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Tomlin quickly puts stamp on Steelers

PITTSBURGH - The message is delivered differently, and with no spittle accompanying it. Mike Tomlin took over Bill Cowher's team two years ago next week, yet he never promised to be just like Bill.

He hasn't been, either, even if the results are strikingly similar. The Pittsburgh Steelers changed coaches for only the third time in 38 years when Tomlin replaced Cowher, but they didn't change the way they do business.

As Tomlin related Tuesday, Steelers owner Dan Rooney wouldn't stand for that. That's why the franchise's five Super Bowl trophies line a hallway linking the practice field to the coaches' offices - not to intimidate, but to inspire.

'I love the high expectations that come with this job. I'd rather have high ones than low ones,' Tomlin said. 'The tradition is awesome. You can't put a price tag on it. It's inspiring. ... Those who come before us set the standards for us. We understand that when we come into the building, when we take to the field, and we hope the way we go about our business honors those guys.'

Much like Cowher in 1992 and, too, Chuck Noll in 1969, Tomlin wasn't well known outside the NFL when the Steelers hired him. The job was expected to go to either offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt or assistant head coach Russ Grimm, but Tomlin beat them out in the interview process.

Whisenhunt, passed over by the Steelers, has since resurrected the Arizona Cardinals and has them in Sunday's NFC championship game. Grimm is one of his assistants.

Some Steelers players who had friends with the Vikings, where Tomlin was the defensive coordinator in 2006, or the Buccaneers, for whom he coached the defensive backs from 2001-05, called to ask about Tomlin, who was only 34 when Pittsburgh hired him.

'I think everyone's unsure about the direction of this team,' safety Troy Polamalu said before Tomlin's rookie season. 'He inherited a team. He didn't build it up from 13 years of being in the league, for example. Obviously, it's going to take time, as a natural product of being a new coach.'

Didn't take that long. Tomlin made certain there was no time for the Rooneys to be second-guessed for choosing him, getting the Steelers off to a 9-3 start in 2007 before injuries wore them down. They were eliminated by Jacksonville in a wild-card playoff game.

Cowher's record his first season: 11-5. Tomlin's: 10-6. Cowher's record his first two seasons, counting the playoffs: 20-14, with no playoff wins. Tomlin's: 23-11, with one playoff win.

This season, the Steelers withstood a brutal schedule (the Giants, Colts, Chargers, Patriots, Cowboys, Ravens and Titans among their final 10 opponents), a slow-to-develop offensive line, numerous injuries and the free-agent departure of former All-Pro guard Alan Faneca to put together the franchise's fourth 12-win season since 1979.

'I think we're more comfortable (with Tomlin),' Hines Ward said. 'He's probably more comfortable with us.'

This is a big week for Tomlin, and not only because he has a chance to do something neither of his two immediate predecessors did by coaching the Steelers to the Super Bowl in only his second season. Noll got the Steelers there four times, winning each, but needed six seasons to reach his first. Cowher required four.

SideBar: Ravens at Steelers

What: AFC championship game

When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Pittsburgh

TV: CBS