The Pittsburgh Steelers are heavily represented at this weekend’s two-day NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony. On Saturday, Troy Polamalu, Bill Cowher, and Donnie Shell will be enshrined, and then Sunday will feature Alan Faneca and a tribute to Bill Nunn.
Playing in the Hall of Fame game Thursday night, much of the Steelers’ focus while in Canton will be on the players and staff who set such a high standard that they are being enshrined as a result. In particular for many of the team’s current coaches and staff, two names stick out: Cowher, who replaced Chuck Noll and led the Steelers to a Lombardi Trophy, and Nunn, who spent 44 years with the Steelers and was a pioneering scout in the game.
During Tuesday’s final day at training camp prior to Thursday’s game, Tomlin was asked about his time with both Cowher and Nunn during a media session. Speaking of the head coach who proceeded him, Tomlin noted the relationship he and Cowher have had.
“Interactions over the years have always been very warm and I’ve always been appreciative of that. You could feel his support of us, but he’s always given me space to do the things that the job requires,” Tomlin said of Cowher. “I think anybody that’s held jobs like this understands that it’s somewhat lonely and that’s just the nature of it. And those that have done it are respectful of that and allow people to do what it is they need to do. But I’ve been really appreciative of our relationship and I’ve always felt his support.”
Cowher remained supportive of his Steelers since retiring following the 2006 season, and has not come out of retirement to coach for another franchise, despite offers. As said in his recently-published book Heart and Steel, when Cowher replaced Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll after the 1991 season, Noll kept a hands-off relationship with the team and let Cowher do his job.
Cowher passed that same relationship along to Tomlin, and the result was a quick Super Bowl win in 2008, no losing records in Tomlin’s 14 seasons as the head coach, and enough wins that Tomlin is only four victories from matching Cowher for second-most all-time for the franchise.
“I was very aware of what he was able to accomplish and respectful of it and I obviously realized the monumental challenge it was going to be to kind of uphold the standard,” Tomlin said.
The two will share a sideline Thursday night, though not as co-coaches. Even still, Cowher has mentioned his desire to call one more blitz as a coach during the Hall of Fame game against the Cowboys, and Tomlin doesn’t plan on begrudging his predecessor that moment.
“Man, Bill can have whatever he wants. He can call a half of play, if he wants to,” Tomlin joked.