PITTSBURGH--Rookie head coach John Harbaugh is one victory away from the Super Bowl and another opportunity to promote Dave Toub as a potential head-coaching candidate.
The 11-5 season by the Baltimore Ravens, and their two road playoff victories have already given Toub some momentum because of the coaching history the men share. They come from a special teams background that some have been reluctant to consider. Call it the Frank Gansz Effect. Gansz, one of the most widely respected special teams coaches in the league over the last 30 years, was promoted from that position to head coach in Kansas City. He promptly went 8-22-1 before being replaced by Marty Schottenheimer.
Some believe Gansz's struggles made owners less likely to consider special teams coaches. But Harbaugh was the special teams coordinator in Philadelphia for nine seasons before jumping over to the secondary in 2007. That propelled him to the job in Baltimore and has some league insiders believing that Toub will soon be considered. Of course, Toub worked under Harbaugh for the Eagles before joining Lovie Smith's staff in 2004.
"There are ways to prepare to be a head coach. I'm proud of the path I took," Harbaugh said when he was hired last January. "You pay attention to detail, you do the best job you can, and good things happen."
While special teams coordinators don't deal with offense or defense, they work with more players than anyone but the head coach. Outside of the quarterbacks and running back Matt Forte, Toub worked with everyone on the roster. Harbaugh isn't the first coach with a special teams background to have success. Mike Ditka's first job under Tom Landry in Dallas was as a special teams coach and offensive assistant. Chicago resident Marv Levy, a Hall of Famer, and Dick Vermeil were the first two special teams coaches in the NFL. Bill Cowher started his career as a special teams coach.
"You're dealing with everyone on the team," Levy told the Sun-Times. "In terms of background to become a head coach, it's as good as any other position there is. You become very conversant with what is happening on offense and defense on special teams.
"'Toub has done a super job. I don't know that's really the case that it's difficult for a special-teams coach to move up to head coach. Really, it's a who's who of coaches who started on special teams."
*** Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News points out that tonight's meeting between rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh is just the fourth time in the last 30 years that the top two defenses in the league have collided in the playoffs. It's the first time it's happened this deep in the playoffs.
The tie to the Bears? The 1985 Bears, who we all know had the league's No. 1 defense, met the No. 2 defense in the league that year in the playoffs when they tangled with the New York Giants in the divisional round. New York was limited to 10 first downs and 32 rushing yards in a 21-0 Bears' victory.
Gosselin's point? Something always gives when No. 1 meets No. 2.
*** Talked to ex-Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera about the addition of Rod Marinelli to the staff. Rivera can speak from experience. He was a linebacker at Cal when Marinelli was an assistant there. Rivera did a fair bit of blitzing and Marinelli provided plenty of instruction on that.
"Oh, the Bears just got a whole lot better," Rivera said. "He is one of my favorite persons in the world. He gets down to the players' level and makes you want to run through that wall for him."
Smith and Jerry Angelo are not the only ones at Halas Hall with ties to Marinelli. Scout Ted Monago was a player at Arizona State when Marinelli was an assistant there.