Pittsburgh Steelers: Bill Belichick

PITTSBURGH – Ryan Shazier will make his much-anticipated NFL debut on Sunday but excited is probably not among the words Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would use to describe his feelings about it.

When asked if he is pleased with where Shazier is heading into the regular season, Tomlin said, “Slated to start, yes, but I don’t find comfort in that. He’s a young guy. He’ll be better in two weeks than he is today.

“I think that’s one of the points you continue to reiterate to young players, not only him. That yeah, [starting] is a significant point in the journey when we move from preseason to regular season but he’s by no means a finished product. We’re by no means a finished product.”

Shazier will become the first Steelers defensive rookie to start since Kendrell Bell in 2001.

Here are a few other midday odds and ends:
  • Arthur Moats is the primary backup at outside linebacker and Tomlin strongly hinted that the fifth-year veteran will play significant snaps against the Browns. With heat and humidity likely to be a factor on Sunday, Moats could spell both Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds. The Steelers rotated three outside linebackers in the first part of the 2013 season. “Fresh bodies are the best bodies, particularly if they are capable of being reasons why we win,” Tomlin said. “We believe [Moats] is. We’ll let the game circumstances dictate the usage.”
  • The Browns haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 2003, and that is not the only history that will be working against new coach Mike Pettine on Sunday. The last seven Browns head coaches have lost their debut with Cleveland. The last Browns coach to win his first game was Bud Carson in 1989 when Cleveland walloped Pittsburgh 51-0. Among the seven coaches who lost their first game with the Browns are Bill Belichick (1991), Romeo Crennel (2005) and Eric Mangini (2009).
The Rooneys' exceeding patience with head coaches is only part of the reason why Mike Tomlin isn't in trouble even though the Steelers are coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons.

Tomlin ranked among the top head coaches in the NFL in a project put together by ESPN.com NFL Insider Mike Sando, showing that he is highly-regarded across the league.

Sando polled 30 league insiders – the group included current and former NFL general managers, assistant coaches and coordinators and team executives – and each gave every head coach a score from 1-to-5 with 5 being the highest ranking.

Tomlin received a '1' or a '2' from 28 of the insiders polled, and he tied for sixth with Green Bay's Mike McCarthy Insider in the ranking of the NFL head coaches.

Tomlin and McCarthy, who is a Pittsburgh native, trailed only Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, Sean Peyton, Andy Reid and Tom Coughlin.

Both were near the top of the second tier of coaches and Tomlin received nine scores that were a '1.'

"For me, a definite 1 is Mike Tomlin," an offensive assistant coach said. "He has (the team's) attention, he can speak every language in the locker room, he is extremely accountable, he understands tradition at the place he is at -- he is one with his building. He has enthusiasm and energy that bleeds into everyone in the organization. They hired a coordinator he did not put his stamp on, but (Todd) Haley is a good football coach, so Tomlin rolls with it. New offensive line coach, he rolls with it. He just keeps rolling."

Tomlin's 71-41 record is the best start by a coach in Steelers history, and in 2008 he led Pittsburgh to its sixth Super Bowl title.

Tomlin became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, accomplishing the feat at the age of 36 and in his second season with the Steelers.

Tomlin's critics say that he won the Super Bowl with a ready-made team but one of the insiders who voted in the rankings credited him with the Steelers making a smooth transition after the Bill Cowher era.

"He took a really nice team and took it to another level, and as the team aged on him and they really didn't replenish, he hasn't blinked,” a former NFL head coach said. “He has hung in there and I think they are going to be very good again. I think he has developed the young guys quickly and I think he has stood his ground on, 'Here is what the organization believes -- loyalty, loyalty, loyalty,' and I think he has done a great job of adopting that."

NFLN survey/popular coach: Steelers

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
PITTSBURGH -- An ESPN NFL Nation survey identified Seattle's Pete Carroll as the coach whom players would most like to call their own.

That is not a surprise given Carroll's success in Seattle, his caffeinated and optimistic approach to coaching and his reputation as a players' coach.

What is also not surprising: that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin finished second in the polling of more than 320 players.

Tomlin collected 44 votes compared to 71 for Carroll, and he might have received more had some of the Steelers' players I polled not answered the question as the coach they would most like to play for aside from their own.

Tomlin collected five votes in the Steelers' locker room compared to four for Carroll and one for the Jets' Rex Ryan.

Tomlin's greatest strength is his ability to connect with his players and motivate them. He has done this while also maintaining a clear line between a coach and his players that is necessary for the kind of sustained success Tomlin has enjoyed, the last two seasons notwithstanding.

The seventh-year coach is cool, confident -- and, yes sometimes arrogant -- and if there is any doubt how much faith the Steelers' players have in him, witness the second half of last season.

The Steelers went 6-2 in their final eight games and came within a missed field goal by inches -- and a missed call -- of sneaking into the playoffs.

Tomlin never lost his players despite 0-4 and 2-6 starts, and there were multiple times that the season could have jumped the track but didn't.

To get an idea how his players feel about Tomlin, consider what Jerricho Cotchery said recently when talking about why he would love to stay in Pittsburgh (the veteran wide receiver can become an unrestricted free agent on March 11).

"He's just an unbelievable guy to be around and work for," Cotchery said of Tomlin. "He's a guy that you would love cutting his grass."

Tomlin should get that written in Cotchery's next contract if the latter re-signs with the Steelers.

And such effusive praise of Tomlin is pretty typical around the Steelers' locker room. It also comes from those who have played for him and are no longer on the Steelers

Tomlin can be as blunt as any coach behind closed doors but players appreciate that honesty. And I've never heard any player complain -- and we're taking off the record here -- about not knowing where they stand with him.

My guess is that Tomlin will stay in Pittsburgh as long as he wants, and that will be until he no longer wants to coach.

Here is a breakdown of the voting after the top two spots: The Broncos' John Fox (26) and the Patriots' Bill Belichick and Ryan (23) rounded out the top five. Other top vote getters included the Chiefs' Andy Reid (22), the Saints' Sean Payton (21) and the brothers Harbaugh.

The 49ers' Jim Habaugh received 16 votes and the Raves' John Harbaugh got 10 votes.
Ryan Clark has never hesitated to speak his mind.

And the Pittsburgh Steelers free safety offered some strong opinions on Spygate, which still follows the New England Patriots more than six years after they were punished by the NFL for illegally videotaping opponents.

Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher downplayed the impact of Spygate this week, specifically in regard to the 2004 AFC Championship Game. The Patriots beat the Steelers 41-27 at Heinz Field, but Cowher told 93.7 The Fan that New England was simply the better team that day.

Clark did not play in that game -- he signed with the Steelers in 2006 -- but he was not nearly as generous as Cowher in assessing the sustained success the Patriots have enjoyed under coach Bill Belichick.

Clark weighed in on the subject Thursdsay on ESPN's "Numbers Never Lie."

“He’s a good coach. He has a Hall of Fame quarterback, and it’s not taking away from what they’ve done, but there should be an asterisk by it,” Clark said of the three Super Bowls that the Patriots won from 2001-04.

Clark agreed with Cowher that stealing signals has long been part of the game.

But he said the Patriots crossed a line with the methods that led to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fining Belichick $500,000 in 2007 and also fining the Patriots $250,000 while taking away their first-round draft pick in the following year’s draft.

“Filming it and trying to get it during a game are two different things. When we play teams who have had players or coaches who have been a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization we change things,” Clark said. “We may have (inside linebacker) Larry Foote get signals from another guy, and another coach fakes signals. It’s no secret that people try to get signals, but when you film it you take it to a whole other level.”

Here is a peek at what else is going on around the AFC North:
Steel City wake-up: morning links.

It wasn’t exactly Richard Nixon sitting down with Mao Zedong. But former Steelers coach Bill Cowher talked extensively with Patriots coach Bill Belichick last week, even after the two former rivals finished a lengthy interview for CBS, the network that Cowher now works for as an NFL studio analyst.

Cowher couldn’t say enough good things about Belichick during an interview with 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, and he also had some interesting things to say about “Spygate” as well as why he has no intention to leave his current job and return to coaching.

Good for Cowher.

I’ve always wondered why some NFL coaches-turned-analysts are so eager to return to the sidelines and Cowher is clearly at peace with where he is. Also -- and I know Steelers fans won’t want to hear this – I applaud Cowher for downplaying the impact of Spygate, and specifically its impact on the 2004 AFC Championship Game in which the Steelers lost to the Patriots at Heinz Field.

Ask me why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was so quick to resolve the Patriots’ issue of illegally videotaping opponents and I will tell you, as Cowher said, that all teams were trying to get an advantage. The Patriots simply got caught and paid a heavy price after getting told to knock it off.

Here are some other stories for Steelers’ fans:

-- Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery is productive, a consummate professional and hard not to pull for, as any of his Steelers teammate will tell you. Here is Steelers.com Teresa Varley’s story on Cotchery’s upbringing, which makes it even harder to root against him.

-- ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez has a great piece on the Steelers-Raiders rivalry of the 1970s with yet another playoff meeting between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady conjuring up memories of one of the rivalries that shaped the 1970s.

-- ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey has been busy with Cincinnati losing two coordinators to head-coaching jobs. He weighs in on the latest change to the Bengals’ coaching staff.

-- ESPN.com Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley has some questions after Baltimore coach John Harbaugh issues a statement regarding the team’s search for a new offensive coordinator.

-- ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon continues to cover a coaching search. But let’s take a look at his reaction to NFL ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’a first mock draft. The Browns have two picks in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.


Cowher dismisses impact of 'Spygate'

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
PITTSBURGH -- Bill Cowher has a message for Pittsburgh Steelers fans who think their team was cheated out of a trip to the Super Bowl 10 years ago: Get over it.

The Steelers were drummed by New England, 41-27, in the 2004 AFC Championship Game at Heinz field, a loss that came under suspicion a couple of years later when the Patriots were caught trying to steal signals and formations by illegally videotaping opposing teams.

“We didn’t lose the game because of any 'Spygate,' because of them having any additional things,” Cowher told 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday. “[If] they’re guilty of anything they’re guilty of arrogance because they were told not to do something but it was something everybody does. They got caught doing it with a camera.”

Cowher, who coached the Steelers from 1992-2006, said what the Patriots did happened regularly in the NFL before the league allowed coordinators to relay plays to their quarterback and defensive signal-caller via a helmet radio.

“Stealing someone’s signals was a part of the game and everybody attempted to do that. We had people that always tried to steal signals,” said Cowher, whose 2004 team won 16 consecutive games before losing to the Patriots in the AFC title game. “What happened when we lost that game is they outplayed us. It had nothing to do with stealing signals or cheating or anything else.”

Cowher, an NFL studio analyst for CBS, interviewed Patriots coach Bill Belichick last week, and he said the two talked extensively afterward, the first time they had done so since they were both NFL assistant coaches.

Cowher professed his admiration for Belichick and the sustained success he has enjoyed in the salary-cap era.

The Pittsburgh native also made it clear on Wednesday that he won’t be matching wits against Belichick -- or any other NFL head coach -- anytime soon.

Cowher reiterated that he has “no interest” in returning to the sideline even though his name has been linked to head-coaching vacancies every year since he retired from the Steelers in January 2007.

Cowher, who went 149-90-1 and won a Super Bowl in 15 seasons with the Steelers, acknowledged that he has received his share of inquiries about returning to coaching.

“It’s flattering but it never gets very far,” Cowher said. “If I ever want to get back into coaching I should be calling teams they shouldn’t be calling me. That’s when you know you really want to do it.”

Sanders to face team he nearly joined

November, 1, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Patriots liked Emmanuel Sanders enough that they were willing to part with a third-round draft pick for a wide receiver who has never had a 100-yard game in the NFL.

Bill Belichick explained why the Patriots signed Sanders to a one-year, $2.5 million deal last April (the Steelers matched it and thus kept the player who was a restricted free agent.)

“He’s an outstanding player,” Belichick said of Sanders. “He’s fast, he runs well with the ball in his hands, he gets open, he’s a hard guy to cover, a hard guy to tackle and has value in the kicking game. I think he’s got a lot of things going for him.”

Sanders could very well end up in New England in 2014.

He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season as the Steelers didn’t see enough from the fourth-year veteran to sign him to a multi-year deal. That is something they typically do with core players who are going into the final year of their contract.

Sanders acknowledged that it was flattering to have a team as accomplished as the Patriots covet him last offseason.

“It was pretty cool what took place not only the New England Patriots wanting me but the other teams that were also involved with the deal,” Sanders said. “I work extremely hard and when Mike [Wallace] and Antonio [Brown] were here I was the No. 3. I felt like I was hidden a little bit, but it felt good to know that other teams recognized my talents.”

Sanders’ talent is undeniable, but the Steelers need him to do more than just flash it from time to time -- as he did in catching a 55-yard touchdown pass against the Jets or nearly breaking a 107-yard kickoff return against the Ravens.

The increased opportunities that were supposed to come with Sanders moving into the starting lineup have not translated into consistent production from the former third-round pick.

Sanders has caught 31 passes – 25 less than Antonio Brown – for 396 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Steelers need Sanders to step up more in the second half of the season, particularly with teams paying more attention to Brown.

What happens with Sanders in the future remains to be seen. And Sanders said he won’t be thinking about how close he came to playing for the Patriots this season when he lines up against them on Sunday.

“Right now I’m playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and we’re searching for win No. 3,” Sanders said. “That’s all that’s on my mind.”