Tomlin says players' loyalties to former coaches 'a non-issue'

PITTSBURGH -- Some of his current players wanted Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm to get the job Steelers coach Mike Tomlin now has.

Tomlin understands that loyalty, the kind that develops when a team consistently wins games, division titles and, yes, a Super Bowl. He wouldn't expect them to feel any other way, and he doesn't mind that some are loyal to coaches who now run the opposing Arizona Cardinals.

Key matchup: QB Matt Leinart vs. Kurt Warner. Could there be a quarterback controversy brewing in Arizona? Warner was great against the Ravens as he passed for 258 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 17-point fourth quarter comeback. Whisenhunt indicated that he will continue to use the former Super Bowl MVP in brief stretches to keep defenses off balance. Warner also has gone out of his way to say that the team still belongs to Leinart, but will fans feel that way if the young quarterback struggles? More ...

That's why, when asked Tuesday what opposing Whisenhunt's Arizona Cardinals means to him, Tomlin said it was no different than any other game.

It was Whisenhunt and Grimm who were in Pittsburgh last season, he reminded, not Mike Tomlin.

"It is really a non-story for me, to be honest with you," said Tomlin, the NFL's only unbeaten rookie coach. "It is a big game because it is the next game. I am here. I want to be here. I am glad to be here. If it is a story at all, it is their story, not ours."

It's Alan Faneca's story and Hines Ward's story, and that of all the Steelers who played under Whisenhunt, the Steelers offensive coordinator from 2004-06, and Grimm, the former offensive line coach and assistant head coach under Bill Cowher. Both were Steelers assistants for six seasons.

Whisenhunt and Grimm were strongly considered as Cowher's replacement, but Tomlin, the former Minnesota defensive coordinator, was chosen instead. By the time Tomlin was hired, Whisenhunt had already become Arizona's coach.

Tomlin doesn't resent his players' loyalty to the former coaches, if only because he wants his own players to feel that way about him someday. Tomlin is trying to become the first Steelers coach to begin his career 4-0.

"That was a non-issue for me. If there wasn't a degree of loyalty among veteran players and the men who coached them, then that would be a sign of an issue or problem," Tomlin said. "When you work in close quarters with men and you make personal sacrifices to compete, those kinds of relationships form. I had no intention or intentions of trying to break down those relationships. I was brought in here to do a job. I focus specifically on the job that I needed to do and I knew that over time, my shared experiences with the players would create similar feelings."

Faneca was among the few players willing to say openly he wishes Grimm, the other finalist, had been hired instead of Tomlin. The All-Pro left guard's loyalty to Grimm is understandable given he went to the Pro Bowl every season but one with Grimm running the offensive line.

"There is mobility in the coaching ranks, there is free agency, there is mobility with the players, it is really not unusual," Tomlin said. "We have Kirby Wilson on our staff who coached last year at Arizona, I would imagine that is not going to be much of a story this week."

The Cardinals added center Chukky Okobi earlier this month, after he went to training camp as the Steelers' starter only to be released. Tomlin doesn't think Okobi's knowledge of the Steelers' offense will help the Cardinals (1-2) that much in their preparation.

Two other Cardinals players, wide receiver Sean Morey and defensive end Rodney Bailey, were with Pittsburgh last season.

"If he (Okobi) played defense, it might be an advantage," Tomlin said. "But the last I checked, he still played offense. We are not going to get enamored with those things, those variables in this game that don't matter. We have to prepare to play and are going to prepare to play our game and do what it is that we do."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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