That is the continuation of a collection of “What If” articles on Steelers historical past.
On this version, a interval we don’t speak about a lot: that seven-year stretch within the late 80s the place the Steelers made only one playoff look, earlier than abruptly turning into one of many AFC’s most constant winners once more.
Half Four: The Nice Bounce – 1985-92
1988: What if Chuck Noll retired when he wished to?
1989: What if Mark Inventory made that catch in opposition to Denver?
1992: What if Rooneys employed Dave Wannstadt as a substitute of Invoice Cowher?
1988: What if Chuck Noll retired when he wished to?
State of affairs:
The 1980s have been a irritating decade for the Steelers, and 1988 was in all probability the low level. Chuck Noll’s younger workforce had had began the yr 2-10 and completed 5-11 (their worst report since 1969), lacking the playoffs for the fourth straight yr. There was cause for hope — the workforce had misplaced six video games by one rating or much less, and even completed with a Three-1 flourish — however Noll was drained. He was already probably the most profitable Super Bowl coach of all time, and a assured Corridor of Famer. It appeared like a very good time to get on along with his life’s work. He instructed Dan Rooney he wanted to retire.
Rooney satisfied him to signal on for yet one more three-year contract, which might hold the Emperor in a headset till 1991. However what if Noll had caught to his weapons and walked away? Who would have changed him?
My guess at what occurs:
Dan Rooney solely performed three head teaching hires in his 45 years operating the workforce. These three (Noll, Invoice Cowher, and Mike Tomlin) appear completely different, however that they had remarkably comparable profiles:
— all three have been of their mid-30s, defensive-minded, and taking their first head teaching positions.
— none had been nice gamers, however all had coached in massive video games and realized below revered mentors (Noll, with Paul Brown and Sid Gillman; Cowher with Marty Schottenheimer; Tomlin with Tony Dungy).
— all three have been no nonsense males; believers in fundamentals, quite than scorching new improvements and schemes (like a Sean McVay or Chip Kelly).
So who was accessible in 1989 by that profile?
I’m positive first identify most of you might be considering of is Invoice Belichick, and that’s not a nasty name. Belichick was 36 that yr, three years faraway from the Giants’ 1986 Tremendous Bowl (below Invoice Parcells), and already regarded as a superb defensive thoughts. He’d even be employed by Cleveland for his first H.C. place in two years, so the timing isn’t dangerous. Belichick’s charisma (ahem) could have damage him with some owners, however the Steelers wouldn’t care. (What number of fiery halftime speeches did Noll ship?) And even as we speak, Belichick glows a bit when he talks concerning the 70s Steelers (as does Parcells); changing Chuck Noll would in all probability be a life-highlight for him. I can see this occurring.
Then once more, in 1991, when Noll actually did cling up the whistle, the Steelers went out and employed his polar reverse — a fiery meathead who not-so-secretly wished he was nonetheless enjoying gunner on punt returns. It’s attainable they wished to shake issues up and produce a bit extra vitality into the constructing.
So who may have introduced electrical energy to Three Rivers? Effectively, Pete Carroll for one. Carroll was 37 in 1989 — enthusiastic, likeable, defensive-minded, and some years from getting his first shot. When individuals speak about Carroll, you’d suppose all he does is pump his fist and chew gum, however his greatest groups are constructed like basic champions: power-rushing on offense, with hard-hitting, sound-tackling, fundamentals-heavy defenses. It is a first rate match.
The disadvantage on Carroll is that he was nonetheless a secondary coach in 1989, having by no means served as an NFL coordinator. Carroll’s Vikings have been 1988’s #1 cross protection, however leaping from place coach to move coach is a giant leap. It’s simple to think about Pete being employed for the very same causes Cowher was tapped three years later, however perhaps not but.
What in the event that they went off-script and grabbed an offensive thoughts? 40-year outdated Mike Holmgren might be poached off Invoice Walsh’s employees.
How a couple of retread coach for as soon as? Marty Schottenheimer (45) was briefly unemployed after 4 straight playoff runs in Cleveland (although the Chiefs snapped him up pretty fast).
What in the event that they have been keen to experience with an older fella? The Bengals had simply misplaced a heartbreaking Tremendous Bowl in 1988 below a 51-year outdated defensive coordinator named Dick Lebeau…
There was additionally a man in-house that may have made an intriguing candidate. Noll’s defensive coordinator from 1984-88 was a rising star who would go on to construct a powerhouse in Tampa Bay by reimagining the Metal Curtain for the “reside ball” period. Tony Dungy was 33, a defensive thoughts, and a excessive character man who’d been round greatness (the Steelers) and coached below a legend (Noll). Would a Dungy-led Steelers workforce have drafted Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch, to workforce up with Rod Woodson, Carnell Lake, and Gregg Lloyd? May anybody have ever scored on them? (Additionally, with the Rooneys’ report on civil rights, it looks as if they’d be proud to position Dungy alongside Artwork Shell because the NFL’s first trendy African American head coaches.)
This one’s too good to be true, in fact. One settlement Noll and Rooney made in 1989 was that Dungy — whose protection ranked lifeless final in factors and yards in 1988 — be demoted to defensive again’s coach in 1989. Dungy resigned as a substitute, then took the identical job with Schottenheimer in Kansas Metropolis (the place he labored with a hard-chinned particular groups coach you might recognize). So, it appears unlikely that the Steelers would promote him to move man as a substitute. (Put up Script: solely two years later, below Dave Brazil, that very same Steelers D was #1 within the NFL in yards and #Three in factors. So perhaps Dungy actually wasn’t prepared for the large leap but…)
The place did we land on this one? I’ve misplaced observe. I assume I favored Carroll. And Belichik may have been okay. Hmm. It’s beginning to appear to be three extra years of Chuck Noll was the very best outcome in spite of everything.
1989: What if Mark Inventory made that catch in opposition to the Broncos?
State of affairs:
After Rooney satisfied Noll to return, the Steelers opened the 1989 season with a 51-Zero house loss to the Cleveland Browns and a 41-10 pounding at Cincinnati. If you happen to’re doing the mathematics, that’s 92-10 in opposition to two division opponents. Many puzzled if the Steelers would win a single sport all yr, and it was solely week two. Chuck Noll (by no means a stand-up comedian) quipped, “the Tremendous Bowl champion had higher come out of our division; in any other case we’re in for an extended season.”
After which he righted the ship.
The Steelers have been inconsistent all season (two steps ahead, two steps again), however they closed the yr with a 5-1 run, to achieve 9-7, even beating the Browns in Cleveland of their week 6 rematch. After a dozen breaks fell their manner within the season’s remaining week, they grabbed the AFC’s final playoff spot. (Phrases can’t describe how unlikely this appeared three months earlier.)
Within the Wild Card spherical, they confronted Jerry Glanville’s Oilers, in “the Home of Ache.” Noll detested Glanville, and Houston had swept the Steelers that yr by a mixed 50-16. However on New Years Eve (the final NFL sport within the 1980s) the Steelers performed impressed. Merrill Hoge rushed for 100 yards, the protection wouldn’t break, and a late landing (with 46 seconds left) despatched the sport to time beyond regulation. There, third yr cornerback Rod Woodson (who’d been hospitalized that week with a fever and almost missed the sport) pressured and recovered a Houston fumble close to midfield. 4 performs later, Gary Anderson nailed a 50 yard discipline aim for the win (his first 50+ try all season, due to course it was). Jerry Glanville was fired a number of days later.
On the sector, postgame, Bubby Brister instructed Chris Berman (on a reside mic), “I’m glad as sh*t!” These guys have been superior.
That despatched the Pittsburgh to Mile Excessive in opposition to the highest seeded Broncos — who had, in fact, pounded the Steelers within the common season, 34-7. Once more, the Steelers stood as much as the bullies and led 23-17 with three minutes to go. A signature John Elway comeback put the Broncos up 24-23 simply earlier than the 2 minute warning, however the Steelers had the ball. They wanted in all probability 40-45 yards for an additional lengthy Anderson game-winner. On first down, Brister rolled proper and hit rookie Mark Inventory lifeless within the numbers, twenty yards downfield. It will put the Steelers close to midfield, on the two-minute warning, shut sufficient to style the win.
And he dropped it.
The remaining downs went nowhere, and in the end a low snap from a Chuck Lanza (Dermonti Dawson had left the sport with an harm) ended the sport. Denver went on to beat Cleveland within the AFC Championship spherical for the third time in 4 years, earlier than dropping to San Francisco 55-10 within the worst blowout in Tremendous Bowl historical past.
Someday I’ll write an entire essay about these Steelers (they’re my favourite workforce of all time). However for now, let’s simply acknowledge that they did greater than they need to have, and one way or the other have been in place to take this sport. Till Mark Inventory dropped that damned ball. (Wanna really feel dangerous? Here’s the play.)
My guess at what occurs:
If Inventory catches that cross, I feel the Steelers win. They solely want 25 yards for the game-winner, with two minutes and a timeout to burn.
That places them in Cleveland for a rubber match in opposition to the Browns. The Steelers earlier two playoff opponents had run a Three-Zero report in opposition to them within the common season, successful by a mean of 27-7. Then Pittsburgh had come into their homes and punched them each within the mouth. They’d already carried out that to Cleveland in week 6; I feel the Steelers win this one in a stroll. And now we’re again to a different David/Goliath Tremendous Bowl in opposition to the 49ers. (How does that keep happening?)
Pittsburgh didn’t beat SF in 1989 like they did in 1984, however they have been a greater workforce than they appeared. For one factor, the Steelers’ 9-7 report features a 1-5 mark within the AFC Central — a type of uncommon divisions the place each membership completed over .500. (Bear in mind Noll’s quip from week 2? He wasn’t far off.) The Steelers went Eight-2 exterior of their division (and a type of was that loss to the Broncos that they almost avenged within the playoffs). This was a very good workforce in a deceptively highly effective division, who was peaking on the precise proper time.
Statistically the 1989 Steelers look fairly tough, nevertheless it’s a story of two seasons. Within the opening 10 weeks, they have been Four-6, dropping by a mean rating of 12–24, and permitting 125 extra yards per sport on protection than their offense may muster. By means of the ultimate eight weeks, counting playoffs, they went 6-2, posting a mean win of 24–16 (and that counts the Broncos playoff as a loss; win that and we’re speaking 7-1). On this eight-game blitz, their dashing yards rose by 67ypg and turnovers have been lower in half. The subsequent yr, they’d discipline the highest protection in soccer, and it was rounding into type throughout these playoffs.
In brief, this one has “attainable superb upset” written throughout it. The percentages are in opposition to it, however the odds have been in opposition to these guys each week. And, as I requested within the final essay, is there any coach you’d quite have prepping your workforce for a Tremendous Bowl than Chuck Noll?
Would they win? Who is aware of, however I wouldn’t depend them out.
1992: What if Rooneys employed Dave Wannstadt?
State of affairs:
When Noll lastly known as it a profession in 1992 the Steelers narrowed their seek for his alternative down to 2 local-bred, mustachiod defensive coordinators. the one they selected, Kansas Metropolis particular groups coach and D.C., Invoice Cowher. The opposite finalist was Dallas Cowboys D.C. Dave Wannstadt.
Wannestadt in the end had two head teaching gigs, with Chicago (1993-98) after which Miami (2000-04), earlier than a six-year stint as head man on the College of Pittsburgh. He was a mediocre coach, compiling a report of 82-87 (.485), with three playoff appearances (2-Three report) in eleven years. Cowher, in the meantime, ran up a report of 149-90-1 (.623) in fifteen years, with a 12-9 playoff mark (1-1 in Tremendous Bowls).
My guess at what occurs:
There are two methods to take a look at this, I feel.
On one hand, I need to give Wannestadt some slack as a result of he didn’t take pleasure in the Steelers’ organizational stability and persistence. Not each workforce offers you a full cabinet and house to construct a winner. Plus, whereas his time with the Bears was unremarkable, Wannestadt’s Dolphins tenure is considerably spectacular. He coached the primary Dolphins workforce with out Dan Marino (made tougher by Jimmy Johnson’s sudden resignation), and guided them to the playoffs in his first two seasons. In reality, he had successful information in his first 4 years with the Dolphins. Then, following a 1-Eight begin in yr 5, he was fired. On condition that the Steelers usually tend to experience via slumps with their coaches, it’s simple to think about Wannestadt discovering some long run success in Pittsburgh.
Alternatively, Wannestadt appears to have discovered success solely when paired with Johnson. He was employed onto Johnson’s employees at Oklahoma State and the College of Miami, earlier than Johnson tapped him for a place with the Dallas Cowboys. His first non-J.J. job was in Chicago, the place the listless Bears ran a .417 successful proportion, with one playoff look, in six seasons. Even his extra comparatively profitable Dolphins tenure adopted Johnson.
I don’t recall Jimmy Johnson ever teaching the Steelers, so the prognosis doesn’t look good for Wannestadt. I’m going to step out on a limb right here, within the yr Cowher was elected to the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame, and say that the Steelers selected the higher of the 2 candidates.
Subsequent up: The brand new blood of the 1990s…