Greatest Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coaches of All Time

Eric Dockett

pittsburgh-steelers-head-coaches
Hall of Fame Steelers Coach Bill Cowher.© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 3 All-Time Best Steelers Head Coaches

If you are the head coach of an NFL football team it means you are one of the best in the world at what you do. There are only 32 teams and 32 head coaching spots. It is one of the most prestigious jobs in professional sports and it comes with tremendous rewards if you succeed. On the other hand, if you screw it up, there is a long line of people waiting to take your job.

Head coaches may be in charge, but it is a high-stress position, and they often get the blame when things go wrong. NFL teams earn millions of dollars from superstar players who pack people into stadiums every Sunday. When a team struggles, the front office will often fire the coach before they cut the quarterback who sells thousands of jerseys for a hundred bucks a pop.

For football geeks and sports pundits, the end of every season not only brings the excitement of seeing which teams make the playoffs, but also which coaches heads are on the chopping block.

Then again, if you are a Steelers fan, these problems are not very familiar to you. The Rooney Family has a history of choosing and sticking with smart, young head coaches, and for over 50 years this strategy has paid off.

Pittsburgh does things a little differently when it comes to head coaches, and the Steelers have only had three since 1969.

  • Chuck Noll, 19691991
  • Bill Cowher, 19922006
  • Mike Tomlin, 2007Present

Those three men led the Steelers to 30 playoff appearances, 16 AFC championship games, eight Super Bowl appearances, and six Super Bowl championships.

But who is the best Steelers head coach of all time?

What Makes a Great NFL Head Coach?

  • Super Bowl Championships
  • Regular Season Record
  • Total Wins
  • Winning Percentage
  • Hall of Famers
  • Accolades

It is an easy guess who most Steelers fans would vote number one, but I think it is a closer contest than some may realize. Here is a look at the Steelers' top three coaches, along with a list of every coach in Steelers history, and some of the notable assistant coaches who have gone on to NFL greatness.

1. Chuck Noll

Years: 1969 to '91

From 1953 to '59, Chuck Noll played professional football as a guard and linebacker for one of the Steelers' biggest rivals, the Cleveland Browns. The Browns played in four NFL championship games during this period and won two of them. Noll got his coaching start as an assistant with the Chargers in 1960 and moved on to coach defensive backs for the Colts in '66. With the Colts, Noll worked under Don Shula and coached in Super Bowl III.

He had played and coached for two of the most powerful franchises in the NFL, but when Noll took the Steelers head coaching position in 1969, he inherited one of the worst teams. However, he found an ally in the new general manager Dan Rooney and, over the next few years, the two men drafted some of the best players in NFL history.

The Steelers won their first playoff game ever in 1972, and by January of '75, they had won their first Super Bowl. It was only the beginning of a decade of greatness during which the Steelers finished first in their division seven times, appeared in six AFC championships, and won four Super Bowls. Noll took a team that had struggled for 40 years and turned them into one of the greatest dynasties the NFL had ever seen.

Nolls Steelers made it to another AFC championship game in 1984, but otherwise, the '80s marked a downward trend for the Steelers. While they remained competitive, the glory days of the 1970s had passed. From the mid 1980s to early '90s, the Steelers struggled to make the playoffs each year. Chuck Noll retired after the 1991 season. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

Coaching Stats

Total Seasons: 23

Regular-Season Record: 193-148-1

Playoff Record: 168

Super Bowl Record: 40

Players in the Hall of Fame

  • Joe Greene
  • Terry Bradshaw
  • Mel Blount
  • Franco Harris
  • Jack Ham
  • Jack Lambert
  • Lynn Swann
  • John Stallworth
  • Mike Webster
  • Donnie Shell
  • Rod Woodson
  • Dermontti Dawson

2. Bill Cowher

Years: 1992 to 2006

Bill Cowher was a linebacker who played for the Cleveland Browns (1980 and '82) and Philadelphia Eagles (1983 to '84) before he went into coaching. With those teams, he saw limited action, and his career as a player was uneventful. His coaching career began in 1985 with a job as special teams coordinator for the Browns. In 1989, he moved on to serve as defensive coordinator with Kansas City.

Cowher won the Steelers head-coaching job in 1992. Noll had coached the Steelers for the previous 23 years and had overseen the most glorious years in Pittsburgh football history. Filling his shoes would be a tough task for Cowher or any first-time head coach.

Cowher responded by winning the AFC Central Division with an 115 record during his first season as coach. In 1995, he led Pittsburgh back to the Super Bowl, their first since '79. They lost to the Cowboys, but Cowhers Steelers would return to the big game in due time.

The Steelers played in six AFC championship games during Bill Cowhers tenure and won two. In 2005, the Steelers returned to the Super Bowl and defeated the Seahawks, earning Bill Cowher his first and only NFL championship. His mission complete, he retired from coaching after the 2006 season to spend more time with his family and pursue a career as an NFL analyst. In 2020, he was elected to join the list of Steelers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Coaching Stats

Total Seasons: 15

Regular Season Record: 149-90-1

Playoff Record: 129

Super Bowl Record: 11

Players in the Hall of Fame

  • Jerome Bettis
  • Kevin Greene
  • Troy Polamalu

3. Mike Tomlin

Years: 2007 to Present

Mike Tomlin did not play NFL football. However, he was an all-conference wide receiver at William & Mary College before he went into coaching. From 1995 to 2000, he took college level assistant coaching jobs at VMI, Memphis, Arkansas State, and Cincinnati before getting his first NFL coaching assignment in 2001. Tomlin coached defensive backs for the Buccaneers from 2001 to '05 and served as defensive coordinator for the Vikings in '06. He took over as head coach of the Steelers in 2007.

Tomlin inherited a championship-caliber team. In 2008, he took the Steelers to the Super Bowl and defeated the Cardinals in one of the most exciting Steelers Super Bowls ever played. Tomlin and the Steelers returned to the big game in 2010, only to lose to the Green Bay Packers.

Tomlin is the only Steelers head coach in team history who has never had a losing season (though Jock Sutherland went 5-5-1 in 1946). Under his guidance, the team has won the AFC North six times and appeared in three AFC championship games. In 2019, with an injured Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines, Tomlin cobbled together an 88 record with young quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin (Duck) Hodges behind center.

Much of Tomlins history as the Steelers' head coach has yet to be written. He is still a young man and still appears to be the best candidate for the job. While controversies and injuries have made his job more difficult in recent years, he has kept the Steelers competitive through it all.

Coaching Stats

Total Seasons: 13

Regular Season Record: 133-74-1

Playoff Record: 87

Super Bowl Record: 11

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Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talks to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7).© Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Who Is the Best Steelers Coach of All Time?

Chuck Noll is the greatest coach in Steelers history. He was the first NFL coach to win four Super Bowls, he drafted some of the most legendary Steelers players in NFL history, and he ushered in an era of Steelers greatness that has continued on to this day. While his overall record suffered in the 1980s, that doesn’t diminish the impact this Hall of Fame coach had on the Steelers franchise and the NFL.

Honorable Mentions

Not every Steelers coach wins a Super Bowl, but some made their marks in Pittsburgh lore. Here are a few:

Buddy Parker

Parker coached the Steelers from 1957 to '64 and escaped the Steel City as one of just two pre-Noll coaches with a winning record. The late 1950s and early '60s were a hopeful time for the Steelers. With All-Pro quarterback Bobby Lane, a trio of capable backs in Tom Tracy, Dick Hoak, and Hall of Famer John Henry Johnson, and deep-threat Buddy Dial at split end, it seemed Pittsburgh could put some points on the board to go with their tough defense. The Steelers had four winning seasons under Parker, but never made the playoffs. Parker finished out his coaching career in Pittsburgh with a record of 51-47-6.

Jock Sutherland

Sutherland had a winning record during his time in Pittsburgh, as short as it was. He coached the team during the 1946 and '47 seasons. In 1946, Pittsburgh posted a 5-5-1 record, but in '47, the team went 84 and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. On Dec. 21, 1947, the Steelers faced off against their cross-state rival Eagles in the divisional playoff. Thanks to the arm of quarterback Tommy Thompson, the Eagles dispatched the Steelers with a score of 210. Sutherland retired from coaching following the 1947 season but went down in Pittsburgh franchise history as the first coach to bring a Steelers team to the playoffs. He left with a career regular-season record of 13-9-1.

Walt Kiesling

Walt Kiesling certainly did not have a winning record as head coach of the Steelers. He had two separate stints as head coach of the team: first from 1939 to '44, and again from 1954 to '56. Kiesling coached during World War II, when the Steelers merged with the Eagles and Cardinals. He served as line coach from 1949 to '53 and as an assistant coach under Buddy Parker from 1957 to '61. Because of his time invested in the organization, Kiesling holds a special place in the hearts of Steeler Nation faithfuls. As Steelers head coach, he posted a record of 25-41-4.

List of Steelers Head Coaches

Coach
Years
Regular Season Record

Forrest Douds

1933

3-6-2

Luby DiMeolo

1934

2–10

Joe Bach

1935–36; 1952–53

21–27

"Johnny Blood" McNally

1937–39

6–19

Walt Kiesling

1939–44; 1954–56

25-41-4

Bert Bell

1941

0–2

Aldo Donelli

1941

0–5

Jim Leonard

1945

2–8

Jock Sutherland

1946–47

13-9-1

John Michelosen

1948–51

20-26-2

Buddy Parker

1957–64

51-47-6

Mike Nixon

1965

2–12

Bill Austin

1966–68

11-28-3

Chuck Noll

1969–91

193-148-1

Bill Cowher

1992–2006

149-90-1

Mike Tomlin

2007-Present

133-74-1

Notable Steelers Assistant Coaches

Dick LeBeau

Dick LeBeau played for the Detriot Lions from 1959 to '72. He intercepted 62 passes in his career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 2010. After his playing career was over, he went into coaching and revealed himself to be one of most brilliant defensive minds in NFL history. He began working with the Steelers as defensive backs coach in 1992 and was promoted to defensive coordinator in '95. He left the team after the 1996 season and returned in 2004 for a second stint that lasted through '14. LeBeau has been the architect of every Steelers Super Bowl defense since 1995.

Bruce Arians

Arians served as the Steelers' wide receiver coach from 2004 to '06 and offensive coordinator from 2007 to '11. During this time, the Steelers played in three Super Bowls and won two. After his time in Pittsburgh, Arians served as interim head coach for the Colts, then took the head coaching job for the Cardinals from 2013 to '17. Arians earned AP Coach of the Year honors in 2012 and '14. He is currently the head coach for the Buccaneers.

Ken Whisenhunt

Whisenhunt began his time with the Steelers as tight ends coach in 2001. They promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2004, and he helped the team win a Super Bowl in 2005. He became head coach of the Cardinals in 2007 and led them to the Super Bowl in 2008, where he would face off against his old friends from Pittsburgh. (The Steelers beat the Cardinals in one of the greatest victories in Pittsburgh history.) Whisenhunt left the Cardinals after the 2012 season and coached the Chargers and Titans. He is currently the offensive coordinator of the Chargers.

Tony Dungy

Dungy played for the Steelers in 1977 and '78. He earned a ring when the Steelers won Super Bowl XIII and led the team in interceptions that year. After his playing days were over, Dungy got his first NFL coaching job as a defensive assistant with the Steelers in 1981. By 1984, he had made his way up to defensive coordinator, where he stayed for five seasons. After spending time with the Chiefs and Vikings from 1989 to '95, Dungy got his head coaching shot with the Buccaneers in 1996. After the 2001 season, he moved on to Indianapolis, where he won a Super Bowl in 2006. Dungy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 2016.

Bud Carson

Carson was the Steelers' defensive coordinator from 1972 to '77. He is credited as the architect of the Steel Curtain defense that won four Super Bowls in the 1970s, and he oversaw the development of future Hall of Fame players like Jack Lambert, Mel Blount and Jack Ham. Carson helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls in 1974 and '75, then departed to take the defensive coordinator job with the Rams after the 1977 season. The Rams made it to the Super Bowl in 1979, only to get shut down by the Steelers' defense he himself created.

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Former Steelers player and assistant coach Tony Dungy.© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers Coaching FAQ

Got some questions about Steelers coaches? Here are some answers!

How many head coaches have the Steelers had?

The Steelers have had 16 coaches in franchise history. However, since 1969 they have only had three.

Have the Steelers ever fired a head coach?

The Steelers have not fired a head coach since Bill Austin in 1968, the year before the franchise hired Chuck Noll.

Who was the first coach of the Steelers?

Pittsburghs first-ever head coach was Forrest Douds, who coached the team during their inaugural season in 1933. Back then, they were called the Pittsburgh Pirates. Douds led the team to an unimpressive 3-6-2 record and did not return as coach in 1934.

Which Steeler coach has won the most Super Bowls?

Chuck Noll is the Steelers head coach who has won the most Super Bowls. He won four in totalSuper Bowl IX , Super Bowl X, Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV.

Which Steelers coach has the best winning percentage?

Current Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has the highest regular-season winning percentage of any coach in franchise history with .642. Cowher follows him with a winning percentage of .623, Jock Sutherland with .591 and Noll with .566.

Which Steelers head coach has the most wins?

Coach Noll has the most regular season wins with 193, followed by Coach Cowher with 149 and Coach Tomlin with 133. Noll also has the most playoff wins with 16. Cowher and Tomlin have 12 and eight, respectively.

Which Steelers coaches are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

  • Chuck Noll was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with the class of 1993.
  • Bill Cowher is part of the class of 2020.

Both made it into the Hall of Fame as coaches; however, the Steelers have had a few former coaches inducted as players and executives.

  • Walt Kiesling was Pittsburghs head coach from 1939 to '44, and 1954 to '56. He was an assistant coach from 1957 to '61. Keisling was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1966.
  • Johnny Blood McNally was a player/coach with the Steelers (then the Pirates) from 1937 to '39. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a player in 1963.
  • Bert Bell coached the Steelers for two games in 1941 and lost them both. He was also a co-owner of the team from 1940 to '46. What he lacked in coaching skills he made up for as a visionary, team owner, and NFL executive. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1963 as an owner and league administrator.
pittsburgh-steelers-head-coaches
Dec. 15, 2019. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin watches over his team before playing the Bills at Heinz Field.© Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Life of a Head Coach in the NFL

The life of a coach in the NFL is not an easy one. Most coaches start out as graduate assistants, earning little or no money and just happy to get a chance. From there they may move up to a position coach assignment and eventually a coordinator position. A coach may change jobs a dozen times before even being considered for a head coaching spot. Remember, there are only 32 NFL head coaching jobs. Even if you are good, there is no guarantee you will get your shot.

Coaches move around a lot. When a head coach gets fired, the new coach usually brings in his own team of assistants. The NFL coaching ranks are a big game of musical chairs, where an assistant coach may work for a different team every year until they end up in a job that sticks. All of that moving around is hard on people and their families.

When a team is losing, the fans might begin to call for the firing of the head coach. Even the Steelers arent immune to this, with many fans taking to Twitter to lash out at Coach Tomlin and his assistants over the past few seasons. Many general managers relent. When the people who pay for the tickets lose faith in the coach, they might eventually stop coming to the games.

The Steelers have never been so short-sighted, at least not in the past five decades. It would be tough to replace Tomlin if he left, no matter how much some fans rant. He has proven he is the man for the job, just as Cowher and Noll did before him.

While it is impossible to predict the future, there is a good chance the Steelers will stick with Coach Tomlin until he retires. And there is a good chance he will bring more Super Bowl championships to the Steel City before he is done. Pittsburgh does things a little differently when it comes to head coaches. Six Lombardi Trophies with only three head coaches are evidence of that.

Statistical Reference

THANKS FOR READING ALL STEELERS
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Comments (2)
No. 1-2
Kelleynickg
Kelleynickg

Thank you for assembling this information. Really enjoyed reading it and learned a few things about the coaches. Much appreciated

productLTD
productLTD

Chuck Noll 's first coaching job deserves more than the mere point of fact of it being with the Chargers. He was hired by NFL Hall of Fame Head Coach Sid Gillman, the original conceiver of the West Coast offense. Noll was the linebacker/backfield coach and can you imagine practicing against THAT offense every day? (Al Davis was Sid's offensive end coach.) In 1963 the Chargers won the AFL Championship with a team that most sportswriters believed could have beaten the NFL champ Bears that year. History shows both both Noll and Davis used their time with Gillman to the fullest extent.


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