Saturday, January 17, 2009

Saturday Studmuffins: Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin

Were in not for the Iron Triangle's obsession with the professional football clubs in both Kansas City and Denver, Mike Tomlin might very well have taken up a giant amount of cyber column inches here in the House of Georges. And I'll tell you why. We love football. Some of us get erect for some college football action. Some of us flip through the channels while the various games are on. All of us love the NFL. We have said countless times in here that it's far and above -- and I think most of American sports fans would agree -- the best professional sports league around. Has been for years. On the occasions that our teams are eliminated from, or in some cases don't qualify for, post-season contention, we watch the other games pretty religiously. They're exciting, educational, and sometimes offer bandwagon opportunities. Sometimes they're very painful.

For example, last week's Chargers/Steelers contest was an ugly one for Old No. 7, and I would imagine for Cecil, too. They both have very recent reason to loathe both clubs. They hate the Whale's Vagina, and they don't take kindly to Terrible Towel wavers that invade their stadium and win, especially if it's for a conference championship. Now, I found myself in creep mode from late season up until midway through the post-season: I wanted teams I didn't like to knock off teams I hated, then for the teams I didn't like to lose in the next round. Well, now we're down to teams I don't really have much of an opinion on. I'll elaborate:

1) I'm pulling for the Buzzsaw. This franchise might've turned things around, but for decades, they've shown us that they never will. It's quite possible they'll never get another shot if they don't do it now.

2) I've been a bandwagon fan of Philly teams for about ten years. I'm done rooting for the Eagles, though. As far as I'm concerned, they're up their with the early-90s Bills. There should be a picture of their logo next to "mediocre" in the dictionary. Just fucking lose and go home, already.

3) If there's one team I hate the most in the final four, it's Baltimore. I think it has to do with Art Modell and Brian Billick. Frankly, I think those are two of the biggest pricks in the NFL in my lifetime, and by that I don't mean to say that I've stood at the urinals next to theirs. Plus, as much as I've always admired their defense, their offense has almost always been a joke. You know, I get that you want to build a championship defense, but tilt the equation the tiniest bit so that you can be half a notch above managing the game when you have the ball. Plus, I really thought Tennessee was going to win last week. My bet is that the Steelers absolutely smoke the Ravens.

4) This brings me to my point. When Old No. 7 wrote this post, it was kind of defining yet kind of a shame.

It was defining in that the very first suggestion of his was to make this blog the black coaches blog. We probably recognized how scarce material would be, and moved on. It was kind of a shame because his piece The Ten Worst Black Coaches In NFL History was a priceless gem. It was original in thought, and funny, in that side-splitting kind of way. The best part about it was that it was based on facts, absent of racism. He now calls the piece "hopelessly outdated." I disagree.

There were names in this post, some of which included Tony Dungy, Art Shell, Dennis Green, Herman Edwards, perhaps even Lovie Smith and Marvin Lewis were on there. I don't remember all 10 names, and the fact that this thing vanished into the black hole of some fantasy-baseball message board really pisses me off. It doesn't matter, though. I can't really say what the author's point (if anything beyond humor) was in writing it. I had one as a reader, and it was this: For every ounce of criticism thrust upon football for not having enough black coaches, for every minority-candidate regulation the league creates because of said criticism, there are 100 ounces of evidence showing that, for the most part, black coaches are pretty darn bad.

Hang on a minute. I know what you're going to do. You're firing up your Power Point presentation on the Bloach Bukkake that was the Lovie/Dungy Super Bowl. I'm asking you to sit tight. The NFL was formed in 1920. Now, I don't know who to deem the official first African-American head coach in the NFL. If it's Fritz Pollard, then he became such in 1921. One could say that it's Art Shell, and probably have a better argument. In 1989, Shell was hired, and a few short years later, Green was on the scene. Both those guys, despite stigmas attached to them in recent years, were pretty darn successful. Shell made the playoffs in three of his seven years coaching. Green made it eight of 13 times. Green also made it his first three consecutive years, appearing in two conference championships to Shell's one.

Fast forward to 2006. Expect ludicracy and accusations.

I think the hype over Super Bowl XLI was really unfortunate. Prior to that year, no bloach had ever made the Super Bowl, or obviously won one. But cue grand ol' 2006, and lo and behold, there's one representing each conference, a guaranteed winner, a day to remember for centuries to come. Not only have we never commemorated any other fill-in-the-blank American for being the first of his heritage to make the Super Bowl, we never will, and that's a problem, but not one I'm going to explore today, or probably ever. But God in heaven shower this racist land with fiery bolts of torture if we don't mention the AA factor a solid 1700 times minimum. My point, though, is that those two guys, just because they made the big game, aren't necessarily the best bloaches ever. They are in fact, pretty darn choketacular when it comes to huge games.

Let's have a look at that post-season:

On the last Sunday of the regular season, Kansas City had to win at home, they needed Tennessee to lose at home to New England, the Steelers to beat the Bengals in Cincinnati, and they needed the 49ers to beat the Broncos in Denver. They also needed six point three winning Lotto tickets, nine rabbits feet, and a bowl of Lucky Charms with chocolate milk in it. They got it, and the Chiefs travel to Indy to face the Colts. This is basically Herman Edwards, in his first year in KC, backing in to the post-season with Dick Vermeil's team, and he, in true Gannon-Grbac fashion, ruins any chance of winning by benching the hot hand, and starting the still-woozy-from-concussion Trent Green. Not only do the Chiefs -- who netted eight points in that game -- not get a first down until the third quarter is halfway over, but Edwards, Dungy, and Smith are spotted dining with one another the previous evening. Heard from a neighboring table at that restaurant was, "After tomorrow, you gon' owe me one, Tony."

I might've made that up, but plug Denver or Tennessee into that contest, and you've got a better team and a better coach, making the road a much different one for the Colts. A week later they travel to Baltimore and face a Ravens team that actually manages to score fewer points than the Chiefs did against the Colts. In the conference championship, the Colts finally have a worthy opponent in Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, a quarterback and a club that had historically owned Peyton Manning and the Colts. In an amazing game, Dungy's club gets the edge by four, and advances.

In the Nobody Freakin' Cares side of things, the Saints knock off the (as mentioned) always choketastic Eagles by a field goal in the Wildcard round, while the Seahawks, courtesy of the infamous Romo blunder, advance past Dallas to face the Bears, only to lose by a field goal. The Bears of course make easy work of New Orleans, bringing us to the championship Bloachfest known as the Dungy-Smith showdown. Obviously, there are unique circumstances in every game, especially in the post-season. I'm of the opinion that the road paved by destiny for that Super Bowl was one of bizarre fate and circumstance, leaving an asterisk on the legend of the black-coach page in history's annals. And I wrote all of that to say this:

Mike Tomlin is the real deal.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the most well-rounded, tough, physical team the NFL playoffs have seen in a long, long time, and I seriously doubt that any of these three other teams left could stop them if they faced them head to head. For this, I give Tomlin all of the credit.

Of course he inherited a great Bill Cowher-coached team, but he has followed that course of success and created a monster. Old No. 7 once said that Tony Dungy is one of the best Monday-Saturday coaches in the history of the game, but come Sunday he's somewhere beneath mediocre. Seven is also steadfast in the theory that an excellent quarterback is crucial to winning championships, and I don't disagree with him there. Thus, with Manning under center -- which all but makes an offensive coordinator obsolete -- Dungy appears to be great. Naturally, numbers don't lie, and Dungy's record is beyond impressive. Between Tampa and Indianapolis, he made the playoffs 11 of 13 times, won six division championships and a Super Bowl. He retired with a 139-69 record, though a 9-10 post-season record.

Through five years, Lovie Smith is 45-35, with two division titles and a conference championship. He is on pace -- were he to coach as long as Dungy -- to win fewer games and lose 30 percent more than Dungy. Tomlin has been a head coach for two seasons. He is 22-10, and batting 1.000 at division championships. He's on pace to shatter Dungy's record of what you might call the winningest black coach in NFL history. He has all the makings of an excellent coach: an impressive record, a balanced team, talent, sideline poise and enthusiasm, plus gameday smarts mixed with situational intelligence. I posit that no black coach to date has matched that arsenal.

Like I said, though, I'm pulling for Arizona, since they're the sleeper/Cinderella, and I appreciate how tough their defense has played through two rounds of playoff football. Should something besides a Steeler championship occur, I won't feel bad for Tomlin. I have a hunch he'll be around for a long while, and go down in the books as the best bloach in our lifetime.