DALLAS — The Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin belongs to a pretty exclusive fraternity now that he has taken his franchise to the Super Bowl twice within his first four seasons as a head coach.
But there are a couple other significant clubs of which Tomlin is a member as well. Most important, he is one of only three Pittsburgh head coaches since 1969, joining Hall of Fame member Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, both also Super Bowl winners, in that exclusive subset. Perhaps a little less important, but still critical to Pittsburgh's appearance in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday evening, is that Tomin is a key component in the triumvirate of stability upon which the Steelers pride themselves.
Tomlin has been the Pittsburgh coach since he succeeded Cowher in 2007. Director of football operation Kevin Colbert has been in his current capacity since 2000. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger just completed his seventh season in which he had 12 or more starts for the team.
How important is that three-pronged approach?
"Stability at the important positions in a franchise is critical," said Pittsburgh inside linebacker James Farrior. "I'm sure there are probably teams that made it (to a Super Bowl) without that. But it's been a hallmark of this franchise ever since I've been here ... and it's big."
The Steelers' opponents on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers, possess a kind of similar consistency among the "Big Three" — coach, general manager/personnel chief and quarterback — and it has been beneficial as well.
Starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a comparative slacker compared to his predecessor, Brett Favre, the Packers' starter for 16 seasons, having completed his third year atop the depth chart. But consider this: Fewer than half the quarterbacks in the NFL have started continuously, as has Rodgers, for three straight seasons. General manager Ted Thompson just finished his sixth year in that position and coach Mike McCarthy his fifth.
"You don't often get that kind of (consistency) in the league anymore," allowed Green Bay wide receiver Donald Driver, with the Packers since 1999. "When you get it, you (embrace) it."
Indeed, it is a signature of both Super Bowl XLV franchises. Decisions, especially about the "Big Three" positions, are made with great deliberation. The term "knee-jerk reaction" is anathema to both clubs. As noted above, Pittsburgh has employed only three head coaches in 42 seasons, and has won a record six Super Bowl titles in that time. The Packers, who boast three Super Bowl victories, have never fired a coach in-season.
Much has been made of the notion that Green Bay and Pittsburgh are "throwback" type teams with rich traditions and deep histories. And it has been noted that the two rosters are principally homegrown with little reliance on pricey, veteran free agents. But what shouldn't be ignored is that the Steelers and the Packers are each solid and well-entrenched in the "Big Three" spots.
It might not necessarily require such stability to advance to a Super Bowl – only nine of the 20 clubs in the title games 2000-09 had their "Big Three" in place for at least three years when they qualified for the championship game – but it certainly doesn't hurt.
"It's getting rarer and rarer, but it's not a bad place to start," acknowledged Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. "It pays to have a foundation."
It might be a bit surprising, but only 10 teams in the league will go into the 2011 campaign with their "Big Three" starting more than their third consecutive season together with the same club.
Owners pay lip service all the time to "sustainability," but precious few follow through on the concept. The NFL has increasingly become a league of instant gratification. And the results of the recent past, with eight straight seasons now in which at least one last-place club from the previous campaign finished first in its division, validates that the quick-fix approach can pay dividends.
But the Super Bowl XLV matchup reinforces the notion that slow and steady can win the race as well.
"You don't want to be on an up-and-down roller-coaster ride," said Atlanta owner Arthur Blank. "You want to be relevant every year, like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New England, Philadelphia, those teams.
Said New England owner Bob Kraft last week: "You'd like to know going into every year that you have a (playoff) chance. And that's about achieving stability with your key people."
That's part of the reason why Blank will extend the contracts of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith, probably this week. With those two in place, along with quarterback Matt Ryan, Blank has a "Big Three" of his own.
Teams attempt to re-invent themselves all the time in the NFL anymore. There are more remakes in the league than in Hollywood these days. But the two Super Bowl XLV combatants each enjoy undeniably solid foundations, and that's part of the reason they are here.
"People say change is good, and they've probably got a point," Farrior said. "For us, though, a lack of change at the big spots has been very good."
‘Big Three' stability key for Steelers, Pack
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