Second-Year Coaches Collide in Super Bowl

There are many intriguing storylines leading up to Super Bowl XLIII and the head coaching matchup is no exception. Ken Whisenhunt spent six seasons in Pittsburgh before being passed over for the Steelers' top job following the retirement of Bill Cowher. Whisenhunt ended up in Arizona while Mike Tomlin took over in the Steel City. How do the two coaches stack up? Brad Wilbricht explains.

Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Tomlin have each been NFL head coaches for two seasons but they've taken different paths towards reaching Super Bowl XLIII. Both landed their first professional coaching jobs in 2001 and have experienced a steady rise to the top. Whisenhunt broke into the league on the offensive side of the ball while Tomlin's focus has been on defense.

Whisenhunt was a standout tight end for Georgia Tech and was an All-ACC performer in his final two seasons with the Yellow Jackets. He went on to play for the Atlanta Falcons for the first four seasons of his NFL career before spending time with the Washington Redskins and New York Jets. Whisenhunt's professional career as a player ended when he retired in 1993 after nine seasons.


Ken Whisenhunt
(Getty)

Following a brief stint in the college ranks with Vanderbilt, Whisenhunt secured his first coaching job in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. He spent two seasons in Baltimore coaching tight ends before serving one-year stints with the Cleveland Browns and back with the Jets.

In 2001, Whisenhunt finally found a home with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He spent six seasons with the Steelers and was named offensive coordinator prior to the 2004 season. Whisenhunt quickly made a name for himself due to his innovative formations and creative play-calling. In addition, he was a key fixture in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XL title run and is trying to duplicate the Steelers' feat of winning four consecutive playoff games.

Unlike Whisenhunt, Tomlin never played in the NFL as his playing career ended prior to the professional level. He attended the College of William and Mary where he was a three-year starter at wide receiver. Tomlin began his coaching career at the Virginia Military Institute and made several stops before arriving at the University of Cincinnati for the 1999 and 2000 seasons.

Tomlin was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001, serving as the team's defensive backs coach until 2005. He was part of the Buccaneers' 2003 Super Bowl winning team which was led by the NFL's top ranked defense. In 2006, Tomlin took over as defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings before heading to Pittsburgh in 2007 to replace the legendary Bill Cowher. At 36 years of age, Tomlin is the youngest head coach in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl.


Mike Tomlin
(Getty)

Both coaches are surrounded by a terrific supporting cast which includes high-profile coordinators and players. Steelers' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has a knack for churning out one the top defenses in the league year after year while Cardinals' offensive coordinator Todd Haley is becoming a hot commodity on the open market. Haley has recently been linked to the Kansas City Chiefs head coaching vacancy due to his past ties with new Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli.

Similar to their journey to Tampa, both coaches came into considerably different situations in their first head coaching gigs. Whisenhunt has turned around a historically losing franchise in just two seasons while Tomlin has picked up right where his highly successful predecessors left off in Pittsburgh.

The loser of Super Bowl XLIII will certainly take away many positives, but the winner will join an elite group of NFL head coaches at a very early stage in their career.


Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at brad.wilbricht@gmail.com


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