In every day, in every life, we make decisions that set in motion irreversible changes that shape our lives. Sometimes our choices lead to decisions that are made for us that are beyond our control. The same thing applies to entities as well as it does to individuals—say, a sports team.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a vast majority of good decisions over the years, which has allowed them to be the winningest team in the modern era, with the most hardware to show for it.
But some decisions have worked out less well than others, and have helped shape the team as they are today. In the world of alternative facts, we get an opportunity to explore the team as it could have been, if one decision or event had gone differently.
No one individual decision over the course of the past 11 years has had a more defining impact on the Steelers than was the decision to hire Mike Tomlin as head coach after Bill Cowher chose to retire after the 2006 season.
Among head coaches who have won at least 100 games over the course of their coaching career, Tomlin’s winning percentage of .644 ranks as 10th-best of all time, and is third among current head coaches, trailing only The Hoodie up in New England and Mike McCarthy in Green Bay.
He has since won a Super Bowl, the sixth in the franchise’s history, while going to a second Super Bowl, though in a losing effort. After being forced to rebuild the defense, and the offensive line, they are contending once again, reaching the AFC Championship game in 2016.
But things could have easily been different. The Steelers had a couple of in-house candidates in Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm that were in consideration for the job at the time, and they left together for Arizona after being passed up.
Given that they were able to bring the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in just two years’ time, only to lose to Tomlin’s Steelers in the final minute of the game, one can certainly begin to ponder whether or not Whisenhunt and crew would have been able to win that same Super Bowl.
One has to consider, however, that it was Tomlin who saw in James Harrison the star player that he became. It’s not clear that he would have been given the starting job under another coach. Perhaps they wouldn’t have released Joey Porter.
And what are the odds that Whisenhunt would have drafted LaMarr Woodley, who was critical to that Super Bowl and the lead-up to it? William Gay is another player Tomlin drafted who played a critical role down the stretch that year.
It’s commonly said that Tomlin won with Cowher’s team. Even if that is so, can it be said that anybody else would have as well? Surely not. Had they hired Whisenhunt over Tomlin, they may have already been on their second or third post-Cowher head coach by now.
Or perhaps they would have seven Lombardi Trophies.