TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 3 P.M.
"I didn't notice any sneers after any of the questions," said one reporter. "That was refreshing."
Yes, Mike Tomlin is refreshing. Just the idea of meeting with print reporters in an informal press conference was refreshing. But, I told the reporter, he did laugh at one of the questions.
Yeah, mine. I asked whether he'd rather take over a 2-14 team than a team two years removed from a championship.
"Yeah, that was a stupid question," the reporter said. "I laughed, too."
Okay, so I win the Dimwit Award. I guess I should check my criticisms of TV reporters because it tends to come full circle right back at you. And it kind of did Monday evening when The Writers of the Roundtable met with Tomlin. Here were my questions and his answers. Both are shortened for quick-strike effect:
Q: Considering the expectations, are you feeling any pressure?
A: I do, and I enjoy it. I do. If you don't like pressure, you're in the wrong business. I thrive on it. That's how you know you're alive. If you don't want to get out the bed and meet the challenges of the day, I don't know what you do for a living at a high level.
Q: Wouldn't it be easier to step into a 2-14 situation with young talent, a lot of high draft picks, and a lot more money to spend in free agency?
A: Personally, I'd rather step into this (chuckle) sit-(laugh)-uation (laughs, growing laughter, full-blown guffaws). Would you rather go to a newspaper with absolutely low expectations in terms of your performance or do you want to compete? (laughs again, dammit) I struggle to understand why someone would think I have an issue with expectation. It's part of the business. You love it. That's what drives you. That's the competitor in all of us that do what we do. I welcome that.
Q: But there's less margin for error here.
Q: If you were to implement new ideas here, you wouldn't have as much time for them to take effect.
A: Great. Pour gasoline on the fire. I mean, really. Really. That's what we do, man. That's what we do for a living. We compete, and you'd better have confidence in yourself and your ability to do a job if you expect your men to take the field with that kind of swagger. And I do.
Well, that was my TV reporter's moment. But it's funny because one of the reporters chuckling out loud with Tomlin used this and more of the exchange to fill all 18 inches of their story that day.
But seriously, some people would prefer to take over a downtrodden program and do what Jimmy Johnson did in Dallas in the 90s. There's more personal glory involved, not to mention more time, freedom and materials given to get the job done right.
I didn't expect Tomlin to be that egotistical, but, hey, without any TV boobs in the room, someone had to pick up the slack and ask the questions, and that someone on Monday was me. Sometimes you have to take one for the club, and I'm pretty sure I'll get over it.
As for Tomlin's best comments, here's my list:
4. "You try to slide in and watch a little high school basketball, but I'm starting to realize that I can't slide in anywhere. That's cool. It was a warm reception and that's great, but I didn't go for that, I went to watch Kevin (Colbert)'s son play a little basketball."
3. "The elite players defy scheme. … What we're going to do is we're going to continue to shape our package to do what our players do and do well. It'll be a constant evolution, just like the players are constantly evolving."
2. "Some people motivate through fear. To me, fear is not a good long-term motivator. I think you motivate true professionals through teaching, so that's my approach."
1. "I'm not here to entertain them, or try to win them over immediately with glitz and glamour. That's short-lived. I'm going to be myself. We're going to get started about the business of putting together a great football team. That's just rolling your sleeves up and going to work on a day-to-day basis. That's what they're going to see from me. The things that they see from me Day One, once we get started on our off-season program, are the same things that they're going to see from me next January when we're in the thick of things."
I found those comments to be self-evident, since I'd considered him a rock of a teacher/coach since the first day he walked into the media room. But it's encouraging that my faith in him was reinformced by his simple, fundamental approach to coaching.
I doubt he'll change, win or lose. I just hope he finds another fool to amuse him at the next get-together.
Today's best of the message boards:
2mdPittFan: think I fell in love... in a non-gay, sports related way. I've never seen an interview with any coach as comforting and confidence driven as that.
Organized, relaxed, fun. That's the key. Say it to yourself three times every morning when you get to your desk. When you're organized you can relax and answer any question honestly. And if you're relaxed, you can have fun and add the style points.
stillerfreak: How refreshing. It has been a long time since I actually gained information from a PC.
Did he give information? I thought he did at first, but when I went back to write the story I didn't find much. Want a 2nd RB? Of course. Move the center? I don't know. DE or tweener in the draft? Either one. What's on film? Strong men. Four wides on run downs? Take what the defense gives us. Well done, Mike. You are organized, relaxed, having fun, and leaving them thinking they got something from you.
txBlitz: Let's see if San Diego's owner has the balls to get Singletary or Rivera or goes the we are close give me the best re-tread approach.
The only coach I'd put above those two, for that team, is Pete Carroll. And it appears he's the guy who'll get the job.
PittBull55: Im Getting Tired of Fatt Mouth Faneca!!!!!!! This is the exact same thing he did when we got Ben. He had a piss-poor comment to make, and it seems he just cant get enough of questioning the Front Office.
Just to set the record straight, Alan Faneca didn't blast the front office when Roethlisberger replaced the injured Maddox. He was asked whether he was worried about playing with a rookie quarterback and he said he was. This week, Faneca said he'd rather be coached by Russ Grimm. I tend to agree with the caller here, but I'll give Faneca the benefit of the doubt because he's a legit leader and should be allowed a fit of honesty in February. He and this team will be fine. If the Steelers have a poor season, I doubt it'll be due to coaching or veteran leadership.
Symocourage20: I've heard that a trade-down for Justin Blalock, OG, makes sense, especially if Simmons is moved to center. That, too, sounds good. I've heard people on this board say stay put and take Levi Brown, OT (though I can't see why, neither strategically or monetarily). However, I also know that if Posluszny is everything Ham says, no one will care whether he was drafted #15 or #27.
I'd rather have Levi Brown than Blalock by a mile. There are people around the league who don't like Max Starks at all because of his feet. Maybe Tomlin and the new line coach are in that camp, so I wouldn't complain if they chose Brown 15th and put him at RT, even as competition for Starks for the time. You can never have too many tackles, particularly if you move Colon and Simmons one spot each to the left. I wouldn't be excited about the pick, but I wouldn't complain. I would complain about Blalock in the first round, but I would take him in the second round if Ben Grubbs and Arron Sears are gone. I'd look at Josh Beekman in the third round, too. Beekman also played center at Boston College and Grubbs practiced at the position at the Senior Bowl. Now, as for the linebacker, I figure Tomlin to look for a pass-covering ILB for his cover-2, and I'd prefer he take him in the second round instead of Patrick Willis in the first. I like Willis, but Rufus Alexander was outstanding in the Big 12 title game and played well in his bowl. He's a legitimate speed backer who surprises with his explosive tackling in the open field. It's surprising only because of his rep for being a finesse LBer at the line of scrimmage. Stewart Bradley of Nebraska can also cover (watch him on Oklahoma's and Auburn's slot WRs), and is a bit more physical against the run than Alexander. My third choice at the position, in the second round, is probably Posluszny.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 12, NOON
It must be the right place. Even though the sign outside the bar didn't identify its owner as former Steeler Gary Dunn, the wording at the top indicated that he, the proprietor of the Ocean View Inn, is an "NFL Has Been."
Yep, this must be Dunn's place.
My wife and I arrived at about 1 p.m., or too early for any self-respecting Western PA dive bar. That's what it is, only relocated to the Florida Keys. The smell of urine inside the dark and dusty bar said as much.
My wife Lydia said it wasn't urine, but stale beer, like the floor of a frat house the morning after. But she wouldn't deny that this is a place where the anonymous could stay anonymous. No one here would tell tales out of turn, and that's the reason I used to love these kinds of bars. But that was years ago, when I was a young, drunk and full of, well, beer and whiskey. Times changed and so has my opinion of what I'll call a dive bar.
"Of course it's a dive bar," Tunch Ilkin told me after I'd returned to Pittsburgh. "But you probably went too early because once that food starts cooking it takes away the smell."
Ilkin and Dunn are old buddies. Ilkin pointed me in his direction for my first book. "He was the funniest guy on the team," Ilkin told me, and he was right. Dunn's stories are fabulous. So I finally made it down to his bar in the middle of the Keys.
Route 1 connects the islands all the way down to Key West, and Dunn's bar, the Ocean View Inn, rests on the right side of Route 1, in the stretch of the Keys known as Islamorada.
"You do realize Islamorada is the best place to be in the entire Keys," said Gloria, a waitress who'd been there 23 years since leaving her home in Queens, N.Y. She's the one who explained to me that the "Dolphin sandwich" was really mahi-mahi.
"Key West is too touristy and Key Largo is too boring," she said. "This is the place to be."
Okay, so where's Gary? If it's the place to be, particularly on this trip, there has to be something Steelers-related besides the photo of Dunn stuffing Kevin Mack at the goal line back there on the wall, next to the shot of Dunn and his friends partying on Jimmy Johnson's boat.
"Gary's not here," Gloria said. "He's in Miami for some Super Bowl stuff."
Super Bowl stuff? You figure a guy like Dunn would avoid "Super Bowl stuff" like the plague. Miami's the place to flee right now, not the place to be. What's he thinking?
"He knows that," the waitress said. "But there are some old friends he wanted to see."
Dunn has friends everywhere, but they usually come to him down here at the Ocean View Inn. Take Tunch for instance.
"I bring my boys down there all the time. I love his place," Ilkin said. "I love the backyard. We've played volleyball there and spent afternoons fishing off the back pier. And the people; they come down there to escape life. You have all of those Hemingway-type characters who've given up on the rat race. It can be a little depressing, but there are always some great characters in that bar."
One patron that early afternoon had his German Shepherd with him.
"Don't mind him," he told us.
Mind him? Mind if I don't look at him as I keep walking?
The backyard was the place to be. The grills were firing up along with the sun. And Dunn had installed a brand new pool and the action was just warming up. Yep, 10 years ago I'd have gotten drunk as a skunk and spent the day here. I probably would've ended up quitting the rat race, too, but as it stood in the Land of Good Health, as the other reporters call my room at training camp, we had to be at Key West before the sun went down. It's something those of us in the rat race know as a touristy thing.
"Come back for the Super Bowl," Gloria said. "Gary will be here and this place will be packed. Really, you should come."
I said I wasn't sure, that I had another big Steelers bar in Fort Lauderdale that we needed to investigate for my next book. I did drop off a copy of "Tales From Behind the Steel Curtain" for Dunn's perusal. And tell him, Gloria, that the best stories in the book are his. Tell him thanks.
"You tell him on Sunday," she said, and with that we went back inside to get to the parking lot. But first my wife needed to make a purchase, so I told the barmaid we wanted one of those souvenir T-shirts.
"Good for you," the barmaid said.
There was nothing phony about her sarcasm. It made us feel right at home.
Today's best of the message boards:
BlitzburghD: We welcomed our third child Mia Simone into the world Thursday. Both she and my wife are doing great. Mia is not only our only daughter, she is the first granddaughter to be born on my side of the family.
Congrats, Donny. The newest addition to Steeler Nation sure has a beautiful name.
Symocourage20: Judging from what I've read, seen, and heard thus far (mind you, this is early Feb. pre-Combine chatter), it looks like OLB Paul Posluszny, DE Adam Carriker, and DE/OLB Jarvis Moss are the leading candidates if the team stays at #15 in round 1.
I trust "pre-combine chatter" because the evaluations are based on game performance as opposed to 40 times. But I will be at the combine this month and hope to have my draft board up before I leave. That way I can make minor adjustments when times match (or don't match) the speed I see on film. As for the above three players, I'm not much of a fan of Posluszny, but Carriker is Aaron Smith II and there'd be nothing wrong with taking him, a sure-fire starter, with pick No. 15. Carriker doesn't have the upside of, say, Moss, but he's more of a sure thing. Carriker, unlike most of the glory boys who play defensive end in college, has already shown he'll take on the oxen-like two-gap duties of a 3-4 end, and like it. And if we're going to talk about true outside linebackers such as Posluszny, I prefer Carriker's teammate at Nebraska, Stewart Bradley. And if the Steelers could trade up for another top 50 player, take DE/OLB Jay Moore, too. Never thought I'd be such a Nebraska fan, but the late-season tapes don't lie.
Steelersbuckeyesjackets: Pretty much what you would expect from Faneca, brutal honesty, refreshing as always.
This in reference to Alan Faneca's comment at the Pro Bowl that he wanted Russ Grimm as coach. And, yes, this is about what you'd expect the loyal lineman to say about his old line coach. It's similar to the way Faneca stood up for his injured roommate, Tommy Maddox, when Ben Roethlisberger moved into the lineup. This does not mean, however, that the front office is on alert for player revolt, as one rumor mill is reporting. Of course, it's the same rumor mill that pushed for Dave Wannstedt to replace Bill Cowher as coach last month.
SteelerNJax: It's worth it... You guys did a bang up job keeping the conversation going in bad times. Jim, Dale, Wolfley, Ian, Ryan, etc etc.
I feel bad about the last few weeks. I've been on vacation and missed all the brouhahas around here. But tonight kick-starts our off-season coverage. Mike Tomlin is meeting with the print reporters and we'll have a transcript, a story and a column for Tuesday.
MONDAY JANUARY 29, 9:30 A.M.
I realize these stream-of-consciousness columns should be posted five minutes after the end of the game, but I fear I'm in that Last-days-before-Vacation mode, otherwise known as the throes of the work year. So, I'm two days late on my Senior Bowl notes. Let's not waste any more of your time:
* First of all, the game is more important than most media portray it to be. They like to say the Senior Bowl practices are more important, but that's only because the scouts leave early. The point is, they can see the game on tape at home. Otherwise, the game IS more important. I've seen too many pro linemen rag-dolled by backups to know one-on-one practice drills mean little compared to game performance.
* Patrick Willis piques my interest right away by running down Jason Hill on a reverse downfield. Great speed.
* On the North's first two possessions, Tony Hunt ran over LBers Willis, Buster Davis and Rufus Alexander. Then Hunt flashed enough speed to turn the corner for a 12-yard gain inside the red zone.
* Josh Beekman pancaked Willis at the goal line to free Hunt. Beekman's stock is said to be falling, but the big guy pulls a little bit and played center at times this season. He'd be a decent Round 3 or 4 fallback if the Steelers don't want to spend a high pick on interior linemen Ben Grubbs, Aaron Sears or Justin Blaylock.
* David Harris tackled Kenneth Darby for a loss on a screen pass. Harris reads everything at the line so instinctively and he appears to enjoy contact. I assume his 40 time at the combine will be the reason he falls into the second round.
* Brian Leonard ran someone over in short yardage and he also shows speed after the catch. I don't know if he's a West Coast fullback, an East Coast tailback or a tight end amidst a crop of the poorest blocking TEs I've ever seen.
* Speaking of which, a tight end I hadn't seen this season, Delaware's Ben Patrick, was just run over by Tim Crowder, and Troy Smith paid the price.
* Anthony Spencer was held by Arkansas left tackle Tony Ugoh and nearly sacked Smith, who dumped off a pass to his right just in time. But Spencer kept running and made the hit on Kenny Irons just past the line of scrimmage.
* Willis runs better than I'd thought. He's roving sideline to sideline and gets deep in a hurry. No wonder he's been labeled a cover-2 linebacker. He does remind me of Derrick Brooks in that regard. Brooks lasted until the 28th pick of the first round back in 1995. The buzz is that Willis will land in a similar spot, and my feeling is that team will get a bargain.
* There's no disgrace in being run over by Tony Hunt, or in being blocked by Josh Beekman at the point, because Willis is showing he's a take-on LB and not some finesse run-around type who's deserving of criticism.
* In LB drills during the week, Willis was clearly the smoothest mover of the bunch. He might've been the only player not criticized by Mike Singletary.
* Speaking of Singletary, I'm stunned the Dallas Cowboys aren't looking at him for their head-coaching vacancy. The guy can teach, motivate and exudes gravitas.
* Two little things stood out on Aundrae Allison's touchdown catch. One, teammate Jason Hill, whom I'd begun to really like and pay attention to, uttered an ugly racial remark in celebration. I now don't want Hill anywhere near my team. Two, Ben Patrick crumpled like Matt Kranchick on a blocking attempt. I'd have to look deep into my notes to find a tight end worth drafting this year.
* Listen to Mike Mayock when someone else in the booth begins raving about 6-foot-7 TE Joe Newton. Mayock doesn't say a word because knows the guy couldn't block his shadow. For all of his red-zone potential, Newton may not even get drafted.
* David Patterson was just credited with a sack after being pancaked into the QB's feet by Tim Duckworth. Some guys get all the breaks.
* I'd given massive guard Manny Ramirez an early second-day grade the only time I'd seen him, and he's playing like it today. The only reason I wouldn't take him in the fourth or fifth round is that I already have the same player in Chris Kemoeatu.
* Kolby Smith is miscast as a fullback, but he's giving effort and gets in the way as Verron Haynes does. The more you can do.
* Brandon Merriweather is a hell of a player, either at safety or cornerback. But remember, he's the guy who was stomping on a downed player with his cleats during Miami's ugly brawl with Florida International.
* Buster Davis blew up one player in the first half – teammate Aaron Ross.
* Lorenzo Booker returned several kickoffs but showed little elusiveness. Little guys known for speed should show more.
* On the first second-half drive, Tony Hunt turned the corner and Merriweather wanted no part of tackling him. On his next carry, Hunt was met squarely in the hole by Davis.
* Quentin Moses was just blocked by tight end Ed Chandler. On the next play, Moses was blocked by a running back and the play resulted in a TD pass to Jason Hill.
* As Moses falls out of the media's first round, Anthony Spencer is making a bid to take his place. Tony Ugoh just can't block Spencer.
* Ugoh is being cited for his upside because he'd been on the Arkansas track team for all but one spring football season. However, Ugoh could also be viewed as someone who's not passionate about football. He's not showing much passion today.
* Ben Grubbs clearly outplayed Justin Blaylock when both lined up at guard for the South. Grubbs should be the first guard taken in the draft.
* Patrick Willis played some strong-side OLB in the second half. He easily jammed and ran with the tight ends.
* Someone named Michael Coe of Alabama State just intercepted a pass in the end zone. He's 6-foot-1, 195 pounds and had blanket coverage on Paul Williams, and then outjumped Williams for the ball. Coe could be an interesting fourth-rounder, a la Ike Taylor.
* Courtney Taylor caught a short pass, but was hit and spun around immediately by Tanard Jackson. However, Taylor would not go down and gained some extra yardage. That's the second game in a row I've made that notation on Taylor.
* Instead of looking at Dwayne Bowe early for a tough, physical, blocking WR, the Steelers should be looking at Courtney Taylor late. He looks like the son of Otis Taylor to me.
* Nebraska's Jay Moore had two sacks because LT Joe Staley inexplicably blocked down instead of the end lined up over him. I wonder if Staley will fall far enough for the Steelers to grab a steal in the second round.
* I watched the 1976 Oakland Raiders on the tremendous "America's Game" series. LT Gene Upshaw could really run. So can Joe Staley, and the Steelers have some developmental time at the position for a guy who's passionate about the game and will only get stronger. I think that guy is Staley.
* Ryan Kalil was just involved in another fumbled snap, but that isn't stopping Dick Vermeil from raving about the USC center. Not that I'm holding the fumbles against Kalil, and I did see his impressive technique work during the practice week, but the guy lacks mobility and at 287 pounds doesn't have the strength to root out NGs in the run game. I don't understand all the love for Ryan Kalil.
* Moore just beat Staley again and forced a Jordan Palmer fumble. Is the 6-5, 276-pound Moore a 3-4 OLB? Should Steelers fans care? We really don't know which way new Coach Mike Tomlin will go -- which alignment-specific player he'll look at -- when he chooses the necessary pass-rusher. My suggestion is that he draft a pass-rusher he loves and then tilt the scheme to fit the personnel.
* It'll be interesting to see what the kid Tomlin and the master Dick LeBeau come up with on defense. A game-changing scheme, like the zone blitz in the 1980s, is a possibility whenever LeBeau's wheels begin to turn.
* They're showing a clip of Hines Ward being inducted Friday into the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame for his performance in the 1998 game. A few seconds later, I see the familiar Hines Ward smile on the South sideline, only it belongs to Florida QB Chris Leak.
* Patrick Willis made the game's last tackle. I'm reading that his stock is falling, but after watching him this week I like him more than ever.
* There are so many quality players being judged as late first-rounders that I believe the Steelers should consider trading down. Willis, Ben Grubbs, Anthony Spencer, Tony Hunt, David Harris and a few other guys make me want to have three top-50 players if possible.
MONDAY, JANUARY 22, 8:20 A.M.
I had to listen to reporter Mike Prisuta on the radio this morning to hear his explanation of why he reported in the Tribune-Review that Russ Grimm had accepted the Steelers' offer. Turns out, it was the Steelers' fault. Yes, according to Prisuta, the Steelers offered the job to Grimm and then pulled it soon thereafter.
Ahhhh, now I understand: The Steelers screwed him. Man, I hate when that happens.
Anyway, Prisuta marched on. With authority, he addressed new coach Mike Tomlin's coaching staff. Prisuta said that since Keith Butler and Bruce Arians were prevented from joining Ken Whisenhunt in Phoenix last week, they'll stay. Prisuta said of Grimm: "I can't imagine him ever coaching here again." I guess if you're going to actually believe the Steelers offered and then pulled the offer, then, yes, you should believe Grimm to be upset. And then Prisuta predicted, as the Post-Gazette is speculating, that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will leave. "You have to wonder if a 69-year-old guy would want to work with a 34-year-old guy," Prisuta reasoned.
So my prediction is that Butler and Arians will leave to join Whisenhunt in Phoenix, and that Grimm and LeBeau will stay. My reasoning is that Grimm needs a job and is only upset at himself for a poor interview, and that LeBeau would love to work with a 34-year-old guy.
Seriously, I see LeBeau staying. I see him taking Tomlin under his wing. I see Tomlin, a bright guy, being smart enough to want LeBeau to stick around. It's silly to think Tomlin wouldn't want LeBeau around just because he's a 3-4 guy and he, Tomlin, is a 4-3 guy. That's a difference of, say, Charles Johnson. Remember him? Yeah, all of us poor draft slobs watched Georgia down the stretch in the hope we could project defensive end Quentin Moses as a 3-4 outside linebacker. As we watched, we instead wished the Steelers could draft the bigger Johnson. He was the end on the other side of the Georgia line that blew up Virginia Tech's offense all night.
Oh, but could Dick LeBeau coach Charles Johnson? What a joke. Um, LeBeau in fact may be relieved that he doesn't have to look for tweeners anymore. Or he may have some of his own ideas about talent procurement that had been stymied by Bill Cowher. So I say bring on the pass rushers, Mr. Tomlin, and let LeBeau have at it. My guess is he'll surprise the media in this town, and trust me, that's not hard to do. If they're wrong, they'll just find a way to blame the Steelers anyway.
It's funny, but I don't laugh when I hear people say Tomlin was hired because he's a minority. Will he be a minority in the locker room? I think you know the answer to that, and it may signify a shift in NFL front-office philosophy because it stands to reason that an African-American coach would relate better to his players. But will he be accepted by the ridiculous J. Peezy? And what will Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and Ben Roethlisberger think about this? And will they rebel? After all, they're championship caliber. Why change so drastically?
Boys, boys, boys. Yes, the Steelers are only two years removed from a Super Bowl, but they're also one year removed from 8-8. My belief is that change was necessary, and if players like Peezy don't like it, they can join Whisenhunt in Phoenix, too. But I trust that everyone will get behind Tomlin and that the momentum will be apparent right away. This is a team that finished strong, but really did need fresh coaching blood. Tomlin will put these great athletes in position, and my guess is they'll perform for him. Now the third part: Will Tomlin make the right calls as a game manager at the right time? Cowher, in my mind, was never a great game manager, so I don't think the bar's set very high around here. Yes, my guess is Tomlin will fare well all the way around.
One more question that needs to be asked about Tomlin: Will he be able to turn Roethlisberger around? That may have been the biggest failing of the previous coaching staff. Roethlisberger regressed last season. He still can't throw the deep ball, or even operate effectively in the pocket. He doesn't check down much because he doesn't understand the nuances of the offense since he's not much of a bookworm. He needs a kick in the butt, but you wonder whether he'll respond to one from a young coach. My guess is he will, and it will help that Tomlin is African-American. While most in the Steelers' locker room don't see color, it's my belief that Roethlisberger does. I've heard him labeled as "the NFL's first hip-hop quarterback," and I agree. He loves to tilt that ball cap slightly and as a rookie became quick and close friends with Plaxico Burress. In college, Roethlisberger's best friend was an African-American receiver named Martin Nance. My guess is Roethlisberger will come out and have a big year and in the end become one of Tomlin's "boys."
In conclusion, it's a relief, as a reporter following the team, to have the head coach in place. But I can't get past the dismissal of third candidate Ron Rivera. He's young, at 45, and more experienced than Tomlin and on Sunday his unit put on a show in holding the lethal New Orleans Saints to 14 points. By comparison, LeBeau's defense allowed the Saints 31 points at Heinz Field this past season.
Rivera may be Cal-Berkley educated, but he played for rough-and-tumble Buddy Ryan and Mike Ditka in a town, Chicago, that's similar in rough-and-tumble attitude and climate to Pittsburgh. Rivera believes in stopping the run, rushing the passer and running the football. Watching his defense on Sunday had me convinced he's the right man for the Steelers. But the Steelers apparently couldn't wait two more weeks. My guess is the blundering Tribune-Review didn't help in this matter.
During the second playoff game Sunday, a friend asked me about the Steelers' draft of 2004, when Dan Rooney reminded Cowher and Kevin Colbert that, yes, Shawn Andrews may be a fine prospect, but that if they pass on a franchise quarterback they'll regret it the rest of their lives. Rooney, of course, was part of the infamous 1983 draft in which the Steelers passed on hometown QB Dan Marino in favor of nose tackle Gabe Rivera, who was paralyzed in a car wreck.
"I understand all that," my friend said. "But we'll never know how good Rivera could've been in this town." It's 23 years later and I'm wondering the same thing.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 17, 11 A.M.
Honest, I heard this on the TV yesterday: "In talking to those who've talked to those who are doing the interviewing, I learned that Mike Tomlin really knocked the Steelers' socks off with his first interview."
Yes, he "talked to those who talked to those." Classic stuff from the investigative types crawling around the Steelers' South Side offices. But the fact is, no one's saying anything to anybody about the coaching search. Sure, Kevin Colbert may have smiled and nodded and said, "Yeah, things went well." Or perhaps Dan Rooney said something similar. Art Rooney? He may have you escorted from the premises just for asking.
My point, dear and anxious Steelers fans, is that no one knows what's going on. "If you got Kevin Colbert drunk and injected him with sodium pentothal," said once source at the building, "he wouldn't be able to tell you anything because he doesn't know what Art's thinking."
No one knows what Art's thinking. Someone once asked someone what goes on inside Art II's head. And that someone had asked one of Art's friends. And that friend had asked Art's wife. The answer came back negative: "I don't know. I never know." Dude is cold, man. Not that he's not forthcoming when the time is right, but had he not entered law and then the NFL, Art Rooney could've dominated the national poker scene.
But back to the source. He told me how much the mid-range front-office folk are enjoying all of the speculation about the head coach. They're particularly enjoying the web site Pro Football Talk, which last week predicted Ken Whisenhunt would be the coach, and then early this week reported that the potential firing of Marty Schottenheimer is holding up the Steelers' hiring process; that the Steelers are interested in him. Yeah, that one got a good laugh up and down the corridor. Today, the sometimes informative head of the site, Mike Florio, is going with Russ Grimm. Uh, oh, Russ.
Florio says it's Grimm because the Post-Gazette, he said, is the only place that has its finger on the pulse and that Grimm is their candidate, so it's his. Yes, and last week Whisenhunt was the P-G's top candidate.
My point isn't to knock these hard-working journalists, but to calm a nation. These guys all have the same chance and it will depend on how they interview this week. So the next time you get worked up because someone supposedly has emerged as the leading candidate, stop yourself, take a deep breath, and remember you're dealing with three reserved men who know what they're doing, and that two of those reserved men have no idea what's going through Art's mind.
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poonugget: Steelers | Grimm should be named head coach by Saturday
Tue, 16 Jan 2007 17:01:45 -0800 John Clayton, of ESPN, reports the Pittsburgh Steelers should name assistant coach Russ Grimm the new head coach by Saturday, Jan. 20.
Poo, I thought you were a Grimm fan. Well I am, so don't be bringing that bad karma around here. You know Clayton. If he's saying you're it, then you're likely to be dropped from consideration tomorrow. And do you really think Dan Rooney's going to get on the phone and call Clayton, a guy who cost them a draft pick by turning them into the league when he was a beat reporter here back in the 1970s? No chance that Clayton has any inside here. For him to say they're going to name the coach by Saturday is preposterous.
Chatch1969: I am very interested in what kind of staff [Grimm] would put together if he were chosen. How many if any of the existing staff would be held over?
One newspaper has already done a feature and sidebar on Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator, but, really, Russ is going to pick his own staff. If he's hindered by the contracts that have already been signed, that's one thing, but he intends to bring in his own men. He once called the assistant coaches here "Cowher's guys" to emphasize that intention. Yes, Arians is a friend, and the existing staff would help the team's continuity, but Russ would surround himself with his people, and the Rooneys wouldn't stand in his way. Heck, they may encourage it.
AKSteel1: It would also be nice to see an African American in such a prominent position in the world of football. And no I do not think that should be factored into the hiring equation.
Good, because the Rooneys don't either. They didn't consider color when putting together their initial list. At his press conference, Art took slight umbrage at the inference before saying what I'd said earlier: There are so many qualified minorities these days that the "Rooney Rule" doesn't even factor into their thinking anymore.
txBlitz: Let's assume that the assistant coach upstairs is responsible for making the challenge call, then it is extremely important for the head coach to appoint the most level headed and knowledgeable assistant in regards to rules. Wex, who is the coach upstairs that helped Cowher?
Dick Hoak and Ken Whisenhunt on offense; Keith Butler and I think John Mitchell on defense.
ChipTheSteelerFan: People are down on Grimm because his Oline, that consists of day one picks and a high priced FA, wasn't as good as it has been in the past. But Tomlin and the Vikings, according to the source in Wex's article, cannot get a pass rush. Their DLine consists of: DT Kevin Williams (first rounder), DT Pat Williams (high priced FA), DE Erasmus James (first rounder), DE Darion Scott (3rd rounder) and DE Kenechi Udeze (first rounder). That sounds very similar to the Steelers' OLine. Then I look at their secondary and it consists of Pro Bowl SS Darren Sharper (one of the best in the game), FS Dwight Smith (former SB MVP and a 3rd round pick), CB Antoine Winfield (FA that was a former first round pick), CB Cedric Griffin (2nd round rookie), and CB Fred Smoot (second round draft pick by Washington). The Vikings' secondary and DLine have talent. Why were they 32nd against the pass? Is that the product of the system? Us Steelers fans have complained last year when the Steelers gave up big passing yards. I have to question a 32nd ranking against the pass with that talent.
Good point, Chip. Thanks for spelling that out for us.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 16, 8:30 A.M.
To cap off an exultation of Walter Payton one day, Mike Ditka said something like "if you really want to know what kind of player he is, watch his effort on an interception return." So I watched Adrian Peterson closely to see what kind of team player he was, and, yep, he made a killer tackle near the sideline against Boise State. Now, this wasn't one of Peterson's better games. He was held to 77 yards rushing on 20 carries by a Boise State defense that finished seventh in the nation by allowing 82 yards rushing per game. So on one hand, the 6-foot-1, 218-pound Peterson averaged less than four yards per carry against a WAC team, but on the other hand it was a great WAC team. Peterson has the size, power and the speed to become a star NFL runner. He has decent hands, and even though he's not the most polished blocker he gives great effort. On one play against Boise State, Peterson ran a fake end around as the QB handed to the tailback. The tailback made it past the line and cut right to head up the sideline, where he picked up a block from the sprinting Peterson. The kid seems to have it all, but is being knocked by talent scouts because he had to fight through injuries the last two seasons. This, they reason, might be due to his upright running style which presents an inviting target for defensive headhunters, and thus more injuries.
I thought about Peterson the other day while watching Deuce McAllister bludgeon the Philadelphia Eagles. McAllister came out for the draft at 6-1, 221 but has added 10 pounds and looked every bit the speedy power back against the Eagles. He gained 143 yards in this, his first playoff game. He flashed speed on a 29-yard run to set up the Saints' first field goal and he flashed power by carrying a pile of, oh, 21 players about five yards for a touchdown. He also had an 11-yard touchdown run and then killed the clock with runs of 4, 5, and 5 yards before Drew Brees took the knee.
McAllister is the same size as Peterson and was also at one time considered the premier prospect of the next draft at the start of his final college season. But as they're doing with Peterson, scouts picked at McAllister's flaws, pointed to his injuries, felt he ran a bit too upright for their taste and McAllister subsequently fell to the 23rd spot in the draft. Casual college fans gasped but the studious draftniks nodded in agreement: McAllister wouldn't be able to take the NFL grind. That was six years and just under 6,000 rushing yards ago. McAllister's been through only one injury-plagued season, 2005, when he tore an ACL. He started only five games last year, topping his rookie season total by one. McAllister only started four games in 2001 because of the presence of Ricky Williams in the lineup.
Yes, the Saints drafted McAllister even though they already had a franchise back. But, really, how could they pass on him at pick No. 23? He possessed power and speed and he was the consummate team player – like Adrian Peterson.
I re-watched the Oklahoma bowl game against Boise State the other day, just in case the comparison between McAllister and Peterson is valid, and it is. While Peterson looked rusty upon his return from missing half the season with a broken collarbone, I felt that was a good thing – for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, they are drafting No. 15, and yes they already have a franchise back, but they don't have that power back who can salt away a playoff game the way McAllister did. They don't have depth at running back, nor do they have anyone who can light up an offensive line upon entering the huddle in the fourth quarter the way McAllister did last weekend or the way Jerome Bettis did last year.
Does Peterson have a chance of slipping to No. 15? Well, no one ever would've dreamed that McAllister would slip to No. 23 early in the 2001 process, or that Larry Johnson (6-1, 228) would've slipped to No. 27 in 2003, or that Steven Jackson (6-1½, 240) would've slipped to No. 24 in 2004. Heck, the Steelers might be able to trade down and still land Peterson.
Of course, Peterson supposedly has been timed at 4.37 last spring, so perhaps No. 15 would be his max sliding point. But if Peterson gets past the RB-starved Cleveland Browns at No. 3 or 4, and the Houston Texans at No. 8, the teams picking 9-14 all have big-time running backs. Of course, so do the Steelers at No. 15, but if they were watching McAllister carry the mail into the NFC Championship game -- even with Reggie Bush in the wings – they have to be interested.
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Kildarner: Actually several of our losses we absolutely dominated the opponent if it weren't for the turnover margin. We blasted Cincy in the first game but turned the ball over; Oakland was a blowout easily had we not thrown 2 pick 6s and 2 other INT. Before this year we won a super bowl with this system and these players and before that we went 15-1 with a rookie QB and made the AFCC game. I guess I don't understand the assessment of this team being in some sort of massive hole that we need to dig out of.
Don't forget how a team like Oakland produced all of those turnovers: by pressuring the quarterback. The Steelers need a pass-rusher in the worst way. They're hard to come by, so the fallback might be a guy like Adrian Peterson, or any other stud who slips through the cracks.
SouthernStiller: I also do not understand all the love for Tomlin at this point. While he sounds like a good guy, intelligent, etc, he really hasn't done anything yet that would recommend him as a head coach. His lone year as D coordinator was mixed - 8th overall, #1 against the run, number #32 against the pass playing against a very weak NFC north. The guy may make a great head coach some day, I just don't think he has earned a chance at the head spot yet. I'm also more concerned about the offense. We just lost one of the better OCs in the game, IMO, and two of the 3 candidates are defensive guys when we already have Dick LeBeau running our D. None of the 3 finalists really generate any excitement, but I remember doing a "Who??" when we hired Cowher, so I'll trust the Rooneys to make a good selection.
Chuck Noll was a "Who?" too, but that was before Al Gore invented the internet. Joe Paterno was the Steelers' first choice that year. As for Mike Tomlin, you make a great point. At least Cowher had developed Derrick Thomas and the Chiefs' defense by the time he was named head coach. The third great point you make is that the offensive coaching staff needs help. Even if they promote Russ Grimm they'll need to replace a great play-caller in Ken Whisenhunt and a great RBs coach in Dick Hoak. Hoak will be difficult to replace, since he had zero ego and therefore was a great guy to bounce ideas off of.
felcher: This is being done with the 3-4 in mind. Here goes:
1-Jarvis Moss. We need a pass-rusher and Moss' potential makes him the pick.
2-Aarron Sears, OT/OG Tennessee. Versatility is the key here. Sears could end up being a starting LT in a couple of years or Alan Faneca's eventual replacement.
3- (Trade up with our 3rd and 4th) David Harris LB Michigan. Farrior's eventual replacement will be a hit on STs as a rookie. We miss out on Hunt but Harris addresses a bigger need.
(Day Two: the 4th rounders are comp. picks for Hope and ARE. I didn't give us one for Kimo.)
4a- Jay Alford DE Penn St. The former college DT moves to end in our scheme and takes the place of Rodney Bailey or Kirschke.
4b-Tanard Jackson CB Syracuse. We go back to the well again for a quality DB out of Syracuse. Can play the run and pass and has a ton of experience.
5-Kolby Smith RB Louisville. Versatile RB with a burst. Sat behind Bush for a couple of years and was part of RB by commity this year. Could be a big steal.
6-Brandon Myles WR WVU. Big and fast Myles showed the ability to stretch the filed and make tough grabs in traffic. A good blocker as well and the former DB recruit could contribute on coverage teams.
6-LaRon McClain FB Alabama. Best blocking FB in draft falls through the cracks. A bigger, better athlete than Kreider.
7-Sam Hollenbach QB Maryland. We grab a young arm to battle BSP. Decent Arm and size. led an overachieving Terp squad to a bowl.
Still not sure what to make of Jarvis Moss, but this is the closest I've seen a mock draft come to being, first, realistic, and second, consisting of players I really like, such as Harris, Alford, Kolby Smith and McClain. He's right about Smith: He could be a big steal.
MONDAY, JANUARY 15, NOON
I remember it like the legend it's become: fourth-and-one, WVU around the Pitt 40-yard line, QB goes at Darrelle Revis for the first and only time in the game. But the Pitt cornerback didn't bite on the play action and was there, deep, to dive and half-intercept the pass. He dropped the ball – intentionally says the legend -- and Pitt took possession some 40 yards up the field.
A day or so later, as guest on the wildly unpopular "Tunch and Wolf Show," I told Tunch that you just don't see those intentional fourth-down interception drops anymore. Tunch said, and I'm paraphrasing, "I know."
I'm getting to the point about Marlon McCree's fourth-down interception that sealed San Diego's playoff win over New England. And, yes, he fumbled the return and the Patriots recovered. To make matters worse, Marty Schottenheimer threw a replay flag on the play.
Of course, we know what happened next: Pats score, Marty needs wasted timeout, Chargers lose, Marty fired.
At least that's the scuttlebutt. Marty is expected to be fired, done in by a me-first move that's become accepted in today's me-first game. And so, boom, there goes the man sitting atop one of the most active "coaching trees" in the league.
Yes, we went over the Bill Cowher tree the other day. Throw Schottenheimer's numbers in there and Marty, Cowher and Cowher's six protégés are a combined 19-27 in the playoffs. Add the numbers (2*-5) of the other active Schottenheimer protégés (Jack Del Rio, Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith) and the record is 21*-32.
(* -- Indicates wins over Schottenheimer are included).
Schottenheimer and Cowher have been seeded first in their conference eight times and the only title came to Cowher as a No. 6 seed. Lovie Smith will have a chance to add to this ignominious number next week, when the top-seeded Bears are expected to choke against the Saints.
So, yes, the numbers bear it out: The Schottenheimer coaching tree produces chokers. Another one entered the ranks yesterday when Ken Whisenhunt became coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Not that he's a choker, but you have to wonder about his potential.
It must be pointed out that Whisenhunt was not a choker with the Steelers and that's how this move will adversely affect them. Whisenhunt could get on some hot play-calling runs. He did it last year at the right time and the Schottenheimer tree has its only ring to show for 20 years of work.
To separate himself from the rest of the chokers will be Whisenhunt's first order of business. He did take on a perpetual underdog, number one. And he does claim devotion to Joe Gibbs and Dan Henning whenever asked.
Maybe that's one of the reasons Cowher didn't recommend him to the Rooneys last week. We know Cowher and Russ Grimm didn't get along, but never pieced together that Cowher was bitter about Whisenhunt not wanting to become a choker. Ah, the speculation has no bounds.
Cowher, though, did recommend Chan Gailey to the Rooneys. It's a sign that Cowher either A.) hates Grimm and Whisenhunt, B.) didn't want to hurt either man's chances, or C.) really likes Gailey.
There might be bits of each mixed into Cowher's peculiar exit strategy. I know I like Gailey. I was running late for a departing bus on the road one Sunday morning. I'd raced down to buy a razor, saw Chan in the elevator, told him I'd forgotten a razor and had to scramble down to the lobby store and back, and might have to catch a cab.
"For what?" he said with that Southern drawl of his. "You're not going to church. You're going to a football game."
He was the guy Cowher leaned on that year in their run to the Super Bowl, and his easygoing, yet in-command manner made him an interesting guy, a guy you rooted for. Gailey left two years later and Kordell Stewart and the Pittsburgh Steelers fell apart.
Gailey went to a 6-10 Dallas team and turned them around right away and went to the playoffs two years in a row before the idiot Jerry Jones fired him. Gailey did lose both of his playoff games, but other than that his .563 regular-season winning percentage ties Marvin Lewis as a cut above the typical Cowher protégé.
I'm warming to the idea of Gailey heading up a staff with Grimm as his "Sheriff," as Russ is called by his media pals, but it's unlikely to happen. The Rooneys are trapped in a tradition that says their next coach must last at least 10 years. Gailey is eight years older than Grimm and has a heart attack under his belt.
While it looks good on paper, a Gailey over Grimm-Dick LeBeau triumvirate does not fit what we're expecting from Art Rooney II's first hire. We expect him to follow his father's blueprint and hire a young coach who's a forceful communicator and emphasizes physical football. That would be Grimm … at this point, and only at this point because you know what they also say about the Rooneys: Expect the unexpected. Ken Whisenhunt is proof.
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Blount47: IMHO, the reason why a new HC hasn't been selected is because he is probably still coaching in the post season!
I don't know why most have dismissed Ron Rivera, but his potential hiring would explain why the Rooneys appear to be dragging their feet (that and hoping Ken got a job before making him look bad by not hiring him). But if Mike Sherman is brought in for an interview at the end of this week, I'll suspect they're waiting for the Bears to lose this weekend.
ChipTheSteelerFan: Wex, why no mention of the other fork in the tree for Whis and Grimm? I know Grimm played and coached under Joe Gibbs, where does that tree go?
In 1934, Francis Schmidt unveiled the I-formation at Ohio State and turned the Buckeyes into a scoring machine. He was called Francis "Close the Gates of Mercy" Schmidt because of his propensity for running it up. His two important proteges took different directions: Sid Gillman became a passing guru and Woody Hayes ran the ball. Marty Schottenheimer is a Hayes product by way of Bill Arnsparger; Gibbs is a Gillman product by way of Don Coryell. Gibbs added the two TE-one RB aspect to Gillman's original West Coast offense.