There is one element that separates the Pittsburgh Steelers from the field, and it's not Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu or James Harrison. Nope, it's continuity. The Steelers not only believe in it; they practice it, with more patience than most of their competitors combined.
And look where it has them: In their third Super Bowl in six seasons.
|Steelers boss Dan Rooney and son Art II lead the way in setting the culture in Pittsburgh. (AP)|
The Colts have changed head coaches once in the past nine years, and only because no one could talk Tony Dungy out of retirement. The Patriots haven't changed their head coach in more than a decade. Neither have the Eagles. And Pittsburgh? The Steelers have had two head coaches the past 19 years and three the past four decades.
By contrast, San Francisco has been through three head coaches the past two months. It also hasn't had a winning season since 2002.
Change is good ... except when it comes to the NFL. You can argue that this is a chicken-or-the-egg thing, with the question: Does success breed continuity or does continuity breed success? But you cannot argue that tearing up the company's ground floor every two or three years does anything but keep a franchise in limbo.
"I'd say that success breeds continuity," said one GM. "The teams that have continuity have success, usually early in a coach's career. And if they don't, owners tend to want to blow things up -- especially the new owners, where it's all about money.
"The teams that are the most patient are small-market clubs where there's not a lot of money or teams where their owners have been in the league a long time -- and Pittsburgh is both. They [the Steelers] understand what the league is all about.
"But the new owners ... they run their franchises like they run their businesses. And when they don't have immediate success ... when they don’t make a lot of money quickly ... they want to make changes. So they do it."
Exhibit A: The Washington Redskins. They went to the divisional round of the playoffs in 1999, then fired coach Norv Turner when they were sitting at 7-6 the following season. They lost two of their next three under interim coach Terry Robiskie before moving on to five head coaches -- including Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs -- with less-than-satisfactory results. During the past decade, Washington is 68-92, with just two winning seasons.
Exhibit B: The Cleveland Browns. Since returning to the NFL in 1999, they've been through five head coaches, with Eric Mangini fired this month after two seasons. The Browns went to the playoffs once and have a combined record of 64-128. I know what you're thinking: Yeah? That's why they fired those coaches. They stunk. Maybe. Except Pittsburgh didn't fire Bill Cowher after he went 7-9 and 6-10 in back-to-back seasons. Tennessee didn't fire Jeff Fisher after he went 9-23 in 2004-05, either. And Philadelphia didn't fire Andy Reid after he slumped to 6-10 in 2005.
Logic says that a club like Pittsburgh resists knee-jerk moves because, well, why change when you're winning? Good question. Except the Steelers didn't always win. They were 7-9 in 1985, 6-10 in '86, 8-7 in '87 and 5-11 in '88. Yet they never flinched, keeping Chuck Noll as their head coach. Tell me where that happens today.
In most other places coaches are on the clock. But Pittsburgh is not most places, and, yes, the Steelers have a system that finds coaches and players who fit, the best defensive coordinator on the planet and one of the sharpest GMs in the league. But, in Dan Rooney, they have an owner who gives his coaches time -- and plenty of it -- to prove themselves and shape their programs, and that support, patience and allegiance pay off.
"It's huge," said an AFC head coach, "because it creates tremendous efficiency. Everyone in the organization knows what he's looking for. The scouts. The coaches. Everyone. They all know what a Steeler player looks like, so they pick up guys that fit ... basically because everyone knows what fits. You don't have to debate and dissect a player. You look at their 20 highest-paid players, and they're all draft picks. That's no coincidence.
"As a coach, when you work for a club like the Steelers you make decisions based on what is best for the organization and the team because you know you're going be there. But when you don't, you do what you can to save your job, often making quick-fix and short-sighted decisions. That's not the way in Pittsburgh."
So we noticed. Granted, Pittsburgh doesn't pay its coaches like they do in, say, Washington or Dallas, but tell me where the security and job satisfaction are greater, the ownership is more supportive and the continuity is stronger. Tell me where there are more Lombardi Trophies, too.
Now tell me all they're not related because they are.