Head to head

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AubreyBruceBox

Everyone and their dead relatives tried to hype up the recent Steelers/Cardinals clash as a pseudo rematch of Super Bowl XLIII and the head coaches that led their teams to the Lombardi Classic played in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 1, 2009 with the Steelers prevailing as a result of a miraculous catch by Santonio Holmes, viewed by many as the 2nd “immaculate reception.” However, the circumstances that led up to the game contained more sub-plots than a Martin Scorsese flick or an Oprah Winfrey rerun, whichever floats your boat. On Jan. 22, 2007 the Steelers announced they had selected Mike Tomlin as their new head coach. Tomlin was 34, the same age that his predecessor Bill Cowher was when the Steelers hired him 15 years earlier.

The Steelers chose Tomlin after narrowing their search down to him and Russ Grimm, the Steelers assistant head coach/offensive line coach. This is where the plot thickens. Just 24 hours before the historic hiring, Mike Prisuta of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Grimm had been offered and had accepted the position. However by the crack of dawn there were folks in the Steel City that were in the midst of some serious damage control. There was controlled madness that was obvious in the “burgh.” The airwaves were relative to free flowing “lava.” The ‘Rooney’ rule was now being whispered about in some circles as the “looney” rule. The Steelers management had to be on the verge of being committed to Western Psych for an involuntary evaluation and treatment.

How could dem, dere Stillers even remotely consider hiring this snot nosed Black kid who had only played football at William & Mary. What, William & Mary? That sounds like the names of my neighbor’s son and daughter, not an institution revered for football. Plus this new kid had climbed the ranks with warped speed. And he had no real track record that could even remotely compare with one of their own, Grimm, a hardnosed University of Pittsburgh grad who had gone on to become one of the fixtures of the Washington Redskins “Hoggs,” one of the most legendary offensive lines ever to perform in the history of the NFL.

Boys and girls there is something a bit more tantalizing and mystical than the superficial components of this story initially suggest. The Rooney family and those that may have been involved in the decision making process may have been just as enamored with the “true” coaching lineage of Tomlin in addition to his obvious coaching acumen. His coaching “genealogy” may have been one of the sub-elements that tilted the evaluation to hire Mr. Tomlin in his favor. Tomlin’s former boss, Tony Dungy, was hired as an assistant with legendary Head Coach Chuck ‘The Emperor’ Noll, his former coach, in 1981. His work put him under the Sid Gilman coaching tree. Tomlin was once an assistant under Dungy at Tampa Bay, putting him under the Noll coaching tree. Oh did I forget to mention that the Noll played under one of the greatest if not the greatest football coaches and innovators of all time, the late Paul Brown. There is something about, sitting under greatness.

People tried to put some stuff in the game even after Tomlin had achieved his first Super Bowl victory and with it the title of the youngest coach ever to win a Super Bowl. On Dec. 1, 2009 less than a year after Tomlin did his victory lap carrying the Lombardi trophy for the first time, Todd Fleming of bleacherreport.com said, “He has had plenty of success in his early career. And, like his predecessor, he certainly looks the part. But, to me, the praise heaped on him and the lack of criticism directed at him seems to be out of proportion. I am not convinced he is as good of a head coach as most people give him credit for. I’m concerned he might be the equivalent of Jon Gruden, a young coach who took over a very talented roster, connected with those players in a way his predecessor no longer seemed able to do, and led them to a Super Bowl win before backsliding to a very average career before ultimately being replaced.”

Whether Tomlin reaches the post season ever again, his Super Bowl record is 1-1 and he would be 2-0 if not for two dumb interceptions by a “greedy” quarterback and a fumble by a “needy” running back.

There are a few wannabes who think Rashard Mendenhall, who had an aberration of a game rushing for 146 yards in 23 carries against the Jaguars, should book his flight to the Pro Bowl. I suggest that they stick with the sport they know best and leave the NFL coverage to me and the rest of the “pros.” Against the Cardinals, the “Hall-of-Fame” bound Mendenhall had 13 rushes for 32 yards. Now that is a serious crash landing. I’ve heard it said many times that you can coach the players but you can’t play the game.

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@new­pitts­burghcourier.com or 412-583-6741.)

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