"Plans are funny things," Chuck Noll once told me. "They never work out. But you can't win without them."
"Luck," said Branch Rickey, "is the residue of preparation and design."
What do those comments have to do with this week's roster moves?
When a young, relatively unknown defensive backs coach named Mike Tomlin came to interview for the Steelers head coaching vacancy, few gave him any chance of getting the job ahead of internal candidates Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm.
But Tomlin came prepared, and his degree of preparation knocked everyone's socks off. He brought two bound books with him. One was an analysis of every player on the Steelers' roster. The second was an analysis of how to build what he had into a championship team. Tomlin's work was so impressive that the Rooneys and the front office decided to trust this young man with a job that only two others had held since 1969.
Tomlin's teams have always been prepared at the start of the season. Last year's 3-1 start (which was almost 4-0) without Roethlisberger showed the world what Steeler Nation knew: that the Coaching staff is more than ready to deal with just about any situation.
Anyone who thinks Mike Tomlin hasn't been busy mapping out his chess moves during the lockout simply hasn't been paying attention to history. He and his staff and the front office have been busy analyzing what they have, what they need, what might become available and what it might cost. Once the proposed CBA brought salary cap numbers into the equation, Omar plugged those numbers in and they developed a plan.
"Every team is doing that," you say?
While other teams may also have war plans, few - if any - have done so as successfully as Tomlin. What he did to get the job in the first place makes him uniquely qualified to handle the multi-level chess game that is being played by all the teams right now.
Tomlin understands he has priorities and limited cap money. And what he is playing is a hybrid game that's part chess and part poker. He needs to nail down the top priorities without getting into an insane bidding war. And then he wants to snag a couple of free agents from other teams. And it won't hurt to drive up the price of some guys he doesn't want, so that other teams overpay.
It was immensely reassuring that Tomlin's first move in the chess game was to re-sign Ike Taylor. This was clearly the team's top priority. Doing this quickly removed a huge financial variable. He knew by Thursday morning what Taylor would cost...and once the price of this big ticket item had been determined, he was able to re-calculate his cap situation and move forward.
Releasing Starks and Randle El has freed additional salary cap money, but Tomlin isn't showing all his cards yet. Why should he? Why should other teams know how much he plans to spend? Will other players be released? Perhaps, especially if their money is needed to sign a free agent. But why show your cards if you don't have to?
Dallas let go a bunch of guys on the first day. It made the headlines, but it was quite different from what the Steelers are doing. Tomlin is playing chess. Making one move at a time, but planning six or seven moves ahead.
His well-publicized dinner with Plax is part of the poker game. It's set for Saturday, and makes it appear that the Steelers have a serious interest in the ill-fated gunslinger. But even if they don't, they can drive up the price other teams will have to pay for Burress, and it can draw attention away from their real targets.
The Steelers don't have as much money to play with as most teams. They have far less than some of the bottom feeders like Tampa Bay. But not all dollars are equal. Steeler players will sign for less to stay put. And players from other teams will crunch the after-tax dollars and often sign for less to play for a winner.
There are 31 other teams involved in this madness, which is like draft day on steroids. Crazy and unexpected things will happen, and some of the best-laid plans go up in smoke. As Chuck Noll said (above the jump), "plans are funny things. They never work out." And some of them won't work out this week for the Steelers. But that is precisely why plans are so important. Tomlin and Colbert are prepared for that, and can transition to Plan B or Plan C or formulate a new plan on the fly.
Chances are they will be lucky. As Branch Rickey said (also above the jump), "luck is the residue of preparation and design." No one is more prepared than Mike Tomlin.
I can't wait until Friday, the first day of the free agent signings. I want to see how this all plays out, and whether the Steelers sign someone like Jonathan Joseph - or choose to spend their money on a couple of who-dat's, guys we know little about who turn out to be this year's versions of MeMo or KFox. The Steelers need a building block or two, but they never forget the mortar that holds it all together.
Tomlin and Colbert have a track record of being educated shoppers, especially at the bargain bin. And this unprecedented situation seems tailor-made for them. (Their first signing was, er, "Taylor-made.")
The NFL will unleash hell tomorrow, when the free agent signings officially begin. Hell in July and August, at least . (Hell in December, as we know, doesn't always work out.) And yet, I'm going into this with supreme confidence that the Steelers will emerge stronger. Sort of like that "Desiderata" poster that people used to put on their walls back in the glory days of the 70's. It really wasn't found in St Paul's Church in 1706. It was written by somebody in the summer of love. But the first and last lines of that poster apply perfectly to the Black and Gold and Steeler Nation at this moment in time.....
"Go placidly.......the universe is unfolding exactly as it should."