The Pittsburgh Steelers have achieved their on-field success with a number of key components. Today, we take a look at the coaching staff that led them to their record sixth Super Bowl championship, which returns intact.
The franchise has one of the most enviable track records when it comes to head coaches, and Mike Tomlin has started his tenure with the look that he will continue the trend.
Heading into his third season as the Steelers head coach, Tomlin will be looking to avoid a letdown following a Super Bowl victory like the one that characterized the 2006 season.
Tomlin is key to orchestrating the coaching staff as a whole and making sure that all the parts are working together. Many teams get caught up with x's and o's gurus when they pick a head coach. However, the one key component they fail to evaluate is leadership.
Mike Tomlin is the epitome of leadership. After he was hired, he retained key pieces of the coaching staff that helped make a smooth transition and ensured his future success.
His main role is to keep the team focused and motivated. His calm and cool demeanor can come across almost as being soft, until you see him get riled up and jump into a players face.
Many on the team have stated that he earned the team's respect very quickly after the team passed on any internal candidates to replace former coach Bill Cowher. The two couldn't have more different styles, but yet they achieve the same goal.
Cowher wanted to be in his players' faces and was known to get into screaming fits, even at the punter. While Tomlin gets his fair share of face time with each player, he does so in a more relaxed and mentor-like style most of the time.
Many around football appreciate the football acumen that Tomlin possesses. Having started his football career as a wide receiver for William and Mary, he turned to coaching right out of the gate.
Starting as a wide receivers coach at Virginia Military Institute, he quickly learned that by being a wide receiver he was intimately familiar with the best ways to stop one. With that knowledge, he quickly became a hot commodity as a defensive backs coach.
The improvement in the Steelers secondary can be easily seen with the play of Ike Taylor and the recently departed Bryant McFadden. In only two seasons, Tomlin was able to harness the best of each of these players and turn them into one of the league's best tandems.
Late-round pick William Gay has made excellent strides under Tomlin's tutelage and looks to compete for a starting position this season.
Tomlin has also made good decisions regarding his coaching staff, retaining two of the most respected men in football to help him run 2008's number one defense, Assistant Coach/Defensive Line Coach John Mitchell and Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau.
John Mitchell has been with the Steelers on the defensive side of the ball for 15 years, making him the longest tenured coach with the team. A former All-American defensive end for Alabama under coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, Mitchell was the first African-American player for the Crimson Tide.
Breaking the color barrier again in 1990, he was the first African-American defensive coordinator in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Having coached under greats like Paul "Bear" Bryant and Lou Holtz to start his career, Mitchell has become a great developer of talent.
He has been in charge of the defensive line during the rise of current players Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith, and also tutored reserve players like Brett Keisel and Chris Hoke into very valuable contributors (even a starter in the case of Keisel).
With the exception of Hampton, the Steelers have rarely used high draft picks on defensive linemen, yet with Mitchell's help, the unit has thrived in the 3-4 scheme.
Defensive Coordinator, Dick LeBeau, is known league wide as a guru of confusing opposing defenses. Lebeau is the architect of the famed zone blitz scheme that Pittsburgh has utilized for more than a decade.
Spending 14 years in the NFL as a player and another 36 as a coach has taught him so many things about football, he could probably never teach anyone all of it.
It's the wealth of knowledge and unparallelled creativity of his 71-year-old mind that makes him stand apart from the rest.
He was recently noted to have dreamed up a new defensive scheme one night in bed and jotted it down for his players to try out the next day at practice. Truly a person who does eat, sleep, and breathe football.
"We expect stuff like that from Coach LeBeau," Linebacker James Farrior said.
Perhaps one of the greatest unseen, little-known traditions in football is Coach LeBeau's annual reading of Twas The Night Before Christmas to his defense. It sounds cheesey, but the way the players talk about it, you have to be curious.
The players say his ability to turn an innocent children's story into a motivating, touching moment is something they never expected. It's become tradition now, and every season the players embrace the ritual just like they embrace the coach they call "Dad."
During the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, the players each bought $300 throwback Dick LeBeau jerseys to lobby voters for his enshrinement into the Hall of Fame as a player.
The players have become to trust him for his strategies of maximizing talent and covering up gambles. Each player knows that following the lead of LeBeau can mean big things for your career.
Staying with Coach LeBeau when Mike Tomlin took over as head coach were Linebackers Coach Keith Butler and Defensive Backs Coach Ray Horton. Horton was promoted from an assistant defensive backs coach position when Tomlin took over.
These four men are in charge of running the defense and game-planning for a new offense each week. A lot will be riding on their shoulders entering the 2009 season, as they will enter the season carrying the tag of the league's number one defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers have another disciple of the Paul "Bear" Bryant coaching tree in Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians. A former quarterback at Virginia Tech, Arians was promoted from wide receivers coach when Tomlin was put in charge.
In the past, he worked with a young Peyton Manning, helping him pass Johnny Unitas' record for touchdown passes in a season. This is exactly the same record that he would later help Ben Roethlisberger break, bettering Terry Bradshaw's mark with 32 in 2007.
When it comes to the offensive game plan and play calling, Arians is the man in charge. Arians has led the adaptation of the Steelers from a grind-it-out running team, to a balanced attack that will take advantage of a team through the air or on the ground.
Arians' promotion into the offensive coordinator position in Tomlin's first year helped solidify the chemistry for Ben Roethlisberger during the staff turnover. Roethlisberger has been very vocal on his support of Arians and the duo have produced exceptional results.
During his tenure with the Steelers, Arians has also been vital to the development of Hines Ward, and now Santonio Holmes.
By utilizing the strengths of the players, Arians has helped the Steelers create a balanced attack with Ward and Holmes on the outside and Roethlisberger finding the open man—even if it does take a little longer than it's drawn up.
Much of the remaining offensive staff was brought in with Mike Tomlin in his first season.
Larry Zierlein was brought in to run the offensive line and has been making progress developing a relatively young group of players. His players met the call last season when a rash of injuries along the line could have meant doom for the team.
Ken Anderson, long remembered for his great play as a quarterback for the Bengals, is in charge of the quarterbacks. This season, he is saddled with helping Roethlisberger develop further and turning second-year pro Dennis Dixon into a reliable backup.
Runnning Backs Coach Kirby Wilson has been a large contributor to the success Willie Parker has had over the last two seasons, and will now have a first-round pick, Rashard Mendenhall, at his disposal.
Along with Zierlein, Anderson, and Wislon, Randy Fichtner was brought in with the then-first-year head coach. Richtner is responsible for the development of the wide receivers and their preparations each week.
The big goal for this season at wideout will be to find a replacement for Nate Washington's production. A lot will be made of Fichtner's progress with second-year receiver Limas Sweed.
The offensive coaching staff is rounded out with a hold-over from the previous staff with Tight Ends Coach James Daniel. He, along with the rest of the offensive group, work together under Arians to scour endless hours of tape on their offense and opposing defenses.
Their goal each week is to put the right tools at Arians' disposal each week in terms of schemes, players, and plays.
The special teams units are run by Bob Ligashesky who has had previous stints with the St. Louis Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars. Also going into his third year, hired when Mike Tomlin took over, Ligashesky previously held a position with the University of Pittsburgh.
This season, he will work with his assistant, Amos Jones, to improve upon the Steelers ailing return game while improving the punting unit with the return of Daniel Sepulveda.
Working with all the units is Conditioning Coordinator Garrett Giemont. He has specialized in training and conditioning for over 26 years in the NFL. Another of Tomlin's hires, he has brought a vast improvement to the teams' training regimen and injury prevention.
The Steelers were criticized for being a little archaic in their training programs before Giemont, but may have now found the system that works best for everyone.
Overall, it's the teamwork between the players and the coaches, the mutual respect for each other, that has led the Steelers to success. The respect has been earned both in the trenches and in the meeting rooms, creating the cohesion necessary to win championships.
It's debatable whether a coaching staff or the players are more important to an organization's success. However, the facts go to prove that the Steelers have all the right pieces in place, on the field, and off.
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