Cook: No one better than Tomlin to deal with Steelers' challenges
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Maybe Steelers coach Mike Tomlin won't make the same money as Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. Maybe Tomlin doesn't have Whisenhunt's job security, although -- considering the Steelers' history with coaches -- that point is debatable. If Tomlin is happy with his new contract extension, I'm happy. I'm thrilled that he's going to be the Steelers' coach through at least the 2013 season.
You have a good one, you keep him.
Know what I mean?
Tomlin's new deal earlier this month came as no surprise. That's the way the Steelers do business. They routinely extend their coach when he has two years left on his contract.
Tomlin will work this season under the terms of his original contract. The Steelers tore up his option year for next season and gave him a new two-year extension with a team-controlled option year for the 2013 season. The new deal is believed to be worth around $5 million per year.
Contrast that with what the Cardinals did earlier this year for Whisenhunt, whose team lost to Tomlin's Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII after the '08 season. They eliminated the final two years of his original contract and gave him a five-year deal through the '14 season that's believed to be worth nearly $6 million per year.
Good for Whisenhunt, a former Steelers offensive coordinator. He deserves every cent for resurrecting the Cardinals from the dead. Still, I can't help but like Tomlin's security a bit more because of the Rooneys' belief in coaching stability. They stick with their guy even after hard times. They kept Bill Cowher for 15 seasons before Tomlin and kept Chuck Noll for 23 seasons before Cowher.
"There's no other place I want to be," Tomlin told the Steelers' website, his only public comments about his new contract. "I love working for Art Rooney. I love working for Steelers Nation. They're always going to get my best, contract or no. I don't clock in every day with the contract or money on my mind. I just don't. I love what I do. I love where I do it. I'm having big fun."
Tomlin proved he could coach in '07, his first season after taking over from Cowher. He led the Steelers to a division title despite, initially, being an unpopular choice for the job with his veteran players who wanted Whisenhunt or Cowher's assistant head coach, Russ Grimm. Along the way he adroitly dealt with an ugly contract mess involving unhappy All-Pro guard Alan Faneca, who refused to be the team's captain.
Tomlin proved he could coach in '08 when the Steelers won that Super Bowl. His best moment that season came in December after running back Willie Parker complained about the team getting away from "Steelers football" by not running the ball enough. Responded Tomlin, firmly, publicly and very much in control, "Every morning I come to work, I walk past five Lombardis, not five rushing titles. The issue is winning." Beautiful, just beautiful.
Tomlin proved he could coach even last season when the Steelers had a horrible five-game losing streak at midseason and failed to make the playoffs. He kept the team together when it appeared he had no chance and it won its final three games.
Now, Tomlin is looking at his biggest challenge as the Steelers prepare to report to training camp Friday.
The team won't have franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for at least the first four games because of his NFL suspension. It has little depth at wide receiver after the trade of Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes and even less at running back after Rashard Mendenhall. Its offensive line, already considered weak by many, will be without its best player, tackle Willie Colon, who's out for the season with an Achilles injury. Its defense is aging. One of its star linebackers, LaMarr Woodley, is unhappy about his contract situation.
Good luck to Tomlin with all of that.
If he wins with these Steelers, he should be coach of the year.
Heck, if he gets the squad to the playoffs, the Rooneys should tear up his new contract before it kicks in and give him Whisenhunt money.
What's amusing is that a lot of people blame Tomlin for many of the Steelers' problems. They say he isn't as tough as Cowher was. They are convinced that's why Roethlisberger got himself in a jackpot in Milledgeville, Ga., in March and why Holmes had a nightclub incident in Orlando, Fla., in April, tweeted like a madman about it and was given a four-game suspension by the NFL for violating its substance-abuse policy before he was traded to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft choice in April.
If Tomlin is guilty of anything, it's that he treats his players like grown men even if it means overlooking their minor transgressions from time to time. Cowher, despite that reputation for being a tough coach, did the same thing. I remind you of something Steelers running back Jerome Bettis said after teammate Plaxico Burress left as a free agent in '05 to join the New York Giants and ultra-tough coach Tom Coughlin: "I know [Burress] is not a stickler for the rules and Coughlin is all about the rules ... Coach Cowher allowed us a lot of flexibility. He never fined us for anything. You came late, you never got fined. You never got reprimanded for anything."
That doesn't mean Cowher ever lost control of the team. Most of his grown men behaved like grown men. The same is true with Tomlin. You don't hear about Heath Miller and James Farrior causing problems, do you? You don't hear about the overwhelming majority of the Steelers, actually.
No NFL coach is responsible for what his players do in their free time or during the offseason. If Roethlisberger and Holmes act abhorrently, that's on them, not on their coach.
Unfortunately, Tomlin has to clean up the mess.
He's looking at a mighty big job once the Steelers get things going Friday.
I don't know that any coach is up to that task, but I'll take my chances with Tomlin.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org
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