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Welcome to SteezBros! SteezBros is a Steeler Blog run by three brothers who are all huge Steeler fans. If the true definition of fan is fanatic, we fit the bill. We were born into Steeler fandom. Love of the Steelers goes back many generations in our family. It's in our blood. You can read our "Welcome to SteezBros" post in the archive if you are interested in more information about us and the blog. Thanks for reading and check back often!


Friday, April 3, 2009

Broncos Drama Reinforces Hiring of Tomlin

Not too long ago I left western Pennsylvania for the mountains of Colorado. So I've been living at ground zero for the crazy drama surrounding the Pat Bowlen-Josh McDaniels -Jay Cutler trade saga. The Broncos pulled the trigger last week on a trade that sent Cutler and a 5th round pick to the Bears for Kyle Orton, two first round picks, and a third round pick. Apparently, Bronco owner Pat Bowlen snapped after Cutler refused to return his phone calls and decided that he no longer wanted to employ such an immature young player. My favorite quote of the whole ordeal came from a man who knows Bowlen well who told Peter King this week "You do not mess with Pat Bowlen, and you definitely do not ignore him.'' Dude sounds like a BA.

So why am I writing about the Broncos situation on a Steelers blog? Because this whole situation reinforces the magnificent job the Rooneys did in hiring Mike Tomlin. Tomlin, like McDaniels, was a very young, unproven coach that had to follow a legend. Nonetheless, he made a smooth transition and won over his team quick enough to make them the AFC North Champs in year 1 and Super Bowl Champs in year 2.

Yes, the situations were different. The 2006 Steelers were a balanced team only one year removed from winning the Super Bowl. The 2008 Broncos had a terrible defense and were ten years removed from winning a title. But, Tomlin and McDaniels inherited teams with two similar traits: a young franchise quarterback and an extremely strong unit that played to the coaches specialty. For Tomlin, a former defensive backs coach and defensive coordinater, he inherited one of the best defenses. McDaniels, a former offensive coordinator, took over an offense filled with playmakers.

Tomlin approached the role in the right way. Shortly after Mike Tomlin was named coach, he had dinner with his franchise quarterback. Big Ben shared his concern about how Tomlin, an outsider in the coaching search when many players favored in house candidates Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm, was going to win over the veteran players in the locker room. Tomlin listened to what Big Ben had to say. Later, at spring mini-camp, he met with each of his other players. After spending some time with his players, Tomlin made his message was clear. This was his team. Things would be done his way. And the players should forget about the easy training camps of the past under former coach Bill Cowher. Tomlin took control by communicating with players off of the field and instilling discipline on it. He took control with confidence and leadership, not because of an overblown ego, but because of his knowledge that football teams are not operated as a democracy, but rather as a benevolant dictatorship.

In an offseason fraught with potential land mines, Tomlin was able to sidestep potential problems due to his adaptability. Just a little background. Tomlin is a disciple of Tony Dungy. He coached under Dungy in Tampa, where they featured one of the best defenses in the league. The team ran the Cover 2 defense and ran it superbly. Tomlin ascended up the coaching ranks because of his ability to coach the Cover 2 (a defensive formation operated under the 4-3 formation). When Tomlin was hired, the players and fans wanted to know his plans for Pittsburgh's stellar defense. The Steelers operated under a 3-4 defense led by Dick Lebeau, one of the best defensive coordinators in league history. Tomlin's defensive philosophy, the very philosophy that allowed him to become one of the youngest head coaches in the NFL, clashed with the philosophy Pittsburgh had been using for the last 20 years.
For outsiders, it was easy to see the best solution - keep Lebeau and maintain the dominant defense. But often, what's easy to see from the outside is not so clear to a new head coach. When coaches are hired, especially young ones, they have to justify their hiring. And they have to do it fast. If not, they'll likely be facing unemployment in 3 years (less if you're hired by the Raiders). If a coach drastically changes systems, it's an easy way to demonstrate control to their boss and players. It also allows the coach to switch to a system where they are more comfortable. It's easy to understand why a coach would do this, especially because their expertise in their own system is what caused them to become a head coach in the first place. But in marking their territory, a coach's ego can get in the way of maximizing the potential of the football team. Tomlin could have fired LeBeau and forced the Steelers to adopt a foreign defense. It would have shown moxie. It would have gotten rid of a coordinator that posed a threat. It would have been an easy way to show the players who was in control. It also would have been wrong. By refraining to make wholesale changes, Tomlin showed confidence in his own abilities to improve the team in ways that would not be easily recognized by the media and fans. After celebrating Super Bowl #6, we now know he did what was best for the team.

Don Banks from CNNSI recently wrote about new Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley.

Someone asked Haley how a guy from the Bill Parcells coaching tree could feature the spread offense, as Arizona did for much of last season. Parcells teams are known for being able to bludgeon a team with the running games when they have to, and the Cardinals, especially in the regular season, were never a threat to pound the ball against anyone last year. "What I came out of it with Parcells is to play the way that gives you the best chance to win," Haley said. "Don't be so system-oriented that you're trying to fit square pegs into round holes. Do what your players do best."
Haley's remarks remind me of Tomlin's philosophy, and make me think that Haley has a good chance at success in KC.

Let's contrast that with what Josh McDaniels has done in Denver. McDaniels is an offensive guy that ran a different system in New England than what Mike Shanahan had in Denver. But McDaniels had offensive talent galore. The reason that the Denver coaching job was so attractive was because of Jay Cutler. No other team with a coaching vacancy had a young, franchise quarterback. Cutler made the Pro Bowl in 2008 by throwing for over 4500 yards and 25 TDs. In addition to Cutler. the offensive line allowed only 12 sacks all year and featured two young tackles (Clady and Harris) that will be fixtures in the Pro Bowl for years to come. Two young wide receivers, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, comprise the best young wide receiving tandem in the league. Sure, the defense needed to be rebuilt, but it only needed to become an average unit for Denver to win. The best course of action for McDaniels was to nurture his star quarterback and drastically improve the defense. But McDaniels, aided by an extreme lack of maturity from Cutler, messed it up. He couldn't resist trying to put his stamp on the organization by making a trade for Matt Cassell, allowing the team to make a seamless transition to the New England offense. It's isn't difficult to understand McDaniel's logic. The Patriots won three Super Bowls with his offensive system. It's the reason McDaniels is a head coach. But, unlike Tomlin, McDaniels didn't adapt to his new environment, he tried to change it. And when that revelation became public, Cutler threw a hissy fit.

The Broncos situation was captivating, in part, because it was entirely avoidable. McDaniels could have learned a thing or two from Mike Tomlin. Sometimes coaches display their ability for the job not by what they change, but by what they leave in place.

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