Monday, January 29, 2007

Coaching Staff is Finalized

According to a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette head coach Mike Tomlin has officially finalized his choices for assistant coaches (i.e. they have all signed contracts). Here are the men who will be responsible for the Steelers' performance next season:

Head Coach: Mike Tomlin

Offensive Coordinator: Bruce Arians
Offensive Line Coach: Larry Zierlein
Wide Receiver Coach: Randy Fichtner
Running Backs Coach: Kirby Wilson
Tight Ends Coach: James Daniel
Quarterback Coach: Ken Anderson
Quality Control -- Offense : Matt Raich

Defensive Coordinator: Dick LeBeau
Defensive Line Coach: John Mitchell
Linebackers Coach: Keith Butler
Defensive Backs Coach: Ray Horton
Quality Control -- Defense: Lou Spanos

Special Teams Coach: Bob Ligashesky
Assistant Special Teams Coach: Amos Jones

According to an article on the Steelers website new wide receiver coach Randy Fichtner, who is 43-years old, "spent the last six seasons (2001-06) as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at the Memphis, where he had also previously coached from 1990-93. Prior to joining Memphis for the second time, Fichtner was the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State (1997-00) and the wide receivers coach at his alma mater Purdue (1994-96). He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Purdue (1985-86) and Michigan (1986-87), before joining Southern California as a volunteer coach in 1988. In 1989, Fichtner earned his first full-time coaching position when he coached tight ends at UNLV."

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Special Teams Coach Hired?

According to a report on the website for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the Pittsburgh Steelers have hired Bob Ligashesky as their new special teams coach:

"Bob Ligashesky didn't stay unemployed for long.

Just one day after head coach Scott Linehan confirmed that Ligashesky would not return to the Rams for the 2007 season, Ligashesky was hired as special teams coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ligashesky, 44, is a Pittsburgh native who played football at Indiana (Pa.) University and coached at the University of Pittsburgh from 2000-03.

He replaces Kevin Spencer, who was hired as special teams coach by new Arizona Cardinals coach and former Steelers assistant Ken Whisenhunt
."

Mr. Ligashesky coached the Rams' special teams in 2005 and 2006; prior to that he was the Assistant Special Teams Coach in Jacksonville. Prior to his stint at Pitt mentioned in the article Mr. Ligashesky spent nine seasons at Bowling Green University (1991-1999), two seasons at Kent State (1989-1990), two seasons at Arizona State University (1986-1988) and one season at Wake Forest (1985) as a Graduate Assistant.

For the season recently completed the Rams' special teams ranked this way compared to the rest of the league (and compared to the Steelers):

Punt Return Average: 25th (Steelers: 19th)
Kickoff Return Average: 26th (Steelers: 21st)
Net Punting Average: 12th (Steelers: 18th)

Opponent Punt Return Average: 19th (Steelers: 2nd)
Opponent Kickoff Return Average: 28th (Steelers: 18th)
Opponent Net Punting Average: 31st (Steelers: 21st)

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Maybe it's Not All Ken Anderson's Fault

To be honest there wasn't a great deal of enthusiasm when the announcement was made that Ken Anderson had been hired as quarterback coach for the Steelers. Certainly, some of that stemmed from his long association with the Cincinnati Bengals. Everyone associated with Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic is old enough to remember a time when Mr. Anderson competed on the field, and was just one of those players that Steelers fans loved to hate.

But in addition to that was the fact that Mr. Anderson had been fired by one of the more respected head coaches in the NFL, Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio. After all, if Mr. Anderson wasn't good enough to be the quarterback coach for the Jaguars then why in the world would anyone want to entrust Ben Roethlisberger's future to him?

However in doing some research we found this item of interest from the February 4, 2006 -- the day before the Steelers won the Super Bowl -- Florida Times Union (emphasis added):

" While Jack Del Rio aspires to build the Jacksonville Jaguars into a Super Bowl contender, he's quietly developing a reputation as having a quick trigger.

Del Rio has fired seven assistant coaches and demoted two others from his original 16-member staff. It's the highest dismissal rate in the NFL among the 13 teams that have the same head coach in place since 2003.

Last week's firing of offensive line coach Paul Boudreau means that only six Jaguars assistants -- defensive coordinator Mike Smith, defensive line coach Ray Hamilton, strength and conditioning coach Mark Asanovich, tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts, quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson and defensive assistant Todd Howard -- remain in the same capacity in which Del Rio hired them.

It's one thing to have high turnover because coaches leave for better jobs. But the Jaguars' revolving door is due to Del Rio being unsatisfied with results, and that's also a reflection on the man who does the hiring.

Del Rio caught a lot of flak in 2003 for leaving an ax in the locker room, a motivational ploy to implore his players to keep chopping wood. Punter Chris Hanson sustained a season-ending leg injury when he swung the sharp object and missed his target.

The cutting tool immediately was removed, but Del Rio still wields a different kind of ax. The clear message to his coaches is that he's not afraid to use it. . .
"

In addition to viewing Mr. Anderson's dismissal in a different light, one wonders why a coach would go to work in Jacksonville?

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Coaching Changes

The following brief item comes from an item in the Buffalo News:

"The Buffalo Bills could lose one of the assistant coaches on Dick Jauron's staff. Larry Zierlein, who was assistant offensive line coach last season under Jim McNally, received permission from the Bills to interview with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Zierlein, 61, and new Steelers coach Mike Tomlin served together on the same staff at the University of Louisville in 1999 and 2000. The Steelers are looking for an offensive line coach to replace Russ Grimm, who left to join the Arizona Cardinals staff."

Interestingly -- and despite what the article states -- Mr. Zierlein worked on the staff at the University of Cincinnati while Mike Tomlin was the secondary coach at the school (I can find no information that would indicate that either man coached at the University of Louisville), and also worked with Bruce Arians when Mr. Arians was offensive coordinator in Cleveland. Prior to his NFL and University of Cincinnati experiences Mr. Zierlein coached at Tulane (for two separate stints), LSU, and the University of Houston.

On the running back coach front, there is this item from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
"Coach Mike Tomlin is talking to former Arizona Cardinals running backs coach Kirby Wilson about taking a similar position with the Steelers.

Wilson would replace Dick Hoak, who retired after 45 seasons as a player and coach with the Steelers, the last 35 as running backs coach.

Wilson, 45, had been with the Cardinals since 2004 but was not retained by new Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Steelers' former offensive coordinator. Wilson was running backs coach in Tampa Bay (2002-03) when Tomlin was a secondary coach.

Previously, Wilson worked with the New England Patriots (1997-99) and Washington Redskins (2000). A former running back/wide receiver at Illinois, Wilson was a cornerback for two seasons in the Canadian Football League."

Finally, on a different matter entirely, it was very disappointing to see Darren Perry resign his position with the Steelers. His work has been outstanding, and everyone at Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic sees Mr. Perry as having a termendous upside potential as an NFL coach. However, Dick LeBeau's silence on Mr. Perry's departure seems to speak volumes.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Would You Work for this Man?


I try hard to create intelligent, insightful commentary about the Pittsburgh Steelers -- that's why you're here, right? But sometimes . . . well, nobody is perfect.

So, if Raiders fans would like to know what's wrong with their team they need only look into the eyes of their crazed-looking owner (go the the New York Times.com to read the associated article).

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I'm Sure There's Nothing to Worry About

The elevation of Bruce Arians from wide receiver coach to offensive coordinator was widely anticipated, and there is certainly something to be said for the continuity that comes from keeping a familiar face amongst the coaches on the offensive side of the football.

However a look back at the performance of Cleveland's offense during the years 2001-2003, while Mr. Arians was their offensive coordinator, is a bit unnerving. For example, in 2001 the Browns were last in the NFL in total yardage, average yardage per play, and average yardage per game. That same season they ranked 28th in time of possession and third down efficiency, and were 25th in average points per game.

In 2002 the Browns' offense showed some improvement. They moved up to 23rd in total yards and average yards per game, and were 19th in average yards per play. They were 17th in per game average time of possession, and 14th in points per game average. Based upon the improvement from 2001 to 2002 Browns fans must have been optimistic about the 2003 season.

However in 2003 the Browns offense slid backwards, falling to 26th in total yardage and average yards per game, 23rd in yards per play, 22nd in per game average time of possession, and 14th in third down efficiency.

During Mr. Arians' tenure as offensive coordinator in Cleveland the Browns passing attack (which, in fairness, featured Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb at quarterback) was never better than 18th in the NFL; and the rushing attack never rose above 20th best in the league -- and never produced a 1,000 yard rusher.

Let's hope that, in this case, the past is not prologue!

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Free Agency Details

In addition to the upcoming draft this is also the season of free agents, a time when terms like "franchise tag" and "transition plyer" get bandied about. But what does that really mean? Well, one group of amateur capologists are helping to keep all of us informed.

Members of the Yahoo! group AmCapNFL have provided the dollar amounts that go with each position. For example, a cornerback who is franchise tagged will receive a one-year contract worth $7,790,000. Conversely, a transition cornerback is guaranteed to receive at least $6,766,000.

FRANCHISE
Quarterbacks -- $12,615,000
Offensive linemen -- $9,556,000
Defensive ends -- $8,644,000
Wide receivers -- $7,613,000
Cornerbacks -- $7,790,000
Linebackers -- $7,206,000
Running backs -- $6,999,000
Defensive tackles -- $6,775,000
Safeties -- $4,490,000
Tight ends -- $4,371,000
Punters and kickers -- $2,078,000

TRANSITION
Quarterbacks -- $10,182,000
Offensive linemen -- $8,267,000
Defensive ends -- $7,701,000
Wide receivers -- $7,040,000
Cornerbacks -- $6,766,000
Linebackers -- $6,493,000
Running backs -- $5,981,000
Defensive tackles -- $5,554,000
Safeties -- $3,984,000
Tight ends -- $3,612,000
Punters and kickers -- $1,926,000

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Thinks Look Grimm in Arizona

The NFL Network and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are reporting that Russ Grimm has accepted the position of Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach with the Arizona Cardinals.

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The First Decision is a Winner - UPDATE

Update -- January 23, 2007 (11:24AM PST)
ESPN is reporting that it's official -- Bruce Arians has been promoted to offensive coordinator.

Original Posting
Call me optimistic to a fault but I'm already impressed with Mike Tomlin.

The decision to retain Dick LeBeau is a sign that Mr. Tomlin's assertions that he believes in playing fundamental football rather than being beholden to any particular scheme are certainly to be believed. While Mr. LeBeau is more than capable of coaching in a 4-3 defensive scheme if Mr. Tomlin was inclined to go in that direction, it seems very unlikely that Mr. LeBeau would be retained to implement a system in which he does not believe. Indeed, during his press conference Monday Mr. Tomlin insisted that "I think part of good coaching is doing what your guys do and what they do well." That kind of approach is the sign of a mature, confident football mind.

The other aspect of Mr. LeBeau's retention that is to be celebrated is the increased likelihood that Darren Perry will also be retained. Anyone who has read Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic with any regularity knows that Mr. Perry is a favorite here. His continued development under the tutelage of Mr. LeBeau -- someone about whom Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis said "[h]e taught me so much" -- helps ensure a smooth transition next offseason when Mr. Perry is elevated to defensive coordinator.

On the offensive side of the football, lacking any evidence to the contrary, the prediction here is that Mr. Tomlin will (like all football coaches) emphasize a strong running game. To that end the prediction here is that wide receiver coach Bruce Arians, who Ken Whisenhunt would love to bring to Phoenix, will be installed as the new Steelers offensive coordinator.

Of course Mr. Tomlin will have to replace running backs coach Dick Hoak who retired, wide receiver coach Bruce Arians who will be named offensive coordinator, special teams coach Kevin Spencer who left for Arizona, and offensive line coach Russ Grimm who is (no doubt) on his way out -- or is he? In an off-season in which the unexpected has come to pass perhaps there's one more surprise in store for all of us.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mike Tomlin!

Mike Tomlin was introduced as the new head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers at an afternoon press conference, and thanks to the miracle of the internet Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic was there. Here is some of what was discussed:
  • Art Rooney II introduced Mike Tomlin, and welcomed Mr. Tomlin and his family to the Steelers' organization and to Pittsburgh. Mr. Rooney also thanked Russ Grimm and Ron Rivera for their participation in the process of choosing the new head coach. Finally, Mr. Rooney thanked the Minnesota VIkings for their cooperation.

  • Mr. Rooney indicated that Mike Tomlin is "a good person," and that factor was first amongst all the considerations in choosing the new head coach. Mr. Rooney also indicated that Mike Tomlin's "core values" are consistent with the Steelers' organizational values; and that the team would continue play a brand of football that Steelers fans expect.

  • Mr. Tomlin confirmed that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will remain on the job, but declined to discuss the status of the other assistants.

  • Mr. Tomlin indicated that the new coaching regime will be "fundamentalist in our approach" to coaching, and that "Xs-andOs can be overrated at times." He declined to indicate what scheme(s) he would employ, saying instead that he preferred to put players in a position to excel.

  • Mr. Tomlin congratualated Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy for their success. He described Tony Dungy as a "life mentor," and said that his relationship with Mr. Dungy went well-beyond the football field.

  • His age is his age, and Mr. Tomlin does not anticipate it being a problem with the players. He does not think of himself as a 34-year old coach but just as a football coach.

  • Mr. Tomlin acknowledges the significance of two African-American coaches making it to the Super Bowl, and his own hiring in Pittsburgh, but he is happy for Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith as individuals, not as symbols.

  • Nothing in the interview process was surprising or confusing -- the Rooneys were very upfront about the process "and where it was going and how it was going."

  • Mr. Tomlin described himself as someone who tends to be calm, though he can be emotional at times.

  • Mr. Tomlin received the phone call from Art Rooney II on Sunday while in his basement watching football.

  • Mr. Tomlin is headed to Mobile, Alabama on Tuesday to scout players at the Senior Bowl.

  • Mr. Tomlin described Ben Roethlisberger as a "franchise quarterback."

  • One of the things that excites Mr. Tomlin about the Steelers is the team mentality that exists throughout the organization.

  • When asked how a collegiate wide receiver becomes a defensive coordinator, Mr. Tomlin replied "well, I wasn't a very good wide receiver!"

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Expecting the Unexpected -- UPDATE

Update -- January 22, 2007 (11:30 PST)
WTAE.com will be streaming the Mike Tomlin press conference online.

Update -- January 22, 2007 (8:45 PST)
A press conference is to be held this afternoon at 330PM (EST) to announce the hiring of Mike Tomlin as the new head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Team Pass members can watch the press conference live. At this time none of the media outlets in Pittsburgh (e.g. WTAE-TV, KDKA-TV, KDKA 1020) have indicated whether or not they will stream the press conference on their respective websites.

Original Posting
After a long and distinguished career the head coach resigned.

The head coach's top assistant -- respected by the former coach, players, and the owners alike -- seemed to be a perfect fit to take over. All that was needed was the announcement to make it official, and the Steelers could enjoy some much desired continuity.

Only Joe Greene, Chuck Noll's valued assistant, never received that call. Instead the Rooney family went outside of the organization -- seemingly placing a value on a fresh perspective as much as coaching ability -- to hire a virtually unknown defensive coordinator, Bill Cowher.

With the departure of Ken Whisenhunt to Arizona many are now proclaiming Russ Grimm to be the heir apparent to Bill Cowher -- a trusted, respected assistant seemingly ready to assume the mantel of head coach. But such assumptions ignore the deliberative quality of the interviewing process (according to a statement by Art Rooney II the organization is trying "to determine which one is the best candidate for the Pittsburgh Steelers at this point in time." If Russ Grimm was the obvious choice then why the second round of interviews?), and the prediction here is that by the end of January Mike Tomlin is going to be the new head coach, and first African-American head coach, of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Dan Rooney was the owner who pushed hardest for minority candidates to be included in all head coach searches by all teams, and the guess here is that the Steelers current patriarch is preparing to put some action behind his words.

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Is Cowher's Phone Ringing?

With this morning's announcement from Texas that Bill Parcells is retiring as head coach, there can be little doubt that Bill Cowher's name is going to be heard frequently amongst those who the Cowboys will be considering for their open position. Additionally, with Mike Tomlin now officially the head coach of the Steelers, there is a good possibility that several of Mr. Cowher's former assistant coaches will be available to serve with him again.

Of course the question of compensation will be out there as well, and it would be reasonable to expect the Steelers to insist on Dallas' number one pick (they pick in the 22nd spot) -- though perhaps not this year, given that draft "experts" generally give this year's crop of available players low marks -- and cash.

Just when you thought we could all focus on the Steelers' current head coach, up pops Bill Cowher again!

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

You Heard it Here First -- The Last Update of this Update of this Posting

Update -- January 21, 2007 9:40PM (PST)
Both major newspapers in Pittsburgh are now in agreement -- Mike Tomlin is the latest 34-year old defensive coordinator to become head coach of the Steelers. According to the report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (which itself reported Saturday night that soon-to-be former Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach Russ Grimm had been chosen as the new head coach): "Kevin Colbert, the Steelers director of football operations, began phoning players Sunday night and informing them the team had hired Tomlin.

Alan Faneca, one of the team's offensive captains, confirmed that Colbert had called him with news of Tomlin's hiring, but the All-Pro guard declined further comment
."

Update -- January 21, 2007 4:55PM (PST)
Two of the best sports writers anywhere are Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. So when they co-author an article you can be sure that the information contained therein is accurate.

Therefore it is safe to say that Mike Tomlin is the new Steelers head coach.

According to an article at post-gazette.com the team and Mr. Tomlin's representative are working out the details of a four year contract with an option for a fifth season.

Update -- January 21, 2007 7:47 AM (PST)
It's a battle of dueling sources.

The following is an excerpt from an item in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "Russ Grimm has been offered and has accepted the Steelers' head coaching position, a source in Pittsburgh confirmed late Saturday.

Grimm, 47, succeeds Bill Cowher, who coached the Steelers for 15 seasons before resigning Jan. 5. The hiring of Grimm will be announced Monday at a news conference
."

I'm so glad that the "real" media is so much more reliable than the blogosphere.

Original Posting
A few days ago Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic projected -- ok, guessed -- that Mike Tomlin was about to become the next head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now, after rank conjecture from SI.com comes word from team sources -- via a report from ESPN.com -- that Mr. Tomlin is indeed set to become head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"The Pittsburgh Steelers plan to name Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin as their new head coach, ESPN's Chris Mortensen confirmed Saturday night.

Sources told Mortensen that the team would announce Tomlin as coach either Sunday or Monday. Tomlin would become only the third Steelers coach in 38 years, and the first black head coach in their 74-year history.

Tomlin, a former Tampa Bay assistant, has been the coordinator for just one season under Brad Childress in Minnesota. Before that, he was a Buccaneers' secondary coach, a five-year spell that included installation of the teams' trademark 'Tampa-2' scheme. He was an assistant coach in the collegiate ranks from 1995 to 2000.

Sports Illustrated's Web site, SI.com, first reported that Pittsburgh had decided on Tomlin earlier Saturday. Steelers owner Dan Rooney told The Associated Press he had no comment. Team president Art Rooney II, leaving the team's practice complex Saturday, said he had nothing to say.

A person with knowledge of the search denied Tomlin has been hired, telling the AP that not only has the job not been offered but there have been no contract negotiations. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Steelers do not want details of the search made public until they have made their choice.

Tomlin and Grimm, the Steelers' offensive line coach and only remaining in-house candidate, both had their second interviews earlier this week. The Steelers couldn't talk to Rivera again until the Bears are eliminated from the playoffs. Chicago plays New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday
."

What remains to be seen is how many of the current Steelers assistants -- all of whom are under contract for 2007 -- will be retained, and whether or not changes in either the offensive or defensive schemes will be forthcoming; and if so how do will those changes affect the Steelers' draft strategy (more about that here this week).

Obviously the hope here is that all the coaches will be offered the opportunity to remain with the organization, however it may be very difficult for Russ Grimm to stay on after having competed for the top job.

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What Must They Be Thinking in Minnesota?

With Mike Tomlin poised to become head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday it may be informative for Steelers fans to get a glimpse of just how sports fans in Minneapolis are reacting to the imminent departure of the Vikings' defensive coordinator. The following is a peice written by Jim Souhan for the Star Tribune

"When Zygi Wilf fired Mike Tice, the Vikings' owner must have envisioned football nirvana.

Wilf was certain he would hire a dynamic coach, break ground on a new stadium, preside over a playoff team, and have his 77-page code of conduct treated with more respect than the Ten Commandments.

On Jan. 1, 2006, Wilf fired Tice. Fifty-five weeks later, the Vikings are coming off a year filled with off-field embarrassments (Koren Robinson's drunken driving, Dwight Smith's stairwell shenanigans, an assistant coach's DUI, Fran Foley's resume) and on- field embarrassments (setting a franchise record for fewest first downs and passing touchdowns, going 6-10 a year after Tice went 9- 7).

Saturday, this unsightly year threatened to get uglier. The one person hired by Wilf's regime who inspired confidence and optimism appeared close to leaving the franchise.

Saturday afternoon, si.com, Sports Illustrated's website, reported that Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin will become the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. ESPN's cadre of NFL 'insiders,' not to mention Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and Tomlin himself, denied the report.

If Tomlin does get the job, the Vikings will have made a mistake by choosing to keep coach Brad Childress and allowing Tomlin to leave. If Tomlin doesn't get this job, he'll probably be a top candidate next winter, at which point the Vikings will face the same choice: Keep Childress or Tomlin?

Tomlin is a flawed candidate. In his first year as an NFL defensive coordinator, the Vikings ranked first in the NFL against the run, and eighth overall. Give him credit for achieving his goal of shutting down the run; give him demerits for failing to produce a pass rush or stop teams that abandoned the run in favor of all-out passing attacks.

Tomlin is 34, and his team went 6-10. Why would the Steelers be this interested? For the same reason the Vikings would miss him: Even in a dysfunctional organization, Tomlin commanded the respect and attention of everyone he encountered.

Those who know Tomlin best didn't rule him out as a head- coaching candidate because they knew, given the opportunity to interview, he would impress prospective employers.

If he leaves, the Vikings will have no key decision-makers who are considered outstanding at their jobs, with the possible exception of cap analyst Rob Brzezinski. And they will have no key decision-makers who would give a realistic observer reason to view the 2007 season with optimism.

The news of Tomlin's possible departure is timely. On Sunday, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith will try to become the first black coaches to take a team to the Super Bowl.

Like Tomlin, Smith was a Dungy assistant. If Tomlin gets the Steelers job, then four of the six black coaches in the NFL will have sprung from the Dungy Coaching Tree: Dungy, Smith, Tomlin and Chiefs coach Herm Edwards.

Comparing Tomlin with Dungy is easy -- they both run a version of the Tampa-2 defense that Dungy popularized when he was a young Vikings defensive coordinator. Both exude class, and both possess that intangible that could be called 'coaching presence' -- the ability to make players respond to words that might be ineffective coming from someone else.

Tomlin's departure would be remindful of a similar chapter in Vikings history. In 1995, Dennis Green's Vikings went 8-8, and then Dungy left to coach Tampa Bay.

In terms of winning, you can argue that Green and Dungy were similar -- both have been able to advance their teams to conference title games without winning them.

If the Vikings' goal was to run a first-class, admired franchise, they should have chosen Dungy then, and they should choose Tomlin now
."

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Arizona Head Coach Seeking Steelers Assistants

Despite the fact that they are under contract to the Steelers for the 2007 regular season, Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt sought permission from the Steelers to speak to Pittsburgh assistants Bruce Arians (wide receiver coach), Keith Butler (linebackers coach), and Kevin Spencer (special teams coach) about positions on the staff in Arizona. According to a report on azcentral.com only Mr. Spencer was permitted to speak with the Cardinals head coach about a position on that staff.

In a related story (at least tangentally), the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron -- the same person who kept the ball out of LaDanian Tomlinson's hands in the second half of the Chargers vs. Patriots game -- has emerged as the leading candidate for the Miami Dolphins job. According to the report Mr. Cameron "kept his hotel room near the Dolphins' complex Thursday night after a second day of interviewing with team officials. A Dolphins spokesman said management was still weighing the candidates.

'I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that no decision will be made today,' Dolphins senior vice president Harvey Greene said last night. 'We hope to finish the process by tomorrow or Saturday at the latest'
."

So it appears that, for reasons that are not immediately evident, Russ Grimm's last chance for a head coaching position this offseason is also his first choice -- the Pittsburgh Steelers

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Brian St. Pierre a Patriots' Fan?

In an article appearing in the Salem News, Pittsburgh Steelers third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre gushes ad nauseum about the excellence that is the New England Patriots and their quarterback Tom Brady.

Indeed Mr. St. Pierre -- a Boston College graduate and native of Salem, Massachusetts -- is quoted as saying that "God obviously wears a Patriots' jersey;" and as if that isn't galling enough to Steelers fans he goes on to say that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady "is the best in the game."

One wonders just what kind of conversations Mr. St. Pierre and Ben Roethlisberger will have as the result of such public comments.

Finally, when asked about recently retired coach Bill Cowher, Mr. St. Pierre said simply:
"He didn't give me an opportunity. That's the only problem I had with him."

Of course Mr. St. Pierre is no doubt holding similar comments in reserve for when Ravens head coach Brian Billick, who also kept Mr. St. Pierre buried on that team's depth chart, also resigns/retires/is fired.

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Hope He Never Goes to a Raiders Game

Everyone remembers the story from last January in which a student in a Pittsburgh area high school wore a Denver Broncos jersey to school during the week leading up to the AFC Championship game.

Now the little baby 18-year old student, who has subsequently transferred to a new school -- apparently one in which Broncos fans are more accepted -- is suing the Big Beaver Falls Area School District and, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report is "is seeking a declaration that the defendants violated his rights; damages in excess of $25,000; punitive damages against the individual defendants and attorney fees and court costs."

As someone who has rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers his entire life, despite having lived outside of Pittsburgh for more than twenty years, let me just say that the kid is lucky that he wasn't pelted with something more harmful than notebook paper. Indeed, I can remember attending a Monday night game between the San Diego Chargers and the (then) Los Angeles Raiders at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at which a Chargers fan had their recently purchased Chargers souvenir pennant set on fire. To add insult to injury the Chargers fan was removed from the stadium for having incited the Raiders lunatics sitting around him.

The morale of the story is that if you are going to publicly support a team other than the home team you had better be tough enough to accept the response that you are going get -- even when it's at the hands of a teacher. After all, teaching is just a profession, being a Steelers fan is for life!

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Would Change Be a Good Thing?

One of the reasons many in the media have identified Russ Grimm as the leading candidate for the Steelers' head coaching job is the belief that there would be relatively few changes -- in personnel and/or scheme(s) -- if Mr. Grimm was hired. Conversely, it seems reasonable to believe that if either Mike Tomlin or Ron Rivera, both of whom coach a 4-3/cover 2 defensive scheme (and to learn more about that check-out this item from Football Outsiders) -- is hired there would be some significant changes.

Along those line, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has written an article discussing that very topic:

"Tony Dungy learned his craft playing for the Steelers in the 1970s and as the NFL's youngest defensive coordinator in the 1980s. What developed from that was the famed Tampa Bay Cover-2 defense, which right now has helped Dungy's Indianapolis Colts reach the AFC championship game.

Yesterday, Steelers officials interviewed a devotee of that defense who possibly could be their next head coach. Mike Tomlin learned it at the knee of Dungy, who learned it at the knee of Chuck Noll and his defensive staff.

'If you listen to coach Dungy, he'll remind you of that,' Tomlin said after he finished his second interview with the Steelers, which lasted about 3 1/2 hours and stretched into the early evening. 'A lot of people refer to it as Tampa 2, and he's always one to cite his sources. He reminds you of that.'

Tomlin was the first of three finalists interviewed for the second time. Next up: Russ Grimm, the Steelers' assistant head coach and offensive line coach. He will have his second interview today. Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, the other finalist, cannot be interviewed again until his team's season ends, either Sunday or in the Super Bowl Feb. 4.

Wholesale changes could be made to a team 11 months removed from a Super Bowl championship if Tomlin is hired as its head coach.

Tomlin has coached the 4-3 defense in Minnesota, relying heavily on that Cover-2 philosophy he learned under Dungy at Tampa Bay. The Steelers have run the 3-4 defense since 1983, when Chuck Noll abandoned the four-man front that became famous as the Steel Curtain in the 1970s.

Bill Cowher kept the 3-4, although in a different form, after he was hired as coach in 1992.

'I think it would be premature for me to comment specifically on personnel or personnel issues. I'd like to get the job first,' Tomlin said.

But he did say he's not tied to one defense, that he prefers to put the players in whatever system he feels best suits them.

'I'm a fundamentalist as opposed to scheme. I think football is a tough-man's game, it's an attrition game. You win by stopping the run and being able to run the ball effectively-- and doing the things winners do, being a detailed-oriented football team, playing with great passion and executing.'

It's unknown what would become of someone such as defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Steelers' zone-blitz impresario, under a Tomlin regime.

All the Steelers' assistant coaches are under contract, and many of them likely would remain in place if Grimm were hired. Tomlin, though, might want to bring his own coaches with him.

'I think regardless of who they hire to be head coach they expect him to lead, and part of leading is being prepared to do things that you feel strongly about,' Tomlin said. 'I'm no different than anyone else in that regard.'

All the Vikings' assistants also are under contract through next season, so Tomlin could not offer them jobs without Minnesota releasing them.

Tomlin, 34, is the same age as Bill Cowher was when he was hired as the coach in 1992, and, like Cowher, would be 35 before the next season started. Chuck Noll had just turned 37 when the Steelers hired him in 1969.

'Those that support me make sure that I understand that,' Tomlin said. 'But they're looking for a football coach. That's what I consider myself. My age is my age. They don't put an asterisk by the wins or loses on Sunday. You play to win.'

Tomlin, who was born in Hampton, Va., and played wide receiver at William & Mary, began his coaching career at VMI in 1995. He coached at Memphis, Arkansas State and Cincinnati before joining the pro ranks in 2001 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Dungy, then Jon Gruden. He left the Buccaneers as their secondary coach last year to become the defensive coordinator of the Vikings under new coach Brad Childress.

His first defense in Minnesota ranked eighth overall -- No. 1 in the league against the run but tied for last against the pass as the Vikings went 6-10. Their 30 sacks ranked below the league average of 36.4
."

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Happy Anniversary Steelers Fans

Though the Steelers are home for the playoffs this year all fans can still celebrate: Today is the 32nd anniversary of the Steelers' first Super Bowl victory in Super Bowl IX versus the Minnesota Vikings!

The game, which was played on January 12, 1975 before 80,997 fans at Tulane Stadium (the final game ever played in that stadium) in New Orleans, Louisiana, was one of the stranger Super Bowl contests. The half time score was 2-0, with the only points coming off Vikings' quarterback Fran Tarkenton's recovery of his own fumble in the Minnesota end zone. The game also featured one of the biggest, hardest hits ever unleashed by a Steelers defender, when Glenn Edwards unloaded on Vikings' wide receiver John Gilliam. The turnover that resulted from that hit sealed the win for the Steelers.

The MVP of that game was Franco Harris, who rushed for what was then a record 158 yards.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Quiet Before the Storm

Update -- January 11, 2007 5:10PST
The NFL Network is reporting that Ken Whisenhunt is scheduled for a second interview in Phoenix on Friday.

Update -- January 11, 2007 1:10PST
The experts at Pro Football Weekly are reporting that Mike Sherman is the choice for the head coaching position at Arizona.

While not going quite that far, ESPN's John Clayton describes Mr. Sherman's return to the desert, accompanied by his wife, as a "most interesting development."

Original Posting
The candidates have been interviewed, and now Steelers fans have . . . to . . . just . . . wait.

According to an article by Mike Prisuta in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the Steelers "are expected to conduct one or more follow-up interviews." Of the four candidates the Rooneys are known to have interviewed only one, Ron Rivera, is with a team that is still in the playoffs. If a second interview is to be conducted with Mr. Rivera it will have to wait until the Bears are eliminated from the playoffs (leave that to Rex Grossman).

In the same article Russ Grimm is described as having "emerged as one of the leading candidates -- if not the leading candidate -- to succeed Dennis Green." However, according to an article by Kent Somers for the Arizona Republic, there "are indications that [Mike] Sherman, who spent last season as the Texans' assistant head coach, has emerged as the leading candidate." The article goes on to report that Mr. Sherman, formerly the head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers, and his wife flew to Phoenix on Wednesday.

As for Russ Grimm and/or Ken Whisenhunt, the Arizona Republic article has this to say:
"The Cardinals interviewed eight candidates in eight days, concluding Tuesday with Russ Grimm, assistant head coach of the Steelers. Grimm and fellow Steelers assistant Ken Whisenhunt, also a Cardinals candidate, have interviewed for the Steelers job, which opened last week when Bill Cowher resigned.

That position would be their first choice, and the Cardinals might be delaying until the Steelers make a decision, perhaps in the next few days
."

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Well This is Unexpected: Gailey to be Interviewed

ESPN and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are reporting that Georgia Tech head coach, and former Steelers offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey will be interviewed this weekend for the Steelers head coaching position.

It had been widely speculated that the Rooneys would announce their choice for the position as soon as Monday, however the Post-Gazette is reporting that the organization has "no immediate timetable to name a succesor (sic) to [Bill] Cowher."

Adding some intrigue to the entire situation is the fact that according to an ESPN.com report Mr. Gailey is being interviewed at the recommendation of Bill Cowher.

Of course one has to wonder what this means for Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt. Though they have each interviewed for multiple head coaching positions, and have scored high marks throughout the league for their abilities (both as coaches and head coaching candidates), neither has received any offer(s) this offseason (i.e. it is believed that Mr. Whisenhunt was offered the head coaching position in Oakland last season, but that he turned that offer down). What, if anything, observers can infer from this latest turn of events is -- as always -- open to interpretation.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Russ Grimm Hall of Fame Finalist

Steelers Assistant Head Coach -- and candidate for the Head Coaching position in Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Miami -- has been named as one of the 17 finalists for a spot in Pro Football's Hall of Fame.

The inductees will be named on February 3, 2007 when the Board of Selectors meets in Miami to vote on the finalists.

The other finalists are:
  • Fred Dean -- Defensive End (Chargers, 1975-1981 & 49ers, 1981-1985)
  • Richard Dent -- Defensive End (Bears, 1983-1993; 1985; 49ers, 1994; Colts, 1996; Eagles, 1997)
  • Ray Guy -- Punter (Raiders, 1973-1986)
  • Gene Hickerson -- Offensive Guard (Browns, 1958-1973)
  • Michael Irvin -- Wide Receiver (Cowboys, 1988-1999)
  • Bob Kuechenberg -- Offensive Guard (Dolphins, 1970-1984)
  • Bruce Matthews -- Offensive Tackle (Oilers/Titans, 1983-2001)
  • Art Monk -- Wide Receiver (Redskins, 1980-1993; Jets, 1994; Eagles, 1995)
  • Andre Reed -- Wide Receiver (Bills, 1985-1999; Redskins, 2000)
  • Charlie Sanders -- Tight End (Lions, 1968-1977)
  • Paul Tagliabue -- NFL Commissioner (1989-2006)
  • Derrick Thomas -- Linebacker (Chiefs, 1989-1999)
  • Thurman Thomas -- Running Back (Bills, 1988-1999; Dolphins, 2000)
  • Andre Tippett -- Linebacker (Patriots, 1982-1993)
  • Roger Wehrli -- Cornerback (Cardinals, 1969-1982)
  • Gary Zimmerman -- Offensive Tackle (Vikings, 1986-1992; Broncos, 1993-1997)

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Mike Tomlin Meets with the Pittsburgh Press

Only in Pittsburgh is the fact that a head coaching candidate spoke with the media "Breaking News."

WPXI channel 11 in Pittsburgh is making a brief clip available at (copy & paste): www.wpxi.com/video/10714631/index.html?taf=burg

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Cam Cameron Off Steelers' List - UPDATE

UPDATE - January 10, 2006 10:00AM PST

ESPN.com is reporting that Tom Coughlin is staying put in New York.

Additionally, in brief comments with Los Angeles media outlets, Pete Carrol confirmed that he spoke with Wayne Huizenga about the Miami Dolphins' head coaching position, but expects to return to USC for the 2007 season.

Original Posting
In our recent Mike Tomlin posting we pointed out that it was beginning to appear that Chargers Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron was no longer on the Steelers' list of potential head coaching candidates. Now comes pseudo-confirmation of as much from ESPN's John Clayton.

In an "ESPN Insider" article (i.e. premium content) Mr. Clayton indicates that the "Steelers didn't have enough time" to interview both Mr. Cameron and Bears Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera. Inferred in Mr. Clayton's article, and speculated upon on Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic, is the belief that Steelers perceive Ken Whisenhunt to be (at a minimum) Mr. Cameron's equal.

An email from Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic to San Diego's Communication Director Bill Johnston seeking information as to whether or not the Steelers had sought permission to speak with Mr. Cameron was not immediately answered.

The Steelers organization (along with Miami and Arizona -- the Raiders? Who knows what they're doing) are no doubt moving quickly in an effort to stay ahead of the Giants who are likely to axe Tom Coughlin, with a decision expected to be announced publicly later this week.

While it would be unfair to characterize the Steelers as cheap the Rooneys do understand the importance of bargaining leverage, and it appears that Steelers Assistant Head Coach Russ Grimm has very little. Additionally, Mr. Tomlin would also be a low-cost, big potential candidate. Finally, unless Wayne Huizenga plans on hiring Ken Whisenhunt (and in the same article Mr. Clayton indicates that the Dolphins' owner is looking for a "big name" candidate, hence the flight to Costa Rica to meet with USC head coach Pete Carroll) the price for the Steelers' Offensive Coordinator may be falling as well.

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The Last Bill Cowher Posting - UPDATE


Update - January 10, 2007 (9:40AM PST)
One of the very best NFL writers around is ESPN's Len Padquerelli -- and it doesn't hurt any that he is also a native 'Burgher.

A few days agao Mr. Pasquerelli, writing for ESPN.com, discussed at length the ambivalence that many Steelers fans feel for their recently departed head coach. It is a terrific piece:

"One would think that The Chin, seemingly hewn from one of the old quarries that once supplied blast furnaces in the Pittsburgh area, would have been sufficient enough to make Bill Cowher unwaveringly popular in his hometown.

After all, does anything scream 'Burgher! like that silhouette?

But it is part of the enigma of Bill Cowher, who Friday made official his long-rumored retirement from the Steelers, that one of the most successful coaches of this era often took it on The Chin from local fans.

Cowher was not universally beloved.

In a city where longtime radio analyst Myron Cope dubbed former coach and four-time Super Bowl champion Chuck Noll "The Emperor Chaz," it was always strange that Cowher never had a nickname that suggested fan adoration.

Oh, sure, he was 'The Chin' or, to many close friends and associates, simply "Face." But as the man who most personified the tough-guy image, in a city whose three professional sports franchises all wear black and gold uniforms, Cowher was never a guy Pittsburgh could bring itself to thoroughly embrace.

Born and raised in nearby Crafton, about as blue-collar a neighborhood as one can imagine, Cowher was occasionally treated more like an accidental tourist. As with the guy who wanders into a corner bar in one of Pittsburgh's ethnic enclaves and orders an import beer instead of an Iron City, fans tended to view Cowher a bit cross-eyed. Although he was one of them, they sensed something off-putting in his demeanor. Despite his marriage to the physical, run-first brand of football, even some football purists didn't cozy up to Cowher's style.

By nature, Pittsburghers employ a simple what-you-see-is-what-you-get battery of tests for analyzing a person's character. No pretense permitted. Cowher -- whose players used to fear getting too close because they worried about being hit by flying spittle when the coach got too wound up -- did not seem to be about pretense. But justifiable or not, the locals sensed something ersatz in his nature. It was as if Cowher, his roots notwithstanding, was a counterfeit 'Burgher.

And, as any of you'ns Pittsburgh fans know, there is nothing worse.

Noll, of course, is tough to be measured against. But my godfather, for instance, still reminds me every chance he gets that the Steelers could have hired Mike Holmgren in 1992 instead of Cowher. That's the same Holmgren who owns as many Super Bowl rings, one, as Cowher. The same Holmgren whose Seahawks lost to Cowher and the Steelers in Super Bowl XL 11 months ago.

To be sure, it has been an unusual relationship. And now that it is over -- at least until Cowher returns in 2008 with another team -- it will be interesting to see how he is judged by Pittsburghers.

Nearly as interesting will be to see how Cowher, who takes at least a temporary leave of absence from the NFL with the 14th-most victories in league history, will be viewed by those who gauge a person's place in the history books. How will it play with the Hall of Fame voters who, given Cowher's departure, albeit it probably brief, could be called upon a year from now to consider his merits?

Tough to say. There are plenty of accomplishments, culminating with the Super Bowl victory. Yet, as is the case with how Pittsburgh fans regarded Cowher, there are some caveats, too. Last year, in the run-up week to Super Bowl XL, Pittsburgh newspapers devoted plenty of space to the belief that Cowher was just a Super Bowl win shy of Hall of Fame beatification.

We'll see. The issue of Cowher's Hall worthiness figures to provide plenty of fodder for Pittsburgh sports-talk shows. We figure Cowher deserves his day in Hall of Fame court. But some electors will be hesitant to strongly consider a candidate who is only 49 and figures to return to the NFL in the not-too-distant future. You hate to enshrine someone and then have him come back and perhaps tarnish his legacy in his second NFL incarnation. Can't happen, you say? Just ask the Redskins' "Ordinary" Joe Gibbs, who is six games under .500 the past three seasons, about life the second time around in the league.

There are 13 Super Bowl-era coaches in the Hall of Fame, and Cowher's career .619 winning percentage, including playoff games, is better than eight of them. He owns as many Super Bowl wins as two of them, and one more championship ring than three of them. His winning mark is superior to that of Hall of Fame coaches Weeb Ewbank (.508), Sid Gillman (.547), Hank Stram (.576), Bud Grant (.608), Bill Walsh (.617), Tom Landry (.603) and the man he succeeded, Noll (.572). Since 1992, the year he took over the Steelers, Cowher has crafted the league's third-best regular-season mark.

When John Madden's candidacy was debated last year, one of the best arguments in his favor was that he didn't have a losing record against any of the Hall of Fame coaches he faced. Cowher faced only two Hall of Fame coaches in his career, Marv Levy and Don Shula, and compiled a 6-3 record against them in regular-season and postseason matchups.

It's hardly his fault, though, that there weren't better coaches on the opposite sideline.

But what Cowher is culpable of, many Pittsburghers and outside observers agree, is a failure to win more titles. There are legion Pittsburgh fans who are quick to remind that Cowher lost four AFC Championship Games, all at home, in an otherwise brilliant tenure. As he stood on the podium at Ford Field nearly a year ago and handed owner Dan Rooney the Vince Lombardi Trophy, Cowher said: "Mr. Rooney, I've been waiting a long time to do this."

And a lot of Pittsburghers in attendance in Detroit or watching at home thought: 'Yeah, well, we've been waiting a long time for you to do it.'

There is no denying that Cowher has been a heckuva coach. Whether he is a Hall of Famer remains to be seen. How his hometown will remember his 15-year tenure remains to be seen, too.

Avarice doesn't play well in Pittsburgh and, for all the good things he did, there is some sense in the city that Cowher's exit is based on greed. Too bad, because those close to him insist that Cowher wants a year off to devote to his family and recharge the batteries. But if those batteries are recharged a year from now courtesy of an $8 million contract and Cowher returns to Pittsburgh as foe rather than friend, The Chin could be a pretty convenient target for those who never embraced him in the first place
."

Original Posting
William Laird Cowher it's been a blast.

All the wins, all the AFC Championship games, all the heartache -- I wouldn't have traded any of it, and it's a shame that Bill Cowher had to quit in order for the Steelers' fans to begin considering just how much fun this fifteen year ride has been. Moreover, the guess here is that none of us could ever have believed back in 1992 that the Rooneys would actually be able to hire a head coach that would make us "forget" Chuck Noll, but they did just that (or came as close as was humanly possible).

Finally, and on a less heartwarming note, we all know that Mr. Cowher will coach again someday, probably sooner rather than later, and we all are no doubt dreading the very idea. But while some are speculating that Miami is going to make a run at the Steelers' former head coach, or that Cleveland might well be his future NFL home, here's what Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic thinks:

Carolina: Former Cowher assistant John Fox has a career record of 44-31 record as head coach, but the inability to string together consecutive playoff seasons (2002: 7-9, 2003: 11-5, 2004: 7-9, 2005: 11-5, 2006: 8-8) makes Raleigh, North Carolina's highest profile resident an appealing replacement possibility.

Dallas: Win or lose this weekend Bill Parcells will be back for th 2007 season. After that anything is possible, including a former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach in Big D.

Tampa Bay: Jon Gruden's record since the Super Bowl season of 2002 -- in which he won with Tony Dungy's team -- is 27-37. Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay is, according to Google Maps, 650 miles from Raleigh.

Washington: Bill Cowher has already replaced one legend, why not another?

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An Early Look at the Draft:
The Offense, Part II

Using a very interesting methodology, the experts at Football Outsiders have attempted to critically evaluate the offensive line play in the NFL. It's something that resists easy, statistical analysis but Football Outsiders has done a terrific job. The bad news is that the Steelers offensive line finished the season ranked 22nd in run blocking and 25th in pass blocking.

With that in mind we now look at the tight ends and offensive linemen available in this year's draft.

Tight Ends (Overall Rating: Poor)

NameSchoolHeightWeight40 time
Scott ChandlerIowa6'6"2584.78
Matt SpaethMinnesota6'6"2574.83
Joe NewtonOregon State6'7"258Unavailable

Offensive Tackles (Overall Rating: Below Average)

NameSchoolHeightWeight40 time
Joe ThomasWisconsin6'6"3105.20
Joe StaleyCentral Michigan6'5"3004.75
Levi BrownPenn State6'4"3255.30

Offensive Guards (Overall Rating: Above Average)

NameSchoolHeightWeight40 time
Justin BlaylockTexas6'4"3305.20
Ben GrubbsAuburn6'3"3025.15
Aaron SearsTennessee6'4"3385.45

Centers (Overall Rating: Below Average)

NameSchoolHeightWeight40 time
Ryan KalilUSC6'2"2855.20
Leroy HarrisNC State6'2"2965.25
Enoka LucasOregon6'3"3005.35

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

An Early Look at the Draft:
The Offense, Part I

The Steelers are a running team that can throw, not a throwing team that runs -- a lesson learned the hard way during the first half of this season.

So while the Steelers almost certainly will not take a quarterback in this year's draft, nearly every other area of the offense is, at a minimum, in need of increased quality backups; and with Jeff Hartings leaning towards retirement the center position is liable to become a major question mark.

Here's a look at the top QBs, Running Backs, and Wide Receivers (i.e. the positions that the Steelers are unlikely to draft in) available in this year's draft.

Quarterbacks (Overall Rating: Below Average)

NameSchoolHeightWeight40 time
Brady QuinnNotre Dame6'3"2264.70
Drew StantonMichigan State6'2"2354.80
Troy SmithOhio State6'0"2104.60

Typically when putting these brief lists together commentary is not included, but the predicition here is that none of these three -- including Brady Quinn -- will be taken in the first round.

Running Backs (Overall Rating: Below Average)

NameSchoolHeightWeight40 time
Tony HuntPenn State6'0"2254.55
Kenny IronsAuburn5'10"1954.50
Lorenzo BookerFlorida State5'11"1955.60

Once again, please forgive the commentary, but according to Pro Football Weekly this "is clearly one of the weakest positions for the 2007 Draft." How weak? Well, "Draft Expert" Mel Kiper of ESPN has Michael Bush -- who broke his leg during the first game of the season and did not play again for the remainder of the season -- ranked #3.

Wide Receivers (Overall Rating: Below Average)

NameSchoolHeightWeight40 time
Calvin JohnsonGeorgia Tech6'5"2354.40
Dwayne BoweLSU6'1"2204.50
Jeff SamardzijaNotre Dame6'4"2174.50

If he makes a public commitment to playing professional football Mr. Samardzija, who played minor league baseball last summer, may move up. However, with his announcement on Monday that he would forego his final year of eligibility, Calvin Johnson is easily the class of the wide receiver group.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Steelers Fans, Meet Mike Tomlin - UPDATE



Update - January 8, 2007 2:47PM (PST)
Wayne Huzenga's plan is in the air, on its way to Minnesota. For a look at where Mr. Huizenga's been recently click here to look at Flightware.com. The fine folks at Pro Football Talk found this information -- ahh, the miracle of the internet!

Update - January 8, 2007 10:35AM (PST)
The NFL Network is reporting that Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga is travelling to Minnesota to interview Mike Tomlin for the head coaching position there.

Additionally, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Mr. Huizenga travelled to Costa Rica over the weekend to interview USC head coach Pete Carroll who is vacationing with his family there. The NFL Network is also reporting that Mr. Huizenga's private jet stopped in Jacksonville, where Mike Tice was interviewed, before continuing to Minnesota.

Original Posting
Both the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (see below) are reporting that the Rooneys are planning to interview Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Mike Tomlin -- who replaced Herm Edwards as the Tampa Bay defensive backs coach in 2001 -- for the Steelers' head coaching position.

In 2006 the Vikings' defensive unit finished 1st in average rushing yards allowed per game (61.6), 8th in the NFL in average yards allowed per game (300.2 -- .1 yard less than the Steelers' defense), 14th in average points allowed per game (20.4), and 32nd against the pass.

One of the best things about making Mike Tomlin head coach would be the opportunity to bring Vikings' running backs coach Eric Bieniemy to Pittsburgh to replace Dick Hoak. Mr. Bieniemy, who did an amazing job at my alma mater, UCLA, is one of the most intelligent and enthusiastic position coaches in the all of football.

"The Steelers have received permission to interview Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin for their head coaching position.

Tomlin, 34, finished his first season directing the Vikings' defense. He joined them last year after coaching the defensive backs at Tampa Bay the previous five years. He also coached the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive backs in 1999 and 2000.

Before he became an NFL assistant, he was an assistant coach at three different colleges from 1995 through 1998. He played wide receiver at William & Mary.

Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga met in Pittsburgh last night with Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to talk about the head coaching job in Miami. Huizenga was joined by Joe Bailey, the Dolphins' chief executive officer, and club president Bryan Wiedmeier
."

Additionally, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that Bears' Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera will be interviewed in Chicago on Sunday, then back in Pittsburgh Russ Grimm is scheduled to be interviewed Monday and Ken Whisenhunt on Tuesday.

Not mentioned in this article is Chargers' Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, which would seem to indicate that the Steelers' braintrust is confident that if they decide to go with an offensive coach the in-house candidates are the best of that group.

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An Early Look at the Draft: The Defense

While Dan and Art Rooney work on getting the next coaching legend to lead the Steelers, Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic turns its attention to the players that will be available in this Spring's draft. Using multiple sources (including Ourlads Scouting Services and Pro Football Weekly) the following list has been compiled ranking the overall quality/depth at each position as well as the top three players at each position. However, it must be pointed out that these lists include only one underclassman, and as more of those players make themselves available for the draft things could change significantly.

Certainly all NFL fans understand, intuitively, how important the draft is but when the Pro Bowl rosters were announced recently Chris Malumphy at Draft History.com was able to determine that almost half of those players were first round draft picks.

As far as what the Steelers might need on the defensive side of the football, the secondary appears to be emerging as a strength -- thanks in no small part to the outstanding work of defensive backs coach Darren Perry -- but with safeties Tyrone Carter and Mike Logan unrestricted free agents this year adding depth wouldn't be the worse thing to do with a mid- to late-round draft pick. The defensive line also has become a strength, and it seems unlikely they would draft in that area except that they have had success converting collegiate defensive ends into NFL linebackers -- just ask Joey Porter. The announcement on Sunday that Arkansas' all-world defensive end Jamaal Anderson is making himself available for the draft is good news for one of the team's picking in the top five.

Defensive Backs (Overall Rating: Average)

NameSchoolPositionHeightWeight40 time
Laron LandryLSUFS6'2"2044.5
Leon HallMichiganCB5'10"1954.49
Michael GriffinTexasSS6'1"2054.5


Linebackers (Overall Rating: Below Average)

NameSchoolPositionHeightWeight40 time
Paul PoslusznyPenn StateOLB6'2"2354.7
Patrick WillisMississippiILB6'2"2304.6
Stewart BradleyNebraskaOLB6'3"2404.7


Defensive Linemen (Overall Rating: Above Average)

NameSchoolPositionHeightWeight40 time
Jamaal AndersonArkansasDE6'6"280Unavailable
Gaines AdamsClemsonDE6'4"2614.7
Quentin MosesGeorgiaDE6'4"2504.65

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ken Whisenhunt Not Going to Atlanta? - UPDATE

The Atlanta Falcons have hired Louisville's Bobby Petrino as their head coach.

According to the Falcons' website a press conference will be held on Monday at 2:00 PM (EST) to officially announce the hiring, however in that some posting Falcons owner Arthur Blank is quoted as saying that the hiring of Mr. Petrino represents "an exciting day for the Atlanta Falcons franchise."

Original Posting
According to a report from Len Pasquarelli at ESPN.com the Atlanta Falcons have identified University of Louisville head football coach Bobby Petrino has their new coach.

Furthermore, the report indicates that the team and Mr. Petrino are "moving toward an agreement."

Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is still believed to be a candidate in Miami (along with former Steelers offensive coordinator and Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey) and Arizona.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Head Coach Search Methodology

Not long after Bill Cowher's press conference on Friday, Steelers President Art Rooney II stepped before the media and discussed just how the organization will go about the process of seeking their third head coach in nearly forty years. A transcript of that session is available at Steelers.com, but here are a few of the highlights:
  • Both Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm have been informed by the organization that they are both candidates for the position.

  • The list of potential candidates is still in the process of being formed, therefore Mr. Rooney was not able to provide the number of candidates that will be interviewed.

  • Those candidates whose teams are in the playoffs will be visited by the Steelers "interview committee" -- Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, and Kevin Colbert -- in their city.

  • While there is no requirement that the future head coach commit to preserving the team's current offensive and/or defensive schemes, the organization is looking for someone who "fit[s] with the organization and the approach we have had to football."

  • NFL coaching experience is one of the criteria being considered, but they "haven't eliminated college coaches, per se."

  • Bill Cowher will be asked "for his thoughts on people he knows around the league."

  • Whomever the new head coach is will be encouraged to consider the current group of Pittsburgh assistant coaches for positions on the new coach's staff, but there is no requirement that he keep the assistants.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Who are the REAL Candidates? Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic Gets Serious

Now that Bill Cowher has made his departure from the Steelers official, it's time to look carefully at the gentlemen who will by vying to take over as head coach. So without further adieu, here is a "power ranking" of the candidates.

The Leaders
The following three coaches are candidates for all the NFL jobs currently open, and the the two external candidates will be in Pittsburgh over the weekend.


Ken Whisenhunt (44 years old) - Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator (2004-Current)
  • Tight ends coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-2003)
  • Tight ends coach - New York Jets (2000)
  • Special teams coach - Cleveland Browns (1999)
  • Tight ends coach - Baltimore Ravens (1997-1998)
  • Special teams, Tight ends & H-backs coach - Vanderbilt University (1995-1996)
Mr. Whisenhunt received serious consideration for the Oakland position last year, that combined with the fact that several of the current Steelers players have expressed a desire to have one of the current Steelers' assistant coaches elevated to the head coach position would seem to make Mr. Whisenhunt the leading candidate. However as my great friend Big Dan the 'Burgh Man asked during a recent conversation is making the players comfortable a good thing? After all, it's a thin line between comfort and complacency.



Cam Cameron (45 years old) - San Diego Chargers Offensive Coordinator (2002-Current)
  • Head coach - Indiana University (1997-2001)
  • Quarterback coach - Washington Redskins (1994-1996)
Mr. Cameron's Marty Schottenheimer pedigree must be attractive to the Rooneys -- given Bill Cowher's successful run as Steelers head coach -- not to mention his results in leading the Chargers' offense. In 2002 the Chargers finished the season with the 16th ranked offense in the NFL (the Steelers finished 5th). In 2003 the Chargers finished with the 14th ranked offense (Steelers: 22nd). In 2004 and 2005 the Chargers finished with the 10th ranked offense (Steelers: 16th and 15th). For the most recently completed season the Chargers finished with the 4th ranked offense (the Steelers offense finished 7th).



Ron Rivera (44 years old) - Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator (2004-Current)
  • Linebacker coach - Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2003)
  • Defensive quality control - Chicago Bears (1997-1998)
Under Mr. Rivera the Bears' defense has developed into the very best defense in the NFC, and one of the best in the entire league. During his first season as defensive coordinator the Bears defense ranked 21st in the NFL, however in 2005 that unit jumped to the #2 defense in average yardage allowed per game (281.8) and #1 in average points allowed per game (12.6). In 2006 the Bears defense "slipped" to #5 in average yards allowed per game (294.1) and #3 in points allowed (15.9).

They've Got a Shot


Russ Grimm (46 years old) - Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2004-Current)
  • Offensive line coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-2003)
  • Offensive line coach - Washington Redskins (1997-2000)
  • Tight ends coach - Washington Redskins (1992-1996)
One of the best, if not the best, offensive line coaches in the league, and the only coach to have the title of "Assistant Head Coach" during Bill Cowher's tenure in Pittsburgh..



Rex Ryan (44 years old) - Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator (2005-Current)
  • Defensive line coach - Baltimore Ravens (1999-2004)
  • Defensive coordinator - Oklahoma University (1998)
  • Defensive coordinator - University of Cincinnati (1996-1997)
The latest in a line of very successful, skilled defensive coordinators in Baltimore. This past season the Ravens' defense was #1 in average yards allowed per game (264.1 -- more than 20 yards less than the #2 defense), #1 in average points allowed per game (12.6 -- more than two points less than the #2 team), #2 in sacks (60 -- San Diego had 61), #1 in sack yardage (418 -- 67 yards more than the #2 team), and #1 in interceptions (28).



Jim Caldwell (51 years old) - Colts Assistant Head Coach/QB Coach (2005-Current)
  • Quarterback coach - Indianapolis Colts (2002-2004)
  • Quarterback coach - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2001)
  • Head Coach - Wake Forest University (1993-2000)
The Colts' offense ranked second in scoring in 2005 (439 points), third in yardage (5,799), and first in 3rd down effeciency (48.7%). In 2006 the Colts tied for second in scoring (427 points), third in yardage (6,070), and first in 3rd effeciency (56.1%). In addition to his jobs listed above, Mr. Caldwell was also an assistant coach at Penn State from 1986-1992.



Kirk Ferentz (51 years old) - University of Iowa Head Coach (1999-Current)

Served on Bill Belichick's staff at Cleveland in the early 1990s. Hails from Upper St. Clair, and this native son is getting attention amongst some of the media.

An Outside Chance at Best


Jim Haslett (51 years old) - St. Louis Rams Defensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Head coach - New Orleans Saints (2000-2005, 45 wins-51 losses)
  • Defensive coordinator - Pittsburgh (1997-1999)
  • Defensive coordinator - New Orleans (1996)
  • Pittsburgh native
My personal favorite in this group. He would continue the use of the 3-4 defense, cut his teeth as a head coach in New Orleans -- and had what might go down as the worst experience of any head coach in the post-Katrina travelling show that the Saints suffered through in 2005 -- and is a native of the Pittsburgh area.



Bob Bratkowski (51 years old) - Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Coordinator (2001-Current)
  • Wide receiver coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (1999-2000)
  • Offensive Coordinator - Seattle Seahawks (1995-1998)
One of the more experienced candidates in this list. In his first season as Cincinnati's Offensive Coordinator the Bengals' had the 23rd best offense in the NFL, by 2005 they had moved up to sxith, and finished 8th this past season.


Rick Dennison (48 years old) - Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Offensive line coach - Denver (2001-2005)
  • Special teams coach - Denver (1997-2000)
  • Offensive assistant coach - Denver (1995-1996)
Mr. Dennison just completed his first season as the Broncos' Offensive Coordinator, a season in which that unit finished 21st in the NFL, but he has a good breadth of experience and is worthy of an interview.


Pete Carroll (55 years old) - University of Southern California Head Coach (2001-Current)
  • Head Coach - New England Patriots (1997-1999)
  • Defensive Coordinator - San Francisco 49ers (1995-1996)
The question is this: Is Pete Carroll interested in the NFL?

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"Crafton Boy Lived a Dream"

Here are some thoughts about, and favorite quotes from, Bill Cowher's resignation press conference.
  1. I have no doubt that Mr. Cowher's expression of appreciation for the sacrifices his family has made for him is sincere. But at the same time he was quite careful to describe his departure as a resignation, and when asked late in the press conference whether or not he was retiring he made a point of saying that this was a resignation. Additionally, while he stated that he didn't see himself coaching next season, and also said that the "only sidelines I'm going to be sitting on is up in the stands at my kid's basketball games," he also talked about how muchn he relishes the opportunity to "compete on Sunday" and how he loves the challenge of putting "a football team together."
  2. Mr. Cowher moved up his announcement so that the Rooneys could interview candidates this weekend, which is all the consideration anyone could really ask for.
  3. When asked about his favorite memory, other than the Super Bowl win, he talked at length about the many home playoff games and the affect those had on the community -- i.e. the "Black & Gold" days at local schools, and the pride that Pittsburghers felt.
  4. Mr. Cowher thanked many including his mentor, San Diego head coach Marty Schottenheimer, Dan Rooney, all the players and coaches with whom he has been associated, the support staff, Kevin Colbert -- who, it turns out, is a frequent partner in racquetball matches -- and the Steelers' fans who he described as "second to none."
  5. "You can take the people out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take the Pittsburgh out of the people." Amen to that!

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Breaking News -- Cowher to Resign Friday

In a story that is as fluid as the cnfluence of the Allegheny, Monogahela, and Ohio rivers, Gerry Dulac of thePittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that Bill Cowher is set to resign as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers at a 1:00PM (EST) news conference in Pittsburgh.

According to Mr. Dulac's report Mr. Cowher "said last week he still loves to coach and is not 'burned out' from being the longest-tenured head coach in the National Football League. However, he wants to take at least a one-year break from coaching and is not thinking about joining any other team in 2007, whether in the NFL or college football, sources said.

Those same sources have also said Cowher's decision to retire has nothing to do with money and that he is committed to spending the next year with his wife, Kaye, and youngest daughter, Lindsay, in Raleigh, N.C.
."

For those who will be at a computer, but not near a television, on Friday WTAE-TV is indicating on its website that they will webcast the news conference.

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Cowher to Miami? - UPDATE

Update - January 4, 2006 4:42PM PST
According to radio station "Double-X Sports" in San Diego (1090 AM on the radio dial) Dolphins' owner Wayne Huizenga is willing to offer the next coach, assuming he is one of a stature that warrants such a consideration, "full control" of the football operations (i.e. General Manager and Head Coach).

This might be the holy grail that Bill Cowher seeks -- the fact that others have tried before and failed be damned -- in leaving Pittsburgh. It still seems unlikely, after all Mr. Cowher was victorious in his well-chronicled power struggle with then General Manager Tom Donahoe, but it may be that the allure of such an opportunity would simply be too appealing to his ego to ignore.

If such a development would come to pass the question becomes what kind of compensation the Steelers could expect to receive in return -- after all a position of the kind possibly available in Miami would represent a promotion and that might lessen the obligation that the Dolphins would have to compensate the Steelers.

Additionally, wouldn't next season's matchup between the Steelers and Miami (at Heinz Field) be a hoot?

Original Posting
The hysteria surrounding the imminent departure of Bill Cowher is building to a crescendo, and more than one media outlet in Pittsburgh is speculating that Mr. Cowher may be headed to the rudderless Miami Dolphins.

Now comes an item from the Miami Herald which adds fuel to the fire. In the article, which discusses several of the leading candidates to replace Nick Saban, writer Armando Salguero offers this:

"The Dolphins will now start gauging their interest in candidates in earnest. The Steelers, Cowher and his agent might be among the first they contact. If Pittsburgh grants the Dolphins permission to speak with its coach, a person close to Cowher said Wednesday he would be willing to listen.

Although Cowher has a year remaining on his contract and is said to be on a family retreat in North Carolina to mull his future in Pittsburgh, the man who guided the Steelers to two Super Bowl trips and the title last season wants to coach again.

Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and defensive coordinator Dom Capers, both former head coaches, also coached under Cowher in Pittsburgh. Capers suggested he would like to be considered for the Miami opening; Mularkey would not say. It's not known if they would stay if Cowher were hired.

There are obstacles to Cowher joining the Dolphins. He reportedly wants a contract extension in Pittsburgh that would pay in excess of $7 million annually; the Steelers offered $6 million. And the Steelers would demand draft-choice compensation in return for releasing him from his contract.

The Dolphins also would have to gauge Cowher's personal situation to see if he indeed is willing to take on a job long-term rather than for a two- to five-year spurt.

But the obstacles are not insurmountable if Cowher is receptive. Huizenga has deep pockets and said Wednesday that he badly wants his team to win.

'I don't care what it takes, what it costs, or what's involved,' he said.

Miami's most successful coach, Don Shula, cost the Dolphins a first-round draft pick in 1970 after he was hired away from the Baltimore Colts
."

It is difficult -- no, impossible -- to believe that Bill Cowher would leave the friendly confines of the North Side of his hometown in order to coach a franchise that has become the Arizona Cardinals of the East, but then again he wouldn't be the first transplanted Pittsburgher to land in South Florida.

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Cowher to Announce Decision Monday

Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are reporting that Bill Cowher is expected to resign his position as head coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday:

"Bill Cowher will return to Pittsburgh and make an announcement about his future Monday, at which time he is expected to retire as coach of the Steelers, sources with knowledge of the situation have told the Post-Gazette.

No press conference has been scheduled by the Steelers, but Cowher has told several people he will come back from Raleigh, N.C. and announce his decision Monday.

Cowher drove to Raleigh Tuesday after meeting with team chairman Dan Rooney and president Art Rooney II. He has one year remaining on his contract, but he has told friends and associates he wants to spend more time with his family.

Meantime, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, one of the leading candidates to replace Cowher, interviewed this morning with the Atlanta Falcons and owner Arthur Blank."

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