Anonymous Former Players Make For Super Coaches - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Anonymous Former Players Make For Super Coaches

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Mike Tomlin was a standout player in college. He set a couple of school records. He was on the all-conference team.

This was at William & Mary - a long way from the big time. The NFL took a pass on him, deciding it didn't need a receiver from the Yankee Conference who was probably a step slower than the guys coming out of the SEC and Big 10.

Not to worry. Tomlin's resume was just right for becoming a super coach. As in Super Bowl.

"It's really quite simple," he said Monday, shortly after arriving in Tampa as the man in charge of the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. "Those that can't - teach. I certainly fall into that category. I started coaching because I could no longer play."

Tomlin is in good company. From Vince Lombardi to Tom Coughlin, the Super Bowl's coaching lineup is dominated by those who never played the game, at least at the highest level.

While each storyline is different, there's a common theme throughout:

What they lacked in athletic ability they tried to make up for by lingering on the practice field longer than anyone else, spending extra hours in the film room and poring over the playbook as if it were a final exam.

Granted, all that extra work still wasn't enough to propel them to NFL stardom. But it did teach them a thing or two about running a team on the sidelines - from hiring the best assistants to dealing with egos of all shapes and sizes.

"Certainly there are things that come easy for some players," said plucky receiver Sean Morey of the Arizona Cardinals, the team that will face Tomlin's Steelers in the season's decisive game. "But the athlete that has to work a little bit harder and study a little bit more - I kind of think of myself like that - we have to make sure we study the game to the nth degree so we understand exactly what we're trying to accomplish."

Tomlin's counterpart, Ken Whisenhunt, actually had a playing career of some renown compared with most who've reached the NFL's coaching pinnacle. He was a 12th-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons - No. 313 overall - and hung around the league for nearly a decade, a tight end known mostly for doling out a mean block.

But he, too, spent a lot of time watching, observing, learning. One of his biggest influences was center Jeff Van Note, whose 18-year tenure with the Falcons made him one of the league's longest-lasting players.

"I learned the importance of taking notes and being aware of what's going on around you," Whisenhunt recalled.

When his playing career ended, the transition to coaching came naturally. Like many assistants, Whisenhunt bounced from job to job during those early years while getting a chance to work under myriad coaching styles and philosophies.

Finally, he landed in Pittsburgh with Bill Cowher, working his way up to offensive coordinator and helping the Steelers win a Super Bowl title.

"I had a great influence in coach Cowher as far as how to handle a team and how to deal with a lot of things that go with it," Whisenhunt said. "It's just been a collection of those things that I've kind of used as a model to go forward with this team."

A few star players have made the transition to successful coach. Forrest Gregg was a nine-time Pro Bowler who guided Cincinnati to its first Super Bowl. Tom Landry was a star cornerback for the New York Giants before he traded his helmet for the more-familiar fedora, becoming one of the most successful coaches in NFL history. Barely remembered after he guided Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl titles was the fact that Chuck Noll spent seven years playing defense in Cleveland, picking off five passes in 1955.

The granddaddy of all Super Bowls when it comes to star players-turned-coaches was 1986, when Chicago's Mike Ditka faced New England's Raymond Berry. As players, they combined for 11 Pro Bowl appearances. Berry was a star receiver on the great Baltimore teams of the late 1950s and early '60s. Ditka was a first-round pick who helped redefine the tight end position into something more than a glorified lineman.

But that was an anomaly. The prevailing tone was set in the very first Super Bowl, when Green Bay's legendary Lombardi - whose post-college playing career consisted of stints with the semipro Brooklyn Eagles and Wilmington Clippers - faced Kansas City's Hank Stram, who abandoned the field for the sideline as soon as he was done matriculating.

Through the years, there's been the occasional Dan Reeves - who had a solid pro career with the Cowboys, then guided four teams to the Super Bowl. But there are far more coaches, such as the New York Giants' Coughlin and New England's Bill Belichick, who met in last year's NFL title game, with nary a game between them in an NFL uniform.

And now, Tomlin vs. Whisenhunt.

"I just think they have a greater understanding of the game," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. "They might not be the best athletes. But they know where they should have been or shouldn't have been. They all have a great love of the game, how it's played and the way they feel it should be played."

Don't look for that trend to change, either. When it comes to being a Super Bowl coach, the prevailing motto is: No playing experience required.

These days, the stars can walk away from the game as millionaires, with little desire or need to take a hefty pay cut so they can endure the grueling hours and intense pressure of being an NFL coach. Just ask Pittsburgh's star receiver, Hines Ward, who played numerous positions in college and now comes across as sort of a playing coach.

Does he want to make that role official in a few years?

"I don't know," moaned the MVP of Pittsburgh's last Super Bowl victory, shaking his head slowly. "With the hours they put in, I don't think I want to be a coach.

"But," he quickly added, "I can get into commentating. I'm waiting for ESPN to call."

© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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