Steelers Evolve As Needed, In Their Own Way

steelers_superbowl_trophies_pittsburghskyline.com_jan_2012_02
The Steelers have won six Lombardi Trophies by doing things in their own time and in their own way. Photo from http://www.pittsburghskyline.com

For the first 36 years of their existence, the Pirates/Steelers/Steagles/Card-Pitts never conducted business with any real plan or direction, which resulted in 14 head coaches, zero playoff victories, and 30 non-winning seasons. The only thing that was as consistent as the losing, was their penchant for trading away prime draft picks, in exchange for aging veterans with little left in the tank. It wasn’t until 1969, when the Rooney’s hired Chuck Noll, that the Steelers would finally find their way, by building through the draft and developing the patience needed to do so. Since then, the Steelers have only had 3 head coaches, along with 34 postseason wins and 6 Super Bowl titles. The Steelers formula for success has become known as the Steeler way, which was created by Chuck Noll, and has been whole heartedly adopted by the Rooney’s.

The Steeler way is based on stability, patience, and building through the draft, which is a rarity in today’s NFL. While teams like the Cleveland Browns have seemingly gone through the entire rolodex of head coaching candidates and free agents, and have adopted every offensive/defensive trend that comes along. In the process, these teams have positioned themselves light years away from any hopes of winning a Lombardi Trophy. The Steelers have continued to do what they do, evolving when necessary, and only as much as they need to. In some cases the Steelers have even been the NFL’s trend setters, such as with their 3-4 zone blitz schemes of the 90’s, their 5 wide passing game that got them to Super Bowl XXX, and, soon to be, with their penchant for going for two-point conversions,  but the core of the Steeler way remains unchanged since 1969. Steelernation should be very proud of the fact that the owning family of their team is not prone to knee-jerk reactions. They should be thankful that Bill Cower was not fired following the down years of 1998-2000, like a portion of the fan base was calling for.

Those fans should be thankful that Bill Cowher was hired over Dave Wannstedt, or the other known commodities who were interviewed to replace Chuck Noll. Those who have recently called for the firing of Mike Tomlin, who has yet to have a losing season, should be thankful that he has been shown the same patience that was afforded Noll and Cowher. Those fans should be thankful that Tomlin was hired over Ken Whisenhunt and Ron Rivera. The point is to trust the Rooney’s and those they hire, because unlike owners such as Jerry Jones, Daniel Snyder and Robert Kraft, who are in love with their own voices, the Rooney’s let those 6 Lombardi Trophies speak for them. The Rooney’s don’t constantly try to fix what isn’t broken. Most importantly, they let those that they hire do their jobs without interference.

Throughout the years, the Steelers have done an amazing job of maintaining the core of their belief in the Steeler Way, as well as their winning ways. They have also done a tremendous job of adapting to the ways that the game is changing, which partially dictated by the offensive direction that college football has taken  over the last 5 to 7 years. The Steelers have always been known for a smash mouth running game supported by a brutal style of defense. However, as college football has gone from more traditional offenses to producing players from spread offenses, the Steelers have kept up nicely. It sure seems that they saw what was coming when they brought in Todd Haley. After a rough start though, due to injuries, the Steelers now seem to be ahead of the offensive curve, while still maintaining the ability to run the ball when needed.

When the Steelers opened up their offense in the late 70’s to adapt to, and take advantage of the Mel Blount rule, they set the standard for passing offenses. When they went 5 wide in ’95, to help get them to Super Bowl, other offenses copied that blueprint. Once again they are setting the standard offensively, taking full advantage of their franchise quarterback and the multitude of weapons that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have put around him. The evolution of the Steelers isn’t limited to the offense either. For years, under Dick LeBeau, it took rookies a few years to earn regular playing time because of the complex nature of his system. Under Keith Butler, the Steelers defense is being simplified in order to get young players on the field to contribute sooner, to help get and keep the defense younger and faster.

While these changes may not take place at the pace that a lot of fans would like, it’s hard to argue with the success of the Steeler way of doing things. They have proven over the last 46 years, that patience and stability, not a we must win now approach, is the way to sustained winning. What is surprising, is that in a copycat league like the NFL, more teams haven’t mirrored the Steelers approach. Instead, some teams have chosen to skirt the rules in order to achieve success, while others chase the latest craze in order to win now. Those teams may look flashy for a few seasons, but they tend to fade away, while the Steelers, who always choose substance over style, keep racking up the wins and are almost always in contention for their next Super Bowl title. As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Since 1970, the Steelers have more regular season wins, postseason wins and Super Bowl titles than any other team, making them the NFL’s only perpetual dynasty over the last 46 years. Sure the Steelers may seem to be slow to evolve in the eyes of some, but they do things in their own way and time, and they do it better than anybody else.

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