Transition is not easy and that was clear when Mike Tomlin was named the Steelers new head coach in 2007. The Steelers got off to a 9-3 start in 07 but some of the team questioned Tomlin’s philosophy because of how attached a lot of the veteran players were to former head coach Bill Cowher. Established veterans like Alan Faneca and Hines Ward were pushing for Russ Grimm to become the Steelers head coach. In Tomin’s first season, he was very hard on his players. The team went through a tough camp and practices were much more intense than they were under Cowher. Mike Tomlin made it known that it was going to be his way and by the end of the 07 season, the players began to realize that this was Mike Tomlin’s team.
From the beginning, Mike Tomlin had the backing of his franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The key for any coach is to have a good working relationship with your starting quarterback. Roethlisberger is highly respected in the locker room but he is not the most popular guy in the room. Evidence of that was when Roethlisberger was by-passed for Team M.V.P. in 07, after¬†throwing 32 touchdowns and having the league’s second highest passer rating.
The key for Tomlin has been his relationship with long-time Steelers veteran Deshea Townsend. Townsend and Tomlin have become very close over the past two years. Townsend is so respected and liked in the locker room that his close relationship with Tomlin sort of made the transition go rather smoothly (in time) among veterans who were irked that ownership didn’t hire Russ Grimm.

Steelers became a team in 08
From the start of training camp the Steelers were a much closer team than they were in 07. Getting rid of Alan Faneca has played a strong factor in the Steelers being a much closer group. Faneca caused a lot of friction between the players and the coaching staff last season. Right guard Willie Colon even anointed to that in training camp when talking to reporters on the second day of training camp.
Tomlin has adapted a different approach this season. Practices have not been as hard but Tomlin has found the ability to command the upmost respect from his players. He is not as tough on them as he was in his rookie season but he has drawn that fine line where players still fear him which is what a coach has to establish or the players will run all over you like the Dallas Cowboys do with Wade Phillips. You will never see a player getting away with missing meetings under the leadership of Tomlin. That is one aspect Tomlin has established that Bill Cowher was also so great at. Setting a professional work like atmosphere.
Who makes the final decision on Hines Ward’s playing status?
Hines Ward is rehabbing night and day on his injured knee to ensure that he will be able to play in the Super Bowl but what happens if the physicians don’t clear him to play?
From the way Mike Tomlin has handled situations like this in the past with players who are iffy for a game, — the doctor doesn‚Äôt clear a particular player, that player didn‚Äôt play. The Super Bowl may be a different story but that is the difference between Cowher and Tomlin. Cowher was a little too close to the leaders on his team and at times he would let them have the final say on their playing status. A prime example is the January 27, 2002 AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots. Jerome Bettis was suffering from a serious groin injury and had missed 8 straight games prior to the AFC Title Game. It‚Äôs believed that Bettis was not to cleared to play but Cowher let Bettis make the decision. Bettis was ineffective and actually hurt the team, rushing for 8 yards on 9 carries.
Hines Ward at even 65% might be better than what the Steelers have to replace him with.The good news is from how Tomlin operates, he will not keep putting Ward on the field if it is obvious he can’t help the team on the field because of his health during the Super Bowl.
Photo courtesy of SteelCityHobbies