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Coach Tomlin's Greatest Test Lies Ahead

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Deep in thought?

Coach Tomlin has added his own piece of silverware to the Pittsburgh Steelers un-matched collection of NFL royalties. He longer has the monkey on his back. Although it was never directly said, when Coach Tomlin earned the job, he was instantly expected to do what his predeccors Noll and Cowher achieved. Win a Lombardi. No doubt Coach Tomlin has already found himself as probably the most well-loved Pittsburgh coach ever, as he has enamoured us with his unique quotations and expressions. We had our doubts about Tomlin at first, as he was a relative unknown, and Steeler fans were more interested in debating which current assistant coach - Russ Grim or Ken Whisenhunt - was going to inherit Cowhers mantle. So when Tomlin was announced, it was quite the surprise.

And as things panned out, a defensive collapse in his debut season, due mainly to the key defensive losses of Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu, the Steelers crashed out of the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

Then came the second season, where under Coach Tomlin's gudance, the Pittsburgh knocked over the NFLs most difficult schedule in 25 years to earn Pittsburgh its unprecedented sixth Superbowl title, and more Mike Tomlin, hopefully the first of many.

But have we seen the best of Coach Tomlin? What lies ahead?

Haters can talk all they want, but Coach Tomlin did not inherit a Superbowl team. He inherited, just as every coach does, a football team. There is not one team out there that has a roster that isn't capable of making playoffs. Everybody thought Miami was hopeless after a 1-15 season, and with a GM, new head coach, and a load of no-name free agent acquisitions, they went 11-5 and made playoffs. No team has no hope of making playoffs.

Tomlin took what he was given, made no excuses, and has taken us to the playoffs twice in two seasons, including taking us to the promised land in his second season.

Tomlin has been lucky so far, in that under his watch, Pittsburgh has not lost many starters. Before his first season, our main contributors lost were Jermome Bettis, Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, Chris Hope, Antwaan Randle El and Cedric Wilson. Tomlin has since drafted players such as Lawrence Timmons, Lamarr Woodley, Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed to replace those losses, as well as signing Ryan Clark, and all these players fit the Steeler mold brilliantly.

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Yet heading into this upcoming season, we could be potentially be witnesses to just how great Mike Tomlins coaching ability could be.

The Pittsburgh Steelers enter 2009 as defending champions, and every Steeler fan has the memory of 2006 in the back of their minds. There have been little losses in talent (McFadden, Foote and Washington) and next to no offseason distractions to the team.

However, not only does Tomlin have to keep the team grounded week to week, prepped and ready, he also has a lot of pressure on him to have his Offensive Line show significant improvement from last seasons edition. But he also has to keep 2010 out of his mind.

Why you might ask? Because depending on how front office decisions unfold, he could be facing a very tough offseason. We havent seen the extent of Coach Tomlins coaching ability. The best hasnt arrived. In time hes going to inevitably have an off year, or a year where he has to make up for possible numerous departures (possibly as soon as next year) and then he will be tested as to how well he can cope with change and still get out of it well. You rarely saw Cowher have back to back losing seasons because he was a great coach who could cope with change. This could well be Tomlins greatest challenge, seeing as he has been so successful from the outset.

As everyone knows, we have resigned James Harrison and Hines Ward, who could be argued to be the most important player respective of their units. Yet there are still a few key members on the team who are yet to have contracts resolved, and many of them will lkely head into next offseason as free agents.

Firstly, the D-Line could need a massive overhaul soon, with Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel pending free agency, not to mention Aaron Smith aging, and an undeveloped rookie in Evander Hood.

Our secondary also could be foreseen as needing a half-makeover soon, with hard-hitting safety Ryan Clark a pending free agent, as well as long time Steeler Deshea Townsend, and valuable backup Tyrone Carter at the end of his contract. Not only that, but William Gay enters this season as the pencilled in starter, and if he cannot prove worthy, we will be looking to add a stud CB.

You get my point. Tomlin, whether we like it or not, is inevitably going to face far harder circumstances than those that he has faced to this point. We havent seen the extent of Coach Tomlins coaching ability. The best hasnt arrived. In time hes going to inevitably have an off year, or a year where he has to make up for possible numerous departures (possibly as soon as next year) and then he will be tested as to how well he can cope with change and still get out of it well. You rarely saw Cowher have back to back losing seasons because he was a great coach who could cope with change. This could well be Tomlins greatest challenge, seeing as he has been so successful from the outset.

Tomlin may have his ring, and by the end of this season he could have another. But his greatest challenges still lie around the bend.

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