Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher has certainly put in his fair share of time into the profession, and has seen a number of different teams, and how they translate from one season to the next. He has seen promising teams stumble and fall, but he has also seen them emerge and succeed—most famously when his team followed up a 15-1 2004 campaign with an improbable Super Bowl victory in 2005.
And Cowher believes that this team—with Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback who finally took him over the finish line after nearing the checkered flag a decade earlier—is close to getting back there, where head coach Mike Tomlin has also taken them back in 2008.
“I think they’re very close” he said, in fact, according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review—“easily”. He cites the unfortunate fourth-quarter fumble from third-string running back Fitzgerald Toussaint as the turning point of a frustrating loss to illustrate how close they were even this season in spite of a number of obstacles, including having been down to their third-string running back.
But, he warns, the Steelers must fight the urge to tinker much with the system, reading too much into what they think made them successful and selling into that only to have it backfire and see the team going in reverse, further and further from the finish line.
Most infamously, Cowher and his coaching staff got caught up in the Tommy Maddox experience after a successful 2002 run, only to find that the changes that they made, including starting running back Amos Zeroue over Jerome Bettis, hindered, rather than aided their efforts.
Tomlin does not seem intent on tinkering very much—in fact, it appears that most of the tinkering has already been done, with the switch at defensive coordinator from Dick LeBeau to Keith Butler, the incorporation over more Cover 2 and one-gapping, and the significant rise in the use of the nickel defense.
More immediately, both Tomlin and president Art Rooney II have said that they expect to keep their entire coaching staff intact, from the most well-liked to the most maligned, based on fan base polling that always factors heavily into the decision of multi-billion dollar enterprises.
Cowher believes that the Steelers have not only the personnel, but the staff, and the ownership, to be a contender next season, and perhaps not many would argue the point, given how far they managed to get in spite of all of the hurdles that they had to navigate this season with key injuries and suspensions. But it’s not that simple.
“If you have a good nucleus, which I believe they have, you kind of go back and re-establish yourself and start the journey all over again”, the former Steelers coach said. “You just can’t pick up where you left off. You have to start back over again”.
And that is where the Steelers find themselves, back to the start, along with 29 other teams, and soon 31 other teams—including the Super Bowl champion. While there is some work to do before starting over—Cowher acknowledges a secondary that needs to be addressed—there is room for optimism, and an endorsement from The Chin doesn’t hurt things.