Friday, October 21, 2011

This Business IS Personal

The impersonal, businesslike Michael Corleone
"It's not personal, Sonny, it's strictly business," said Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) to his brother, Santino "Sonny" Corleone (James Caan), in the  1972 movie classic, The Godfather.

Maybe so, Signor Corleone, but what you left menacingly unsaid is that in so many cases, business IS personal.

Such is the case this weekend, when the Steelers fly to Arizona to play the NFL Cardinals, a struggling team whose top five coaches used to be with the Steelers.

Arizona's top five coaches -- the guys who set the tone, direction, strategy and tactics of the team day-in, day-out -- used to be with the Steelers. How does that happen?

It happened because on Jan. 22, 2007, the Steelers opted to go in a surprisingly different direction with outside-the-organization newcomer Mike Tomlin as head coach instead of either of Bill Cowher's top two assistants, Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm.

When the Cardinals hired Whisenhunt, he soon added Grimm and a retinue of former Steelers to his coaching staff and roster of players. Arizona became "Pittsburgh West." Two years later, Tomlin's Steelers defeated Whisenhunt's Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. Both coaches downplay talk of any "rivalry" between the two, but Joey Porter's Pit Bulls infer the Cardinals coaches must feel they have something to prove this Sunday.

Let's be clear: Players win the game. Still, the coaches will have something to do with what will happen on Sunday.

After all, like any coaching staff, Arizona's top five coaches -- all formerly with the Steelers -- cover Strategic and Administrative Decision-making; player personnel decisions, groupings and assignments; attack plans, play-calling and formations; in-game tactics and adjustments; and overall tenor, tone and attitude. All three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams -- are directed by the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and special teams coach -- all formerly with the Steelers.

  1. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt
  2. Assistant Head Coach / Offensive Line Coach Russ Grimm
  3. Offensive Coordinator Mike Miller
  4. Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton
  5. Special Teams Coach Kevin Spencer
Recently retired Pittsburgh cornerback Deshea Townsend also is on the Cardinals staff as a first-year  assistant defensive backs coach. Deshea's a smart guy and has a bright future ahead of him. Just one year removed from playing for the Steelers, he might know Pittsburgh's receivers as well as anybody on the Cardinals' staff.

The Cardinals are coming off a bye week, so they've had an extra week to prepare for the Steelers. They are 1-4, desperately need a win and will be playing at home (albeit in front of a strong contingent of vocal, black-'n-gold clad Steeler fans).

It will be interesting to see how this game plays out. Ed Bouchette, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Steeler beat writer Ed Bouchette said this week "there is no love lost" between Whisenhunt and Tomlin.  Bouchette also claims Grimm still harbors ill feelings toward the Steeler organization for having led him to believe he had the head coaching job, only to have it pulled out from under him when the Steelers hired Tomlin.

The coaches may say this game is "strictly business," but there almost certainly are personal feelings involved. Bitter, hard-core "we've got something to prove" personal feelings.