The Pittsburgh Steelers are the gold standard when it comes to selecting head coaches. They’ve had three since 1969, which is a testament to the patience of Art Rooney and Dan Rooney. These three, Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin, are the most successful trio of coaches in NFL history. They have combined to win six Super Bowls and 458 regular season games. No other NFL franchise can boast more than one coach with 100 regular season wins. The Steelers are the only franchise to have three consecutive head coaches win 100 games, with multiple Super Bowl appearances. Noll built the dynasty, Cowher added to it, and Tomlin is continuing the legacy of winning at a legendary pace.
Noll, Tomlin, and Cowher all have several things in common with one another. They’re all unheralded hires, they’re all no nonsense guys, and they all demand accountability. The most important belief they share is that winning teams are built through the draft and supported by solid chemistry.
Noll was the stoic professor who had to teach his players how to win. Cowher was the emotional and demonstrative coach whose fiery passion inspired his players. Tomlin is a mix of both coaches, part teacher and part fiery leader, but he’s always in control. He let the players know from day one who was in charge.
Tomlin’s first training camp as head coach was an exercise in physicality and endurance for the Super Bowl XLIII champions. He made it clear that this was his team now, and that “Camp Cupcake” was a thing of the past. The physical nature of training camp, and practices in general, wore the team down by the end of the season. The important thing though, was that Tomlin won the team over by the end of the season. The players were prepared for the NFL’s toughest schedule in 25 years and another Super Bowl run in 2008. Tomlin and the Steelers fielded one of the all-time great defenses in a season full of five-star match ups.
Youngest Coach Ever to Win a Super Bowl
Tomlin not getting the credit he deserves for winning Super Bowl XLIII is a shame. The popular narrative among Tomlin’s most ardent detractors is “He won the Super Bowl with Cowher’s players.” The truth of the matter is the tremendous focus required from an experienced coach to steer a championship caliber roster full of different egos and personalities. Tomlin navigated those tricky waters in just his second year to become the youngest coach ever to win the Super Bowl. He learned to manage all those personalities in one year, while adding a few key pieces, to do it. That’s an impressive accomplishment by any measure, especially when one considers they played the toughest schedule in over a quarter of a century.
Mike Tomlin is winning at a Legendary Pace
Saying Tomlin is on a legendary pace may sound crazy, but it is absolutely true. Tomlin has more regular season wins than any other coach, except Don Shula, after 11 full years. Shula had 117 wins while Tomlin has 116. That’s an amazing stat, but just as impressive are the numbers behind those wins. To date, Tomlin has four 12 win seasons, six division titles, and eight playoff appearances. He has the highest winning percentage (.659) in team history, and has never had a losing season. So, rather than judge his wins against the all-time leader, how does Tomlin compare to his two predecessors? Let’s start with Noll and move on to Cowher.
Tomlin’s First 11 Season’s Compared to Noll’s
Noll didn’t inherit a talented roster like Cowher and Tomlin. He had to build his. Noll built much more than a talented roster though, he built a dynasty. In fact, he got rid of almost everyone on his initial roster by 1972. His only losing seasons during his first 11 were the first three.
Noll won only 12 games in his first three seasons, but from 1972 through 1979, he won an astounding 88 games. He won seven division titles and had eight playoff appearances. Noll’s total wins after 11 seasons sits at an even 100. Noll had a win percentage of .632 during that time.
Who knows how many more wins Noll would’ve had if his teams played 16 games a season during that period. Either way, 100 wins is an impressive number considering the state of the Steelers when he started. Noll’s four Super Bowl wins trump Tomlin’s single title, but one thing is clear, in every other category, Tomlin is on par or better than Noll.
Tomlin has won more games, has a higher winning percentage, and has never had a losing season. They have the same amount of playoff appearances, but Noll had one more division title. Obviously, Noll’s four Super Bowl’s make him a legend and a very special coach. Tomlin is a special coach in his own right.
Tomlin’s 11 Year Record Versus Cowher’s
Cowher took over the Steelers in 1992 following Noll’s resignation. Noll’s recent draft classes Left Cowher with Rod Woodson, Carnell Lake, Barry Foster, and Eric Green to build around. Cowher led the Steelers to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons. He reached double digit wins in five of those years. Cowher had seven division titles, eight playoff appearances and two 12 win seasons during his first 11 years. He won 108 games and had a .613 winning percentage, igniting championship dreams again.
Cowher didn’t win a championship in his first 11 years, but Tomlin did. Tomlin achieved everything in his first 11 years that Cowher did and then some. He has a higher winning percentage and eight more wins, but most importantly, Tomlin carries on the legacy Noll started.
Noll and Cowher both had their flaws, but are revered for their work on the sidelines. Tomlin deserves the same respect. The fact is, Tomlin is winning games at a legendary pace to this point. He’s kept the Steelers together despite all the distractions the last few years, bringing them back to Super Bowl contention.
Last Word On Mike Tomlin
Whether you like him or not, Tomlin is one of the great coaches in the NFL. He is winning games at a legendary pace. If not for Bill Belichick, he might be viewed as the best. Tomlin’s best coaching jobs have come over the last few years. Tomlin kept the team rolling when they were decimated by injuries and a few suspensions to key players. Many teams talk about next man up, but Tomlin has his team living and believing it. The 2017 Steelers have proven they are never out of any game because they always believe they are in it. If any Steelers team is going to fling the monkey that is the New England Patriots off their back, it’s going to be this one. When they do, Tomlin will be a big reason why.
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