By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
Out With the Old: Bill Cowher (149-90-1 in 15 seasons) resigned Jan. 5th.
In With the New: Mike Tomlin, formerly defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, was named head coach Jan. 22nd. Tomlin guided the defense for one year in Minnesota (2006), prior to which he was secondary coach in Tampa Bay (2001-05). The rest of Tomlin's coaching experience came in the collegiate ranks, where he served stints at Cincinnati (1999-2000), Arkansas State (1997-98), Memphis (1996), and VMI (1995).
Coordinator/Staff Situation: In what seems to many to be an unnatural marriage, the Tampa-2 and 4-3-favoring Tomlin kept on defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the father of the zone blitz and a proponent of the 3-4. How the two will co-exist remains to be seen. Bruce Arians replaces Ken Whisenhunt in the OC chair after three years as WRs coach, and Larry Zierlein, once offensive line coach with the Browns, replaces Russ Grimm in the same position. Former Bengals signal-caller and Jaguars quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson succeeds Mark Whipple as Ben Roethlisberger's tutor. Bob Ligashesky, who helped turn the Rams special teams around over the last two years, will try to do the same in Pittsburgh.
Personnel Situation: Tomlin has to find players to fit his defensive scheme, and the release of Joey Porter was the first casualty of the new approach. At the very least, the Steelers need a true defensive end and another tackle to complement Casey Hampton. In addition, the secondary has long been defense's weak link and has to be addressed. The offense's biggest concerns rest with an aging line. The Steelers look to be okay in the backfield and at receiver, though Roethlisberger will have to prove that he can win without Whisenhunt, Whipple, and Cowher to help shape his talents.
Level of Expectation: Expectations get no higher than in Pittsburgh, where annual playoff trips are the minimum requirement to keep the ultra-loyal fan base at bay. Though there is some sentiment that this could be a rebuilding year in Steeler country, don't expect team supporters to give Tomlin a pass for a 6-10 record. Luckily for Tomlin, the Rooney family generally turns a deaf ear to fan complaints, and allowed both Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher to coach their way out of periods when another ownership group might have canned them. It would probably take three straight losing seasons for Tomlin to lose his job.
Prognosis for Tenure: For the sake of his sanity more than his job security, Tomlin needs to win right away. If he doesn't, he'll hear endless harping in the Steel City about his tender age, limited leadership experience, and his decision to scrap the 3-4 zone-blitz system that has been such a major part of the Steelers' success and identity in recent memory. And let's not pretend, in a working class city such as Pittsburgh, that Tomlin's race won't be at least a whispered issue for a small and unfortunately vocal segment of the team's loyal fan base. Despite all the potential complications, the Tomlin era projects to be a successful one. The Rooney family will stand by their new man, just as they did with Noll and Cowher, and allow Tomlin to find his way as a head coach. And that's the way it should be.