Becoming an NFL head coach is a rare achievement. 32 teams, 32 head coaches, and every single one of them is vying to keep their jobs for as long as possible. Most wash out. Some, like former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, put in mixed results that keep them employed for ages. A very rare few, like Bill Belichick, cross decades.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, being one of the most storied franchises in the history of the NFL, have had their share of coaching greats. The wealth of talent across the generations makes it difficult to narrow down the list. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has come calling for their skippers more than once. Could another be on his way right now?
Let’s get to the point: Chuck Noll is the best Steelers coach of all time
Chuck Noll, the unequivocal best head coach in Steelers history, started his NFL career in a curious place: the rival Cleveland Browns. The bad blood between these two fan bases is a historic feud was potent back in the ’50s, and persists to this day.
But when Noll took the job to head up the Steelers in 1969, according to his Steelers biography, the team’s supporters wanted any help they could get.
Noll took on one of the worst teams in the NFL. Working closely with new general manager Dan Rooney, he sought to turn that around as quickly as possible.
By 1972, they won their first playoff game with the rapidly refreshed team. They were the absolute dominant force in the NFL for a decade, with four Super Bowl appearances — winning every single one.
When Noll retired in 1991, after 23 seasons, it only took a couple of years to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Why Steelers’ legend Bill Cowher still deserves a closer look
Noll is the best head coach in Steelers history so far, and it would be borderline criminal to assert otherwise. However, Bill Cowher, Noll’s immediate successor, makes a powerful case for the number two spot, with a Hall of Fame level record that deserves recognition.
Cowher, strangely enough, also started his NFL run as a player with the Cleveland Browns. His short run as a linebacker was unremarkable, but his head for the game got him a string of coordinator jobs. He earned his way up with strong results, ending up as the heir apparent to Noll.
Across his 15 seasons, he led the Steelers to the Super Bowl twice, according to Sports Illustrated. He only managed to take home the Lombardi Trophy once, sure. Don’t let that distract from how well he set up his team for success, with a 149-90-1 regular-season record.
Cowher’s main challenge was overcoming first the ascendant ’90s Cowboys, then the dynastic 2000s run of the New England Patriots.
Does Mike Tomlin have a chance to top the list?
30 playoff appearances, and six Super Bowl championships. That is the combined record of the top three coaches in Steelers history, according to Pro Football Reference. That number could go up soon, given the team is blessed with their third-best coach right now: Mike Tomlin.
Both Cowher and his predecessor Noll stepped into organizations in disarray. Not Tomlin, who was picked specifically to shepherd a stacked Steelers team to the biggest game of the season. In 13 years, he’s matched Cowher’s 1-1 Super Bowl hit rate. Most importantly, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Tomlin’s leadership continues to revitalize the Steelers after a rough period. Most recently, he ran into a true threat in this year’s version of the rival Browns. He won yet more adulation from Steelers Nation by dismantling Cleveland 38-7. At just 48, he could have many years in Pittsburgh ahead of him. Could Tomlin be the man to unseat Noll?