By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. -- "Almost" is the story of Russ Grimm's life, from a coaching job he coveted to the Hall of Fame.
He was almost head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He certainly came closer to getting it than his current boss, Ken Whisenhunt.
Grimm was interviewed twice as the potential successor to Bill Cowher two years ago. There even was an erroneous report that he had been offered the job.
Instead, the Steelers went outside Cowher's staff to hire Mike Tomlin, and Grimm and his 28 years of NFL experience followed Whisenhunt from Pittsburgh to Arizona, where he molded a bunch of little-known players into an effective offensive line.
The success that line has against the fierce defense of the Steelers could go a long way in determining the outcome of Sunday's Super Bowl.
"You couldn't ask for a better challenge for this group," guard Reggie Wells said.
Grimm, is a big, tough-looking guy who had credibility the moment he walked into the Arizona locker room. It's a reputation gained from 11 seasons as a standout lineman for Washington, followed by 17 years as an NFL assistant, first with the Redskins, then with the Steelers and now with the Cardinals.
"He's probably just as intense and prepared as he was a player," Wells said. "He's a great coach to have on your side because not only has he played the game, he knows how to teach it as well. Some coaches who know how to teach might not have played the game, and vice versa.
"He's been a tremendous help, not only to our younger guys, but to our older guys who haven't had the kind of success that he's had in his career."
For the fourth year in a row, Grimm is a finalist for the Hall of Fame as a member of the Redskins' famed "Hogs" offensive line.
"That's something that you don't really dream about when you're playing," Grimm said. "I played the game because I had fun playing it. I enjoyed it. I would love to get into the Hall of Fame, but whether it's deserving remains to be seen."
Grimm was the center for a University of Pittsburgh team that went 22-2 in his final two seasons. He was a third-round draft pick of the Redskins and went on to become an all-pro guard who helped the team reach four Super Bowls and win three of them. Whisenhunt was his teammate as a tight end for two seasons late in Grimm's career.
"He was a very smart football player," said Whisenhunt, who was offensive coordinator under Cowher while Grimm was the assistant head coach and offensive line coach. "He was always the guy in the huddle that knew what was going on. Not just from what play was going on, but knowing what the defense was trying to do. You could tell that he had the ability to analyze the defense and understand what they were trying to get accomplished."
It's an ability, Whisenhunt said, that "served him well as a coach."
"I think that his mind set, the way he approaches the game, how professional he is and his desire to win -- he has been a very successful player and coach -- is what makes him a special person and why he has been so valuable to our team," Whisenhunt said.
When he retired as a player, Grimm stayed with the Redskins for nine years, first as tight ends coach, then as offensive line coach. He joined Cowher's staff as offensive line coach in 2001, then added assistant head coach to his title in 2004.
He earned another Super Bowl ring when the Steelers won it after the 2005 season.
Grimm interviewed for the Cardinals' job after Dennis Green was fired following the 2006 season, a position that eventually went to Whisenhunt. But his real desire was to replace Cowher in Pittsburgh.
When that fell through, Grimm needed a job.
"Anytime you make a run at something and don't get it, you're disappointed," he said. "But that's the nature of the business. A decision was made, and I respect that. It was time to move on, and then you go somewhere and start all over again. There are no hard feelings there."
Whisenhunt quickly offered him the same position he had in Pittsburgh -- assistant head coach and offensive line coach.
"It went pretty quickly," Grimm said. "I knew Whis, and obviously that offense. It just seemed like an easy move at the time. The decision was made, and I said, 'Let's go out to Phoenix and see what we can do out here.' "
The challenge was formidable. The offensive line had been a major weakness for years, with a revolving door of players giving it a try.
The first season was an improvement, then this year Grimm has gone with the same starters in all 19 games. In three playoffs games, the Cardinals have outrushed every opponent and Kurt Warner has been sacked only three times out of 92 attempted passes.
The best known of the five lineman probably is right tackle Levi Brown. A standout at Penn State, he was picked by the Cardinals ahead of Adrian Peterson as the fifth selection overall in the 2007 draft.
It's basically a no-name crew with a big-name coach.
"I'm proud of them," Grimm said. "Even if we didn't get here, I'd still be proud of the guys that I coach. They're a blue-collar bunch. They're not the biggest or the fastest. They're not the most well-known, but they kind of gelled together."
They will tell you their coach is the main reason for that.