Color me surprised.
Bill Cowher was a very good coach, one of the best of his era. But his credentials when it came to gaining entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while good, didn't make him a shoo-in.
When I looked at this year's list of finalists for the three coaches who were going to be put into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I felt Cowher had a chance. But he was up against Jimmy Johnson and Tom Flores, all two-time Super Bowl winners, along with single winners Dick Vermeil and Mike Holmgren, who not only won a Super Bowl each, but also took another franchise to a Super Bowl. Dan Reeves took four teams to Super Bowls, though he didn't win one. And that doesn't even mention Don Coryell and Buddy Parker -- another former Steelers head coach -- who were considered innovators.
So while Cowher, with his two Super Bowl appearances — one win — and 149-90-1 record in 15 seasons, certainly was deserving, I thought the three two-time Super Bowl winners would probably get the nod. But we now know at least one of them didn't after Cowher's surprise announcement on Saturday night's pre-game show.
With the announcement that Cowher will be one of the three coaches put into the hall by the Blue Ribbon Panel that is choosing this year's special centennial class, I can't help but think the Steelers are going to have three consecutive coaches go to the Hall of Fame eventually.
Don't think so? Consider that Mike Tomlin has already been to two Super Bowls, winning one, the same as Cowher. And Tomlin's career record in 13 seasons is 133-74-1 in his 13 seasons.
With even a pair of 8-8 records in the next two seasons -- and Tomlin has never had a season worse than that -- he would match Cowher's record through 15 years.
As for playoff wins, Cowher went 12-9 in his career in the postseason, while Tomlin is 8-7. But remember, Cowher went 4-0 in his final playoff run in 2005. So prior to that run, which also resulted in his Super Bowl win, he was 8-9 in the postseason, including 1-4 in AFC Championships, all at home.
Certainly, getting that far is an accomplishment. It's not easy to do. And Cowher's teams did well to get that far several times.
But as I often hear, winning playoff games is all that matters in Pittsburgh, ignoring the fact Cowher went 3-3 in the postseason from 1998 through 2004, a span of seven seasons. That completely ignores how difficult it is to win in the postseason on a consistent basis -- or at all.
Don't think so? Look at Saturday night's results as case and point. The AFC playoffs were supposed to be a mere formality for the Ravens. After all, they had won 12 consecutive games and were double digit favorites to beat the Titans.
But, as Saturday night's 28-12 thumping of the Ravens by the Titans showed us, anything can happen in the NFL postseason. That's why even the best coaches are right around .500 in the postseason -- a handful of coaches, including Bill Belichick aside.
That's the problem for coaches of his generation. No matter what they do, how many games they win, they're going to be compared to Belichick. And he just might be the best to ever do it.
So while Cowher certainly deserves his Hall of Fame bid, so will Tomlin when that time comes -- though you wouldn't know it from the screaming for his head that goes on in Steelers Nation.
I get it. Steelers fans expect to win every year. And when they don't, there's disappointment. But a disappointing season or two doesn't mean you fire the coach right away.
If the Steelers had done that, in say, 1999 after Cowher put together back-to-back non-playoff seasons in which they went 13-19, Cowher might never have won that first Super Bowl. And he might never have gotten the news he did Saturday night.
That's the kind of record that would have gotten Cowher replaced in a lot of places. Cleveland comes to mind. How's that working out for the Browns?
Chuck Noll went in after his career, and deservedly so. And now, so will Cowher. Chances are, Tomlin won't be far behind -- whenever he decides to hang it up.
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