Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 13

Let's get to it:

JIM BURRELL FROM RIVERVIEW, FL: Where would you rate Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin on the all-time list of NFL coaches? Would any of the three be in your top 10 of all time?
ANSWER: Dan Rooney always contended that Chuck Noll was a top-3 NFL coach of all-time, and Noll's total of four championships has been bettered only by Bill Belichick (six), and Vince Lombardi and George Halas (tied with five apiece). But in my opinion, Noll deserves to be ranked higher than Belichick because the Steelers franchise he took over in 1969 had not won anything, even so much as a division title or a single playoff game, since entering the NFL for the 1933 season. Noll took over a moribund franchise in 1969 and then by the end of the 1970s had transformed the Steelers into a dynasty. Belichick may have won more Super Bowls, but the New England Patriots were a franchise that had reached the AFL Championship Game in 1963, won AFC Championships in 1985 and 1996 and played in those corresponding Super Bowls, and even though they never won the big trophy until Belichick came along, the franchise had some history of playoff success. Noll built something great from nothing, and after purging a franchise that had made it a business model to trade away future draft picks for aging veterans during the 1950s and 1960s, by the time the Steelers won Super Bowl XIV for their fourth Lombardi Trophy over a six-season span, they became the first to do so with a roster of completely home-grown talent. None of the players on the 1979 Steelers ever had played for another franchise. Bill Cowher is a Hall of Fame coach, and Mike Tomlin could end up enshrined in Canton when his career comes to an end, but neither of them belongs in Noll's category.

MARC RESNICK FROM HENDERSON, NV: Growing up in Pittsburgh, I remember when Myron Cope introduced the Terrible Towel to Steelers fans. Nowadays it seems like every team has fans waving some sort of towel or hankie at games in the NFL, the NHL, etc. Did Myron start this, or were there such things on a large scale prior to it?
ANSWER: While no other fan base embraced this trend more fervently than Steelers Nation, both the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders had fans twirling objects at home games before Myron Cope created the Terrible Towel. In the Orange Bowl, Dolphins fans used white hankies as pompoms, and then the Raiders introduced black socks as a counter to that trend. But both of those were short-lived, and once Cope's invention was introduced during the 1975 playoffs, the Terrible Towel went on to become the "industry leader" in the category, and the partnership with the Allegheny Valley School for disabled children has raised millions of dollars for that worthy cause.

JOHN KNOX FROM NASHVILLE, TN: Vintage Steelers question: Not including Rod Woodson or Dermontti Dawson (because they're already in), which 1980s Steelers player would you put in the Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: When it comes to players who joined the team during the 1980s – with the exceptions of Rod Woodson and Dermontti Dawson – I believe Greg Lloyd (sixth-round pick in 1987 from Fort Valley State) was on the path to putting together the kind of career that would have gotten him into the discussion of being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But injuries in 1996 and 1997 derailed that.

JOHN MAKAR FROM KERNERSVILLE, NC: Of our 2023 draft picks, who, if any, are still unsigned?
ANSWER: As of June 12, the remaining unsigned picks are Broderick Jones, Joey Porter Jr., and Keeanu Benton. They will have to be signed by Wednesday, July 26, which is the day players are scheduled to report to Saint Vincent College, in order to participate in training camp. I am certain that will happen.

RAY FELDMEIER FROM BONAIRE, GA: In a previous Asked and Answered, you listed the three top players acquired by the Steelers via trade. Wasn't Kevin Greene acquired through a trade? He also is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
ANSWER: The Steelers signed Kevin Greene as an unrestricted free agent in 1993.

JOHN KNOX FROM NASHVILLE, TN: Going into training camp in 1982, Joe Greene had recently retired, but L.C. Greenwood intended to keep playing because he was in camp. Do you know if Chuck Noll cut him, or did Greenwood realize during that summer he needed to retire?
ANSWER: I am not privy to what might have been going on behind the scenes, but the official roster move that ended L.C. Greenwood's career was that he was released, and it happened just prior to the start of the 1982 regular season.

MIKE ENOS FROM DOHA, QATAR: I'm firm believer in the "eye test" when watching performance. I'm not able to watch practices and scrimmages so I can only see a small portion of that. Which players have caught your "eye" from play, demeanor, and other visible traits?
ANSWER: I'm a firm believer in the principle that what your eyes might tell you during the period of football in shorts can be deceiving, and therefore meaningless once the pads go on and the hitting begins for the much more relevant period of training camp and the preseason. I once made the mistake of allowing myself to become overly excited about Dri Archer during the football in shorts period, and I remind myself of that every year during this phase of the process.

JAMES SNOWDEN FROM LATROBE, PA: Do you think Darnell Washington is a modern-day version of Eric Green minus the baggage? If they were coming out of college together, which of the two players would you draft?
ANSWER: I hope, both for the Steelers and for Darnell Washington, that he doesn't turn out to be "a modern-day Eric Green." I would draft Washington over Green. I would draft Heath Miller over Green. I would draft Pat Freiermuth over Green. See where I'm going with this?

SAM MIKHAIL FROM BETHESDA, MD: I remember watching Ryan Shazier play and marveling at his ability to play sideline to sideline. Devin Bush was supposed to be of a similar mold but did not pan out. Regarding the current roster, do the Steelers have any linebackers who can potentially develop into a similar type of player?
ANSWER: I want to start by making the point that Ryan Shazier was a rare talent, a generational player in Steelers history. With that established, I have no idea whether any of the current inside linebackers on the Steelers roster have the potential to develop into a similar player, but I also don't believe that living up to Shazier is necessary to being a quality player at the position.

ERIC ASH FROM WELLSVILLE, NY: When Bill Cowher retired, I expected Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grim to be hired as his replacement. Obviously, hiring Mike Tomlin turned out to be an excellent move. What was it that convinced the Steelers to hire Tomlin, especially when they had two potential head coaches already on the team?
ANSWER: On Bill Cowher's final staff of assistants, Ken Whisenhunt was his offensive coordinator and Russ Grimm was his assistant head coach/offensive line. I do not know specifically what tilted things in favor of Mike Tomlin, but Dan Rooney once told me that Cowher advised him that hiring from within might not be the best way to go.

STEVE SHUSSETT FROM READING, PA: Life-long Steelers fan and Pittsburgh native here. Your response in the June 8 Asked and Answered regarding Mike Tomlin's excellence and the impact of luck and injury on the Steelers' playoff success was, hands down, the best analysis I've ever seen on the subject. Thanks for that. I wonder what you think about those who raise his lack of a "coaching tree" as a negative?
ANSWER: Personally, I never have understood why it is perceived to be important for a current head coach to develop head coaches for other teams. As an example, here are some of the "branches" from Bill Belichick's "coaching tree," and all of them have losing records as NFL head coaches: Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia, Nick Saban, and Joe Judge. I don't believe their combined failures as NFL head coaches detracts from Belichick's resume, or his certain induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And the main "branch" of Vince Lombardi's coaching tree was Bill Austin, a guy Lombardi highly recommended Art Rooney Sr. hire when the Steelers job came open after the 1965 season. In his three seasons in Pittsburgh, Austin was 11-28-3 and was fired.

JIM ANDERSON FROM TOLEDO, OH: In training camp, how do the Steelers practice for players to take hard hits during the regular season without hurting them in the process or do they get this training in the college games that they have played?
ANSWER: Coach Mike Tomlin believes that football players are somewhat similar to boxers in that sparring is necessary to prepare for a championship fight, and hitting in training camp is necessary to prepare for an NFL season. But Tomlin also teaches what he calls "practice etiquette," and those principles are handed down to the younger players by the veteran players.