
As Cowher was looking at a hard running game at the forefront of this new teams philosophy, Tomlin is looking at making explosive defence his core philosophy. Who better than Le Beau to have? Tomlin is guaranteed to watch and learn from Le Beau, and as a result develop a more comprehensive defensive philosophy that is bound to incorporate elements of 3-4, 4-3, zone blitz and cover two.
I think that Tomlin knows that he has access to the defensive bible that is Dick LeBeau for only a short time (two or three seasons) and he wants to learn everything he possibly can from LeBeau in that time. After that a production line of great defensive co-ordinators will emerge from Pittsburgh, much like the procession of offensive coordinators from Cowhers staff.
Tomlin will also lean on Le Beau for his wealth of experience to ensure that meltdown doesn?t occur when tough times are presented.
I am encouraged to believe that Steeler defence will once again become the core philosophy of this new coaching era.
Looking forward to your comments relating to your views on what you recall from the past or what you see for the future.
Cheers from down under.