Before I get started please understand that I am not blasting Tomlin, but I have read numerous comments to various articles here on BTSC regarding the following premise: Tomlin won with Cowher's teams and the Tomlin defenders/Cowher detractors commonly argue that Tomlin inherited an 8-8 team and/or until 2006 Cowher never won the "big one" and he lost 4 AFCG's. And, instead of replying to every one of those comments, as I initially started, I decided to do my first FanPost. If this should have been a FanShot instead, I apologize for my newbie mistake.
Again, I am not blasting Tomlin. Although Tomlin has been the head coach for the last 7 years, I believe that we are only now (as in the last 2-3 years) entering the Tomlin era, and whether these last couple years of mediocrity are merely the natural up and down cycle that Cowher himself endured or if this is indicative that Tomlin is not as good a coach as many believe will be answered in the coming seasons. Personally, I believe that Tomlin is a great coach and the next few seasons will ultimately show this. Having said that, I believe that Tomlin did inherit championship caliber teams from Cowher and that, yes he won with Cowher's teams.
Although the Steelers were 1 year removed from the superbowl championship and were coming off an 8-8 season many of the superbowl championship pieces were still in place, in personnel, staff and, just as importantly, in mindset, when Tomlin took over. A complex organization, like an NFL team is much like those massive oil tankers at sea. When you turn the wheel, the ship doesn't immediately start on the new heading, but instead, sheer momentum and inertia push the ship down its original heading before even entering the turn, much leas head into it's new heading. In fact, as I pointed out in a comment once before, I believe that 8-8 team was more a reflection on the now infamous superbowl hangover for not only the players, but for Cowher as well, who having struggled for so long to get to the top simply ran out of gas having finally reached his goal, which is corroborated by the fact that after that 8-8 season Cowher resigned and has yet to return to coaching despite teams' interest in him. Although an argument could be made that the Steelers Packers superbowl was the demarcation line between the two eras, meaning that AFC championship team was the beginning of the Tomlin era, it would be more accurate to say that, like the oil tanker analogy previously mentioned, the year before, year of and year after were the transitional period between the two eras.
The more irritating Tomlin defenders outright bash Cowher saying he was routinely "outcoached" and until 2006 always came up short, losing 4 AFC Championship games and losing a superbowl before finally winning it all. This is overly simplistic and, in my humble view, is an indicator the Cowher detractors lack a sense of history. Noll was an awesome coach, but I think sometimes a new influx of blood, perspective, and just a different way of doing things can make a huge difference. After his awesome run in the ’70’s, Noll had only one season with double digit wins until his final season where the Steelers went 7-9 in ‘91. Cowher comes in a goes 11-5 HIS FIRST YEAR, doing more with Noll's "team" than Noll himself and turning the mediocre Steeler's of the 80's to the perennial contenders of the 90's. This is not meant as a dig on Noll but to highlight Cowher's amazing accomplishment.
And Cowher accomplished this without a franchise quarterback. In regards to the AFCCG losses it is important to keep in mind who those losses came to. The first was to the upstart Chargers, who like the Steelers did not have a franchise quarterback, and even then the Steelers were mere yards and one play away from winning, but even giving this one game to the Cowher detractors defending Tomlin, it's only one game and does not necessarily reflect the full body of work Cowher put in. The second was against the Broncos, who were led by HoF quarterback, John Elway, with Pittsburgh losing 24-21. Kordell Stewart threw 3 interceptions and fumbled once. Hardly an indication of Cowher being outcoached but, instead, being thwarted like usual during the 90's by inconsistent quarterback play. The third was to the hated Patriots led by HoF Tom Brady and non-HoF but arguably more consistent than any 90's Steelers' quarterback, Drew Bledsoe losing 24-17. Although some point to Troy Edwards running out of bounds prior to making a tackle on a punt forcing a redo leading to a touchdown punt return as Cowher being outcoached by Billichek, I think the blocked field goal returned for a touchdown and Stewart's two 4th quarter interceptions had more to do with the loss, which again, shows the Steelers Achilles heel of inconsistent quarterback play, not bad coaching. The fourth was again against the Patriots with HoF qp Brady, where the Steelers imploded losing 41-27, and as some of you may remember, despite a remarkable season for a rookie quarterback, Roethlisberger was clearly burnt out by the 14th game of the season and the defense carried the team the rest of the way as Big Ben was thereafter inconsistent, culminating in a three interception outing against the Patriots, along with a Bettis fumble, none of which strike me as Cowher being outcoached.
The brief time the Steelers had, if not high caliber but, consistent quarterback play during the 90's with he who's name that will never be mentioned, the Steelers lost a squeaker to the Chargers in the AFCG, previously discussed, and went on and nearly defeated the juggernaut that was the Cowpaddies led by HoF quarterback Troy Aikman in the superbowl, but for two errant passes the Steelers came so close to pulling off a HUGE upset as, I would argue, Cowher outcoached Switzer.
As to Cowher's other playoff appearances, as previously mentioned, after going 11-5, his first year as head coach, the Steelers got knocked out of the playoffs by Buffalo, led by yet another HoF qb in Jim Kelly in '92. In '93 after getting in via the wild card after a 9-7 year the Steelers were stopped by the Chiefs, with, you guessed it another HoF qb, Joe Montana, in the twilight of his career, but HoF nonetheless. In '96 after going 10-6 the Steelers lost to the Patriots led by non-HoF qb Bledsoe, but as mentioned earlier, he was arguably better than any 90's Steelers' qb's.
Cowher's record speaks for itself and what he did turning the Steelers from perennial mediocrity in the 80's (though some glorious moments: see upsetting Oilers in playoffs in '89, being only team to beat 49ers in '83) to the perennial contenders without consistent qb play virtually overnight was truly remarkable. The only thing preventing Cowher from having multiple superbowl championship teams up until Big Ben was the quarterback position. This is not to say Tomlin is a scrub by any means, and I do acknowledge the possibility that like Noll before him, that maybe the Steelers actually benefited from Cowher resigning to bring in a fresh perspective. What I am saying, however, is that Tomlin absolutely benefited by inheriting a championship caliber team and that I believe we are only now truly entering the Tomlin era, and time will tell the tale. So to those of you defending Tomlin and taking umbrage with the observation that Tomlin won with Cowher's team please state your case without resorting to bashing Cowher's accomplishment.
As a side note, it could be said that, as with Cowher mentioned above, that Noll’s struggles in the 80’s could be attributed to having no franchise quarterback after Bradshaw. However, for whatever the reason (burnout, need change of pace or whatever) I think it is clear that Cowher’s 90’s Steelers was more successful than Noll’s 80’s Steelers despite inheriting the same personnel from Noll.