|It's early, but Steelers' Tomlin already escaping Cowher's long shadow|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 11 October 2007 13:29|
That first home-field loss. The first touchdown allowed by his defense before halftime. The first missed field goal by Jeff Reed. The first debate about a questionable coaching decision that arguably costs his team a game.
This, too: The first time someone of importance in the Steelers' front office says, ``Hmm, maybe this guy isn't as good as we'd thought he'd be. Maybe he isn't the coach Bill Cowher was.''
With the Steelers off to a 4-1 start for only the third time since 1983, Tomlin - an NFL defensive coordinator for a single season before assuming one of the highest-profile jobs in the league - is escaping the scrutiny many rookie coaches receive.
So far, Tomlin's biggest accomplishment has been getting what was a Super Bowl-winning team only two seasons ago refocused and energized as it takes this weekend off before resuming its schedule Oct. 21 at Denver.
The 35-year-old Tomlin has done that with demanding practices, no reluctance to alter the system and methods used by Cowher, and no apparent regard for how much credit he personally receives.
He demands his players buy into the team-before-me concept and do what they're told without debate or public argument. But this is no dictatorship - his players say defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians have more freedom and space to do their jobs than they did under Cowher.
``He's doing a great job with this team of instilling in our brains that it's coach T's way or no way,'' said running back Willie Parker, the NFL's leading rusher.
Tomlin is instilling it with fewer decibels than Cowher did, too.
He has yet to have a major public argument with a player or an official, a change from the spittle-flying days when no player who made a critical mistake was safe from a Cowher sideline spraying.
Still, Tomlin's intensity is inescapable. He is one of those coaches who seems to know instantly what every player has done on every play, even in practice. He also appears to have little tolerance for those who make mistakes because of a lack of preparation.
In that regard, and many others, Tomlin is much closer in style and personality to Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, Cowher's predecessor, than Cowher himself.
For example, while Cowher sometimes showed up on two or three different national TV ads per season, Tomlin has yet to film his first local commercial, much less national one. Noll never did such ads during or after his coaching career.
``It's different,'' wide receiver Hines Ward said. ``It's a new team. We don't do things the way coach Cowher used to. This is his (Tomlin's) team, and guys may not like it or disagree with it, but there's nothing really we can say or do about it.''
So far, there's probably not much the Steelers or Tomlin would change except, of course, for that 21-14 loss at Arizona on Sept. 30. It was an unusual game in which the opposing coach, former Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, may have had more in-depth knowledge about the Steelers' tendencies and schemes than Tomlin himself.
Otherwise, each of the Steelers' four victories has been by a margin of at least three touchdowns. The defense has permitted only six points, on field goals, in the first half. Four of the five opponents were shut out before halftime.
Tomlin was asked if he worried the off week might cause the Steelers to lose the momentum created by their 21-0 win over Seattle last weekend, the teams' first matchup since the February 2006 Super Bowl.
``I'd like to think we're not buying into the momentum thing. We just prepare, show up and play. Every time we go out there, it's us,'' Tomlin said. ``I understand that it (momentum) is probably a factor of sports, but it's not one that can be a deciding factor for us. We need to show up when it's time to play, when they schedule games, and be ready to perform.''
Yet it is hard to hide the momentum Tomlin appears to be building as a coach, in a locker room in which some players didn't fully understand last January why neither Whisenhunt nor former assistant head coach Russ Grimm wasn't hired.
``This is coach Tomlin's team now,'' Ward said. ``There's no looking back, if Russ or Whis was here.''