The Pittsburgh Steelers football organization prides itself on stability and continuity.  To that end, the Steelers have had exactly three head coaches since the start of the 1969 season; one of the coaches is in the Hall of Fame, the second is probably one tier below that, and the third is off to an excellent start.
Chuck Noll was one of the great old-time coaches, along with the likes of Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry and Don Shula.  The Steelers won four Super Bowls during his 23-year tenure.
Noll was followed by Bill Cowher, a fiery, heart-on-his-sleeve coach (and former player) who took his teams to a pair of Super Bowls – winning one – in his 15 seasons.
And now Mike Tomlin, the very definition of cool, has completed five extremely successful seasons in Pittsburgh.  His squads have reached two Super Bowls, winning one.
As Tomlin prepares for his sixth season at the helm, here’s a comparison of the first five seasons of his two immediate predecessors:

Chuck Noll’s first 5 seasons (1969-1973)
  • Regular-season record:  33-37 (.471)
  • Division titles:  2
  • Playoff record:  1-2
  • Super Bowls: no appearances
Bill Cowher’s first 5 seasons (1992-1996)
  • Regular-season record:  53-29 (.646)
  • Division titles:  4
  • Playoff record:  4-5
  • Super Bowls:  0-1
Mike Tomlin’s first five seasons (2007-2011)
  • Regular-season record:  55-25 (.688)
  • Division titles:  4
  • Playoff record:  5-3
  • Super Bowls:  1-1
Each coach’s first five seasons were remarkable for different reasons.

Noll was building the franchise from nothing.  In a matter of a few seasons, he had drafted five future Hall-of-Famers that would be the nucleus of the 1970s dynasty.  When Cowher took over in 1992, the Steelers had not won a championship in over a decade, and did not resemble a contender in any way.  Cowher quickly turned that around, getting Pittsburgh to the playoffs in his first six seasons, including a trip to Super Bowl XXX.  He restored the passion and winning ways to the organization.
When Cowher retired and the franchise surprised everyone by hiring Tomlin, many pieces were already in place.  The Steelers had won a Super Bowl in 2005 (although they missed the playoffs the following season), and already had a nucleus of players in place.  It was up to Tomlin to keep the winning ways going, while striving to reach even higher.
And that’s exactly what Tomlin has accomplished in his five seasons.
However, after beating Arizona to win Super Bowl XLIII in 2008, Tomlin and the Steelers have experienced some lows.  The Steelers did reach Super Bowl XLV, but were blitzed by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.  And the 2011 season ended shockingly at the hands of the Denver Broncos in OT in the wild-card round.
Now here’s what Noll and Cowher did in their sixth seasons, and beyond:
  • Noll’s Steelers went on a championship run that has yet to be duplicated, winning four Super Bowls in the following six seasons.
  • In one of the seasons the Steelers did not win a trophy (1976), they turned in arguably the greatest defensive single-season performance ever – posting five shutouts in the final eight games while allowing a grand total of 22 points in that eight-game span.
  • The Steelers won eight consecutive division titles, from 1972-1979.
  • After falling to Dallas in the Super Bowl, the Steelers made the playoffs in just three of the next seven seasons; the team was twice 6-10 during that span.
  • Cowher’s teams were 3-3 during the playoffs, but twice lost AFC Championship Games on home turf.
  • The team had to watch division rival Baltimore celebrate a title in 2000, while the ring-less drought for the franchise stretched past the two-decade mark.
Cowher finally won a Super Bowl in 2005, in Jerome Bettis’ final season and Ben Roethlisberger’s second season.
As Tomlin enters his sixth season, will he (and the Steelers) follow a path similar to Noll, or will the franchise have to wait another decade before winning another Lombardi Trophy?
With established stars in place and a solid crop of young players with unlimited potential, Tomlin’s Steelers will follow Noll’s successful path in getting the Steelers back to a championship-caliber level.