Part I: Comparing Drafts of Tomlin and Cowher

Whether from a bar stool at The Alley Cat, or my couch in my basement, I have been and shall always be, a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. And as such a fan, I find myself unable to be disconnected to BTSC; I need both the security blanket feeling one gets when in communication with fellow natives of Steeler Nation, and a place to vent, conjecture, lecture, admonish or praise my fellow BTSC’ers, for in doing so I come to terms with the emotions and thoughts that the Steelers’ performance incites within me.

That all said, it has been a fascinating few weeks, the period between the loss to the Oakland Raiders and the loss to the Tennessee Titans. Two losses resulting from 4th qtr breakdowns of our vaunted defense, sandwiching a last minute win pulled out by unlikely hero Shaun Suisham (I strongly encourage all of you to read Ms. Rollett’s excellent piece on Kickers; if you sit back and think it through after reading, should help calm your nerves in terms of our kicking game).

What has struck me the most in the plethora of negative posts is that they fall into two camps; (1) the "Cowher-ites" folks who, like those who harken back for "the simpler, happier times of the 50’s in America" seem to believe the prior generation had it better; and (2) "Villagers", those people who, as so so eloquently described in Billy52’s fine FanPost as the" villagers [who] become an unruly mob screaming for the heads of every player, coach and water boy in Rooneyville. "This shall not stand," we bray in unison as we light our torches, bidding to hasten a swift return to our previous state of beer- and glory-sated bliss"; folks who demand the head of the DC Dick LeBeau, or the hands of CB Ike Taylor, or the spleen of HC Mike Tomlin (presumably to replace the one they just vented?), for their imagined failures at play calling, at defending a pass, or for his draft picks (respectively).

Of course, a Steeler loss brings out the "Villagers" Billy52 wrote about; those PostRoaches, creatures who are never heard from until there’s a crumb of discontent, then they all come scurrying out to feed, posting all sorts of filth and spreading acrimony, only to disappear again in the bright lights of a subsequent victory.

Or, it brings out the deluded "Cowher-ites", who believe life was better "back in the day" when the Steelers visited the Super Bowl twice in 15 years.

However, not all such posts are without merit. They usually lack content, and for the most part the writers should be either pitied for their delusions, or put down like the exposed Londoners in the movie "28 Days Later" who, being infected with "Rage" spew violence with their words, and are a risk to spread their contagion if not dealt with "with extreme prejudice".

But within these posts, hidden behind the distracting rhetoric of the writer, is some food-for-thought, and a common theme I have found, after perusing these types of posts, that has to do with drafting.

The "Cowher-ites":

The Cowher-ites seem to think that the Steelers performed better under Cowher than they do under Tomlin. Amidst the usual comparisons of the running game and the defense (but lost in the comprehension that the NFL is a different type of League than it was under Cowher [let alone Noll]) is the oft repeated complaint that Cowher knew how to draft better than Tomlin; that we had better teams under Cowher, despite his only winning the Super Bowl once in two tries.

So, let’s look at a comparison of the drafting done by Cowher and Tomlin. First though, the parameters of my analysis:

First: I’m only comparing the first 5 years of Cowher’s tenure as Head Coach (1992 to 1996), against Tomlin’s first 5 years (2007 to 2011) for the obvious reason that Tomlin has only completed 5 full seasons.

Second: I am using exclusively,’s data ("PFR"). Specifically, I have updated a database with PFR’s 2012 data, which includes their full 2011 scoring of the players’ CarAV<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[i]<!--[endif]--> rating they have established, and which is cumulative for the entirety of the players’ career, regardless of who they currently play for.

Third: Because some of the players drafted by Cowher played beyond his first 5 years, while only Tomlin’s first draft has had the opportunity to play for 5 years, I have taken each player’s CarAV score and divided it by the number of years said player has played. This creates a "CarAV per year" score that somewhat equalizes the comparative measurement. Tomlin’s score suffers somewhat due to the fact that his recent picks have not yet had time to reach their full potential, but overall this method should provide a more fair comparison.

I’ll let the results speak for themselves:

<!--[if !supportEndnotes]--> Current_20rank_jpg_medium


As you can see, in their first five years, there’s only a two game difference in the win column. Of course, Tomlin went to two Super Bowls, winning one while Cowher lost the only Super Bowl he reached in his first 5 years. But such achievements are dependent upon vagaries outside the scope of this analysis.

The evenness of the two Coaches’ records would suggest a parity in their respective players. Let’s look at how the CarAv per Year of Cowher’s draft picks compare to Tomlin’s, and how each Coachs' first 5 Draft classes compare:



As you can see, the players Tomlin has drafted in his first 5 years average an annual CarAV score of 2.09 as compared to Cowhers’ 1.17. In addition, Tomlin’s Lowest and Highest scores exceed Cowhers.

This is where comparing a 5 year block of data for a Coach whose players could have played far longer than those five years, against a Coach whose players are still in the midst of their careers is difficult, but even so, with the majority of Tomlin’s players yet to reach their most productive years, Mike Tomlin’s draft picks have performed better than Bill Cowher’s, based on the PFR method of measuring a player’s performance.

Remember, these numbers represent PFR’s CarAV on a per year basis. Thus, while initially the difference between Tomlin’s 2.09 and Cowher’s 1.19 may not seem large, if you extrapolate them over the course of an average NFL Draft Pick’s career of 3.5 years, you begin to see the scale of the gap in the quality of Tomlin’s draft picks over Cowher’s:



Thus, in this Part I, we see that the Cowher-ites, in terms of their longing for the quality of Cowher’s draft picks over their perceived deficiencies of Tomlin’s, are indeed blinded by the mists of time. Bill Cowher is worthy of HOF consideration, with his first year of eligibility coming up this year. Nothing written here is meant to diminish the fantastic successes his Steeler teams had, nor to denigrate Cowher in any way.

But rather, maybe its time for the Cowher-ites to let go of the past, and, if true Steeler fans, embrace the current Steelers, and accept that even for the Pittsburgh Steelers under Mike Tomlin, not every year is going to be a Lombardi Year.


<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[i]<!--[endif]--> career approximate value. See the entry on AV. The Career AV is computed by summing 100% of the player's best-season AV, 95% of his second-best-season AV, 90% of his third best, and so on. The idea is that the Career AV rating should weight peak seasons slightly more than "compiler"-type seasons.

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Behind the Steel Curtain

You must be a member of Behind the Steel Curtain to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Behind the Steel Curtain. You should read them.

Join Behind the Steel Curtain

You must be a member of Behind the Steel Curtain to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Behind the Steel Curtain. You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.