Wednesday, January 28, 2009

History Awaits Tomlin & Whisenhunt

With Super Bowl winning coaches like Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren and Tony Dungy all likely to take a year off in 2009, it is now clear that the NFL is entering a new era for head coaches.

For the past 20 plus years, fans and pundits alike have considered the names above, as well as the old guards of Bill Parcells, Dick Vermil, Dan Reeves and Jimmy Johnson to be the best coaches in the league. Now neither will be coaching a game in 2009. Thus, the winner of Super Bowl XLIII will be the welcomed in as the next great head coach.

This new generation of head coach is younger, more fit, more hip to modern technology, and a player coach who still maintains enough discipline and commands enough respect from his ball club.

Mike Tomlin and Ken Whisenhunt are about to enter this fraternity. Tomlin, after taking over for Cowher after the 2006 season as a virtual unknown from Jon Gruden's Tampa Bay coaching staff, has lit a fire under the Steelers. Tomlin's strong demeanour, on-field emotion and no-nonsense approach to coaching his players and answering the media is a trademark of many great coaches. His record speaks for itself: 22-10 in the regular season and 2-1 in the playoffs. That is pretty good for a guy who is in only his second year as a head coach.

At this rate, Tomlin will become a coach that many will want to talk to when his contract nears the end in Pittsburgh, but knowing that the Steelers have had only three coaches since the late 1960's, it is likely that Tomlin will call Pittsburgh home for 12 to 15 more seasons.

As for Whisenhunt, he grew up in Cowher's system, rising to the club's offensive coordinator position in 2004 and was part of the staff that won a Super Bowl in 2005. The fact that Whisenhunt was able to turn around a dead franchise like the Cardinals is a true testament to his work as a leader and communicator; again, these are important characteristics of a great head coach.

With the success of these two, the NFL has jumped on the bandwagon of hiring young coaches and assistants. The Dolphins hired Cowboys offensive line coach Tony Sparano in 2008, and he took the team to a AFC East title. The Falcons hired Mike Smith from Jacksonville, and Smith led Atlanta to a 11-5 mark and a playoff appearance.

In 2009, more assistants will join the NFL in the hope that they can become the next great head coach. Detroit hired Titans offensive coordinator Jim Schwartz; the Jets hired Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan; the Broncos hired Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who is only 32-years-old, and the Buccaneers hired 32-year-old Raheem Morris to be their next head coach.

The job of NFL head coach now requires someone who is younger and more willing to take on the duties of 18 hour days, constant phone calls to players and agents, scouting college players at the NFL combine and leading both off-season mini-camps in March and May.

It's a new generation of NFL head coaches sweeping through the NFL; Tomlin and Whisenhunt will be the first two to shoot for immortailty, paving the way for others to follow.

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