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Old 01-05-2010, 05:52 AM   #1
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Default Harris: Offseason to dictate Tomlin's growth

Harris: Offseason to dictate Tomlin's growth
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt...s_660652.html#
By John Harris
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

It's the curse facing young NFL coaches.

When true adversity strikes, what is the response to the pressures of their profession?

Are they judged differently from their peers because of their age and/or relative lack of experience? If so, does their inexperience cause them to react more emotionally when things go awry?

For the Steelers' Mike Tomlin and Josh McDaniels of the Denver Broncos, 2009 was a season that could make or break them as their careers unfold.

The 37-year-old Tomlin and McDaniels, 33, guided their teams to fast starts, only to endure extended losing streaks and miss the playoffs.

Both coaches seemingly lost control of their teams when they publicly challenged players during low points in the season.

Although the Steelers won their final three games to finish 9-7 in Tomlin's third campaign -- a year after winning Super Bowl XLIII -- they never recovered from a five-game losing streak that included losses against lowly Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland.

The 13-6 loss at the Browns on Dec. 10, only days after Tomlin scoffed at his team's playoff chances following a home loss against Oakland, was probably the most galling because it was the only time all season the Steelers weren't ready to play.

Threatening to make lineup changes that never materialized, Tomlin questioned the mental fabric of his veteran-laden roster that opened the season by winning six of its fist eight games.

"You have to acknowledge the potential that this can be kind of a shaken group," Tomlin said prior to the Cleveland loss. "I'm going to be looking very closely at these men. It's going to provide quality information for me in terms of who, legitimately, is mentally tough and who can stand the test of adversity, because we have some."

It was a cold night in Cleveland, but despite thriving on the elements much like they did during last season's Super Bowl run, the Steelers appeared to be affected by the weather to the point of disinterest in what was easily their worst effort of the season.

As Tomlin was forced to acknowledge, his players never quit -- much unlike the New York Giants, two years removed from winning Super Bowl XLII, who lost to Carolina and Minnesota by a combined 85-16 in their final two games.

Following Sunday's 30-24 win over Miami that enabled the Steelers to finish with a three-game winning streak, Tomlin attempted to make amends with the same players whose mental toughness he questioned a few weeks earlier.

"We won our last three ballgames and gave ourselves a chance," Tomlin said. "... It wasn't easy; it never is. But I've got a great deal of respect for our football team. Not only in terms of their closeness, but their willingness to fight."

McDaniels, the first-year coach who won a power struggle with former quarterback Jay Cutler (he was traded to Chicago) lost his head-to-head battle with wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Unhappy that Marshall didn't think he could play in the season finale against Kansas City with a possible playoff berth on the line, McDaniels insinuated that Marshall exaggerated the severity of his injury and benched him as a result.

Marshall, only the fifth player in league history to catch at least 100 passes in three consecutive seasons, questioned McDaniels' lack of NFL playing experience and his qualifications to determine the receiver's playing status.

Marshall's teammates appeared to side with the wideout. Needing a win and some help to qualify for the postseason, the Broncos were embarrassed at home by the Chiefs, 44-24, to finish 8-8 following a 6-0 start.

If veteran outside linebacker James Farrior is any indication, the Steelers don't mind playing for Tomlin, despite this year's bump in the road with their coach. Farrior, who at 34 just completed his 13th pro season, is willing to let bygones be bygones. He wants to return to the Steelers next season, even if it means accepting a reduced role.

"I am no spring chicken, but I hope they bring me back," said Farrior, whose sentiments were echoed by 34-year-old cornerback Deshea Townsend after Sunday's finale.

"I still have some fire left in me," Townsend said.

Tomlin's challenge is understanding when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em in regards to playing key veterans while adding younger players to the lineup next season. It's an important step in his growth curve as a successful NFL coach.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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Old 01-05-2010, 06:22 AM   #2
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Default Re: Harris: Offseason to dictate Tomlin's growth

"I am no spring chicken, but I hope they bring me back," said Farrior, whose sentiments were echoed by 34-year-old cornerback Deshea Townsend after Sunday's finale.

"I still have some fire left in me," Townsend said.

Tomlin's challenge is understanding when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em in regards to playing key veterans while adding younger players to the lineup next season. It's an important step in his growth curve as a successful NFL coach.


A really good idea to bring in younger players and have some of the vets as backups.
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Old 01-05-2010, 10:13 AM   #3
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Default Re: Harris: Offseason to dictate Tomlin's growth

I do have to give Tomlin credit for the Mendenhall benching, though... the kid did come back with some fire and made a lot of people say "Willie who?"

Now if he can bring the same fire back to the Steelers for 2010... that's the million dollar question. The final three games and giving themselves a chance for playoffs gave me a bit of optimism for next season and for Tomlin.
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Old 01-05-2010, 12:33 PM   #4
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Default Re: Harris: Offseason to dictate Tomlin's growth

I hope the Steelers say thanks for the years to : Kirschke, Townsend, Carter, Davis, Parker, Batch and Spaeth. Nobody there is a starter and we can use or have younger upgrades on the roster at those positions.

The real questions will be if and how much to try and sign Hampton, Colon, Clark and Gay....while looking to extend the deals of Woodley and Holmes.
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