What a first: Rookie seasons for Cowher, Tomlin strikingly similar Print
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Tuesday, 25 December 2007 09:15
NFL Headline News

 PITTSBURGH (AP) -Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin never publicly mentions Bill Cowher's name unless he is asked specifically about him, though it is certainly not for a lack of respect.
Tomlin is trying to put his stamp on the NFL as a head coach, rather than attempting to imitate the very successful coach before him. That's almost exactly the same path Cowher followed after succeeding Chuck Noll in 1992.
What's curious is, with Tomlin's first regular season as Steelers coach ending with Sunday's game at Baltimore, how similar his first season and Cowher's first in 1992 are becoming.
A coincidence? Maybe. A sign Tomlin is developing into the coach Cowher was while taking the Steelers to the postseason 10 times in 15 years, appearing in five AFC championships games and winning one Super Bowl. Maybe that, too.
``I live week to week,'' Tomlin said. ``That's the world I live in.''
A world that, considering the similarities between Cowher's rookie season in 1992 and Tomlin's in 2007, has been much like the one in which the Steelers lived 15 years ago:
-Cowher inherited a team that didn't finish with a winning record (7-9) the prior season under a long-successful coach and immediately got them into the playoffs with an 11-5 record. Tomlin's Steelers, coming off an 8-8 season under Cowher, will finish 11-5 if they beat the Ravens (4-11) on Sunday.
-The 1992 Steelers got off to 6-2 start, were 7-3 after 10 games, then faltered a bit down the stretch with two losses in their final three games. These Steelers got off to a fast start at 6-2, were 7-3 after 10 games and faltered a bit down the stretch with two losses in three games before beating St. Louis 41-24 on Thursday.
-Both teams were 3-1 after four games, 6-2 after eight games and 9-3 after 12 games.
-Both the 1992 Steelers and 2007 Steelers ended a string of multiple years without a division title by knocking off a favored team to win their division; in 1992 it was Houston, this year it was Baltimore.
-The '92 Steelers sent four players to the Pro Bowl; five Steelers were chosen this year, though RB Willie Parker (broken leg) won't play.
-Both teams dealt with a key injury to an important offensive starter late in the season. It was quarterback Neil O'Donnell in 1992, this season it's Parker, the NFL rushing leader at the time of his season-ending injury Thursday.
-Both coaches were credited for getting the most out of the players they had, and each turned a former backup into a star. In 1992, running back Barry Foster was a former backup who developed into a Pro Bowl player (though not until a season later) after finally getting the chance to start under Cowher; in 2007, linebacker James Harrison accomplished the very same thing under Tomlin
-Both coaches were 35 and dealing with players who weren't much younger.
The major difference is Cowher was widely credited for rejuvenating a franchise that had become stale and underachieving in its final few seasons under a star coach. The 1992 Steelers were top-seeded in the AFC playoffs before losing to Buffalo at home, and Cowher was chosen as the NFL Coach of the Year.
``You've got to be able to handle it delicately,'' Cowher said in 1992. ``You're dealing with a lot of egos and yet you're still trying to keep everyone headed in the same direction.''
Fifteen years later, Tomlin often says very similar things.
These Steelers are only two seasons removed from winning a Super Bowl and Tomlin is righting a proven team that strayed off course for only one season. He probably won't win a lot of coach of the year votes like Cowher did in 1992, and the best the Steelers can be seeded in the AFC is No. 3.
Still, very much has gone right in Tomlin's first year following a season in which a lot went wrong, just as it did with Cowher in charge in 1992. And that may not be a coincidence at all.
``I don't put any vision in my head of what the team should look like or should be, because invariably what you are limiting is what you are potentially capable of being,'' Tomlin said. ``I go into it with an open mind and I look forward to watching this team grow and develop and win on a week-in, week-out basis. That is how I approach it.''

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