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STARKEY: At this rate, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin should be lock for Hall of Fame

JOE STARKEY
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Mike Tomlin

The standard is the standard, except when there is no standard. And when it comes to electing coaches for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there is no standard. Voters torched the slightest hint of one years ago.

At some point, those people decided that greatness was not a prerequisite.

After that — after very good-but-not-great coaches such as George Allen, Marv Levy and Bud Grant were enshrined — the doors flung open to very good (but not great) coaches everywhere. The criterion became impossibly unclear.

Bill Cowher is now one of those very good-but-not-great coaches in the Hall of Fame — and if he’s in, you better believe Mike Tomlin belongs. If Tomlin retired tomorrow, his resume would at least match Cowher’s, and he would have more championships (one) than Levy, Grant and Allen combined.

The potential problem for Tomlin, Sean Payton, John Harbaugh and others of their ilk (very good but not great, at least at this point), is this: They cannot count on an artificially created Hall of Fame class to propel them past traditional voters. They’ll just have to rely on the unpredictable whims of those traditional voters.

Cowher garnered almost no support by conventional means over the years. He had no chance. But that was before the NFL created a “centennial class” to help celebrate the league’s 100th season — a class tacked on to the usual class.

From the start, this had the whiff of a made-for-television gimmick. It literally became one when Cowher and Jimmy Johnson learned of their election on-set over the weekend — although the emotion was certainly real.

That’s not to take anything away from either man. Both had a strong case before this, based on precedent. As I always say, imagine Johnson’s thoughts as he watched Levy get inducted — a man whose team he destroyed in consecutive Super Bowls.

A group of voters separate from the regular voters was commissioned to choose two coaches for the centennial class. No more, no less. Panelists included Bill Belichick, Dick LeBeau, John Clayton, Gil Brandt and John Madden.

Good for them that they chose Cowher and Johnson. It’s just that when I hear John Facenda’s voice in my head, rattling off the legends of the game, I hear, “Vince Lombardi … George Halas … Chuck Noll … Curly Lambeau … ” I do not hear “Bill Cowher” or “George Allen.”

But now that Cowher, Allen, Grant, Levy and all the other very good-but-not-great coaches are in, how can the Hall keep out Tomlin, Mike Holmgren, Payton, Harbaugh and others?

Cowher vs. Tomlin: Let’s compare Cowher and Tomlin:

►Games: Cowher 240, Tomlin 208

►Winning pct.: Tomlin .642, Cowher .623

►Super Bowl wins: Cowher 1, Tomlin 1

►Super Bowl appearances: Cowher 2, Tomlin 2

►Games above .500: Cowher 59, Tomlin 59

►Playoff record: Cowher 12-9, Tomlin 8-7

►Division titles: Cowher 8, Tomlin 6

►Average division finish: Tomlin 1.7, Cowher 1.9

►Conference championship games: Cowher 2-4, Tomlin 2-1

►Losing seasons: Tomlin 0, Cowher 4.

What you'll hear: You constantly hear how “Tomlin won with Cowher’s players.” You rarely hear that Cowher went 8-8 with Cowher’s players two years before Tomlin won a Super Bowl.

You’ll also hear that Cowher didn’t have an elite quarterback until Ben Roethlisberger came along. Please. That is what separates very good from great. Cowher was very good. Joe Gibbs was great. Gibbs won three Super Bowls — one each with Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien. Bill Parcells won Super Bowls with Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler.

By the way: How would you like to be George Seifert sitting at home right now with a .648 career winning percentage, a 10-5 playoff record, two Super Bowl wins and not even a sniff of Canton?

Oh, I forgot. He won with Bill Walsh’s players.

Seifert wasn’t even on the final list of eight coaches for the centennial class.

Meanwhile, Tomlin has many years in front of him, presumably, to enhance his resume. But even if he never wins another title, he should be a lock based on the standard.

Whatever it is.