Similar to Chuck Noll's departure from the Steelers, Bill Cowher barely left a trace of his time with the organization when he cleared out his office in January 2007. Cowher did, however, leave one thing behind for his successor, Mike Tomlin. The Hall of Fame coach informed Tomlin of his "gift" shortly after Tomlin took over as Steelers coach.
"Hey, I left an Iron City beer for you in the office fridge," Cowher recalled sharing with Tomlin in his recently released autobiography, "Heart and Steel." "I know," Tomlin replied. "It's still there."
While the current whereabouts of that beer are not known, Tomlin is still occupying the office that has been used by just three coaches since 1969. Tomlin will remain in Pittsburgh at least through 2024 after signing a three-year extension earlier this offseason. Cowher, who never returned to the sideline after his retirement in 2007, was asked to project Tomlin's future during a recent appearance on the "All Things Covered" podcast with Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden.
"His record speaks for itself," Cowher said of Tomlin. "His consistency that he has produced year in and year out. I hope he's there for a long time as long as he's happy being there. It's a demanding job. Pittsburgh is a small town. Sometimes, you're probably appreciated more so outside your city than you are inside your city. I think people from the outside realize how good of a football coach Mike Tomlin is. ... There's no question Mike will be there as long as he wants to be there, and he'll be first one to know when it's time to walk away."
The 2021 season will be Tomlin's 15th as Steelers coach, equaling Cowher's run on the sidelines. As for how much longer he plans to coach, Tomlin gave a transparent answer when asked by Tony Dungy, his coaching mentor, during a 2017 interview.
"As long as my wife will let me," Tomlin said with a smile. "I love what I do. ... [Pittsburgh is] a great place. It's home. ... I love what I do. I really haven't even pondered how long, and that probably just gives you an indication of where my mindset is. I haven't even begun to think about that."
Like Cowher, Tomlin has enjoyed considerable success in Pittsburgh. A Super Bowl championship coach, Tomlin led the Steelers to a second Super Bowl in 2010. A seven-time AFC North division champion, Tomlin's .650 winning percentage is eighth in NFL history among coaches that have won at least 100 games. His 14 consecutive non-losing seasons to begin a career are tied for the longest streak in league history with Marty Schottenheimer.
"I think he deserves to stay as long as he wants," Tomlin's quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, said via text message to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this offseason. "I think stability is huge and underrated in this game. He will go down as one of the greats."
As Roethlisberger alluded to, Tomlin may very well go down as one of the NFL's all-time great coaches. If he does, he may one day earn a spot alongside Cowher and Noll in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A member of the NFL's Centennial Hall of Fame class, Cowher will be inducted on Aug. 7.
"We built something special in Pittsburgh," Cowher said, "and it was a family"