This is last in a seven-part series detailing every head coaching change in the NFL this past offseason. Today’s installment focuses on the Pittsburgh Steelers and new head coach Mike Tomlin.

The time has come to conclude this little segment on coaching changes, as we’ve arrived at the last one. That last one is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coaching change, going from longtime boss Bill Cowher to new guy Mike Tomlin. In the first one of these pieces, I wrote a complimentary review of the Arizona Cardinals’ choice of Ken Whisenhunt, who had been an assistant in Pittsburgh (and took another well-respected Steelers assistant, Russ Grimm, out to Arizona with him). Many Steelers players wanted either Grimm or Whisenhunt to replace Cowher. That, however, does not mean the choice of Tomlin was unwise. In fact, I happen to think it’s going to work out just fine for the Steelers. This is an organization that knows what it’s doing when it hires head coaches – that’s why they have to do it so infrequently. With that in mind, it seems like more than a coincidence that for the third straight time, Pittsburgh hired a young, up-and-coming defensive assistant. The last two guys they hired stayed for the long haul, got to Super Bowls, and won them. My early impression of Tomlin is that he will be just as successful.

Early on, some people were making a big deal of the fact that Tomlin wears a whistle around his neck during practices, which the previous two Steelers coaches (Cowher and Chuck Noll…that’s 38 years of Steeler coaches) did not. Of course, this is a trivial matter and is ridiculous compared to the issue that should have the Steelers truly concerned about Tomlin – the color of his skin. (That’s a joke, people who take everything seriously.) In reality, neither Tomlin’s whistle nor his pigmentation nor anything that isn’t related to football is going to truly have an impact on his success. Therefore, it’s a good thing for Tomlin that he’s an excellent coach. He has a reputation for blowing other prospective job candidates away in interviews, then backing it up on the field. He worked under two well-respected head coaches in Tampa Bay (Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden) as the defensive backs coach. He also worked under a not-so-well respected head coach in Minnesota last year (Brad Childress). Luckily, Tomlin was making a good name for himself as defensive coordinator; under his brief reign, Minnesota allowed the seventh-fewest yards in the league, a jump of 13 spots from the year before. He only has one season of being a coordinator under his belt, but it was enough to show that he is a damn good football coach who knows how to get results (and compensate for deficiencies – Minnesota was actually ranked dead-last in the league against the pass, but still managed their top-10 overall finish).

Another reason Tomlin appears to be primed for success is that he inherits a team with potential to be good right away. The Steelers went 8-8 last year and missed the playoffs, but that was almost criminal underachievement on their part, so they go into this year with something to prove and plenty of players with a chip on their shoulder. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is chief among these people, having thrown 23 interceptions last season. Star safety Troy Polamalu has a nice big new contract that the Steelers have to hope has him primed to go. Guard Alan Faneca is the complete opposite; he’s threatened to sit out minicamps and leave Pittsburgh after this year because he doesn’t feel he’s making enough, but Tomlin appears to at least have him ready to play football in the meantime. The team lost linebacker Joey Porter to the Dolphins, but might have actually upgraded the position overall because of their first two draft picks (Lawrence Timmons of Florida State and LaMarr Woodley of Michigan, each of whom played at an extremely high level in college last year and is signed and ready to go). Throw in guys like running back Willie Parker and defensive lineman Casey Hampton, and the team looks ready to compete if they’re prepared to do so, unlike in 2006.

As for the coaching staff, there is quite a bit of continuity overall, even though two of the top assistants (Whisenhunt and Grimm) are gone. New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has been the team’s wide receivers coach for the past three seasons, and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was retained as well. In addition, John Mitchell, the defensive line coach who has been with the team since 1994, was additionally named assistant head coach. The Steelers seem to have struck a balance: they brought in new blood at the top in Tomlin, and also retain a sense of familiarity with the guys in charge of what happens on the field.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I think Tomlin was an excellent choice. He’s not a guy who’s going to be screaming his head off, but at the same time he knows how to get his point across (Dungy must have rubbed off on him). This article is one of many showcasing Tomlin’s single-minded devotion to the task at hand that actually reminds me some of Bill Belichick. However, Tomlin also seems to be a way more pleasant guy than Belichick; he even gave his players somewhat of a break on the conditioning tests on the first day of training camp, after considerable buzz about how tough the camp was going to be. However, he knows there is a time to get the job done, and throughout his career he has given every indication that he will be up to the challenge. He is stepping into the best overall situation of any to open up this offseason – the Steelers give their coaches every chance to succeed, much more so than most teams. Up to this point, the strategy has paid off handsomely with far more consistent winning than most franchises, and it will be interesting to see if Tomlin can help that continue. Judging by his approach, prior accomplishments, what is already in place, and the youthful energy he’s bringing to the job (he’s 35 and honestly doesn’t even look that), my bet is that he will succeed and win big for the Steelers, just like they’re used to their coaches doing.

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