Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is in his comfort zone navigating his team through close games like Sunday’s season-opening win at Buffalo.
The head coach who has had 14 consecutive non-losing seasons since becoming head coach — tied with one other coach in NFL history — is also adept at making haters look ridiculous. His fingerprints were all over the “Steel City’s” big win on the road against a trendy Super Bowl pick.
A dominant defense, some key personnel adjustments and a special team’s score helped the Steelers overcome a lethargic first half in their 23-16 come-from-behind victory.
When Tomlin agreed to a 3-year contract extension in April through 2024, there were definitely mixed emotions among the Steelers faithful.
There were some confusing arguments being made as to why the franchise — which has had only three coaches since 1969 (Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Tomlin) — should get rid of a guy who’s never had a losing season and boasts a career record of 154-86-1, including two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Sunday victory.
Tomlin, who sharpened his coaching teeth as a defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings before taking over in Pittsburgh, also has made nine playoff appearances and won seven AFC North titles and two AFC Championships.
Tomlin is easily the best fit for the Steelers’ future, but his greatness has been shortchanged by short memories and short-sided narratives.
Changing The Culture
Tomlin was a young, football mind who wasn’t on most franchise radars as a head coaching candidate. His hire followed the 2003 adoption of the Rooney Rule, which aims to improve the visibility of potential minority head coaching hires; it’s named after Dan Rooney, the late former Pittsburgh Steelers owner and chairman of the league’s diversity committee.
That kind of open-minded thinking by Steelers ownership got Tomlin in the door, but as Black folklore goes, Tomlin crushed his interview, knocking the socks off Steelers’ brass. He went on to become the youngest Super Bowl coach in history, leading the Black and Gold, at the age of 36, to a ring in 2009.
The Rooney Rule legacy
"Here we are 10 years later and Mike Tomlin is a Super Bowl winning HC"
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) April 14, 2017
Thirteen seasons later and he’s still racking up the wins.
Tomlin started last season 11-0 and led Pittsburgh to a 12-4 record and another AFC North title. It wasn’t enough for the fans who ripped Tomlin for losing four of his last five games capped by an early playoff exit. Nobody wants to lose playoff games, but the excuses for wanting Tomlin fired are absurd.
2. Tomlin, the winningest Black head coach in NFL history, is at fault for all the Steelers shortcomings in playoff games.
Over the last four seasons fans have either been blind or possess selective amnesia as it pertains to many of these instances.
In the 2017-18 season, linebacker Ryan Shazier becomes paralyzed and he’s lost from football forever. It was a huge psychological blow to the team affecting the Steelers’ stretch run. The defense also lost its most important cog when it comes to controlling the middle of the field. Teams exploited the deficiency.
The home playoff loss to the Jaguars exposed the Steelers’ weaknesses. Pittsburgh lost the mental aspect of the game (turnovers) and were compromised on the inside without Shazier.
— Steelers Tweeter (@SteelersFan__) January 11, 2021
3. Tomlin is lucky, he doesn’t have great resilience and a knack for navigating disaster.
The year 2018 was disheartening for fans, with Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes getting crushed with bad losses to the Broncos and Raiders. But that was just the beginning. Personality clashes and cultural conflicts within the locker room began to reach the public and eventually ripped the team apart.
Then you get the total complete meltdown, implosion and eventual dismissal of All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown from the team.
In 2019, Tomlin somehow kept the Steelers relevant and in the playoff hunt even without the services of Big Ben, who was injured.
Tomlin was navigating through a PR disaster and leading an undermanned team. He had backup QB Devlin Hodges playing solid until the final three games of the season where Hodges threw six interceptions and was sacked nine times, killing any chance at a playoff berth.
Meanwhile, Brown was still busting shots at anybody in his vicinity, friend or foe.
Emotion: boy fumbled the whole post season in the biggest game of year ! Everyone went blind to busy making guys famous not enough reality these days ! 🤙🏾 by the way check the list https://t.co/2SWWT8k0jx
— AB (@AB84) April 7, 2019
4. Last year’s wildcard playoff loss to the Browns was Tomlin’s fault.
Big Ben threw three interceptions in the game. The center snapped the ball over his head and into the end zone on the first play from scrimmage, resulting in a Browns touchdown.
The wheels came off from that point.
5. Tomlin won because of Big Ben.
Tomlin, the second-longest tenured coach behind Bill Belichick, has the defensive players in place to continue winning beyond Ben Roethlisberger’s career. He has also shown that he can manage the team to victory without him.
Critics are anxiously awaiting Roethlisberger’s retirement. These haters think Tomlin’s Midas Touch will disappear with Big Ben’s departure. Some might suggest the Steelers defense has been carrying Big Ben.
Tomlin has the system in place to continue plugging in players and winning games.
The Double Standard
Tomlin’s career is comparable to his Super Bowl-winning peers, such as Sean Payton, Andy Reid, Pete Carroll and John Harbaugh. All of these coaches have had a lot of playoff success, but have also experienced long droughts since winning that first title.
They are no different from Tomlin. Just reminders of how difficult it is for a coach to actually win a Super Bowl.
In this world of what have you done for me lately, critics will point to hotshot coaches such as Sean McVay, Sean McDermott (whom Tomlin beat on Sunday) and Kliff Kingsbury as young, upcoming coaches who have seemingly given their teams a shot in the arm.
Give this man his respect. If football is about winning, no one does it as consistently as Mike Tomlin.