James Farrior is one of the great defensive players in recent Pittsburgh Steelers history, originally signing in free agency with the team in 2002, and playing there for the next decade. He helped bring them to three Super Bowls, winning two, and being a decorated inside linebacker in an era dominated by the likes of Ray Lewis.
The interesting thing about his career is that it was evenly divided between the tail end of the Bill Cowher era and the first phase of the Mike Tomlin era. He played under Cowher from 2001 through the 2006 season, and then under Tomlin when he came in beginning in 2007 and up through his retirement at the end of the 2011 season.
Farrior sat down with Stan Savran recently for the team’s website for a fairly extensive interview about his time in Pittsburgh, and at one point he was asked about playing for Cowher, and then asked to compare and contrast that with playing for Tomlin.
“He was a great coach. He definitely sides toward the players”, he said about playing for Cowher. “One thing I liked about him, he yelled at the coaches when the players did something wrong. That was my favorite part about Coach Cowher. He would get so upset. If anybody did something wrong, he’d yell at the players, but he’s get on the coaches”.
Although he might not have been formally given that label, Cowher was certainly a ‘players’ coach’, the way Tomlin was labeled as soon as he stepped foot in the door, so it’s interesting to hear one of Cowher’s players actually say that. And he expanded on that further in his comparison with Tomlin.
“They’re a lot more similar than they are different”, Farrior said. “Coach Tomlin has a similar style of coaching, although he does yell at players more than he does the coaches. I would say that they both are centered around having an atmosphere where the players feel comfortable, and that’s one of the great things about both of those coaches that I liked”.
Farrior was only a few years younger than Tomlin when he took over, and in fact, the two actually played against each other in college at one point, so it was a curious dynamic, but it’s clear that it didn’t talk Tomlin long to win over at least most of Cowher’s veterans.
Winning helps, and of course they went 10-6 in his first season, then 12-4 with a Super Bowl title a year later, and returned to the Super Bowl two years after that, even if in a losing effort. Unfortunately, in terms of postseason success, it’s been all downhill since then.