After week 2, the haters were calling for his head, proving once again that they still haven’t learned to stop doubting Coach Tomlin.
When will you haters learn?
You keep coming for Mike Tomlin, criticizing him for things like losing the locker room, not instilling enough discipline, bad play calling, being too much of a player’s coach, etc. No matter what happens, Tomlin seems to receive more blame than praise, even slighting his Super Bowl victory and winning record by claiming that he inherited Coach Cowher’s team so he didn’t have to do much to win.
Yet despite all of the hate and false critiques, Tomlin continues to persevere and win. He refuses to hide from blame, duck the cameras or address the issues his team faces, especially behind closed doors, which is how team matters are supposed to be handled. He continues to resolve problems internally and prove the haters wrong, all while maintaining one of the best coaching records in the league over his eleven-year tenure with the Steelers.
When Antonio Brown started to act out, embarrassing himself, his team and his coach with childish antics like threatening journalist Jesse Washington, Tomlin let everyone know that he would handle it personally, like a true leader.
“I’m looking forward to visiting with (Brown) today and discussing that and other things,” Tomlin said after the team’s loss to the Chiefs, where Brown was seen screaming at the offensive coordinator on the sidelines. “I understand sometimes you got some negativity. We lost the football game and there was some negative exchanges on the sidelines… social media…Educate our team at this point in the journey…hopefully, it’s the last time I’ll have to address that.”
So far he hasn’t had to address those situations again as the team has overcome the slow, negative filled start to the season and are now riding a five-game winning streak after crushing the Panthers, 52 – 21, on Thursday night. The old saying is that winning cures all, so it’s no surprise that while drama does flare up in Steel Town from time to time, Coach Tomlin pulls the team together and wins.
#Steelers look good. Really good. Gotta give Mike Tomlin a ton of credit. This team looked dead at the start. He handled the Bell situation well. The offense is better than ever. And the defense is legit. That game against the #Patriots in Pittsburgh later should be interesting.
— Raul Martinez (@RaulNBCBoston) November 9, 2018
Since being hired in 2007 as only the third coach in franchise history, Tomlin has NEVER had a losing record. His worst seasons were 2012 and 2013 when the team finished 8 – 8. Other than that, he has consistently kept the team above .500, compiling a record of 121 – 62 (.660 winning percentage) over his 12 year career.
He’s made the playoffs eight times in eleven years, and if everything goes according to plan, this season will be his ninth playoff appearance. Yet despite having a coaching resume that many others are envious of, the haters came for him once again in January after the team suffered a bad defeat at the hands of the Jaguars in the playoffs at Heinz field.
Should he have been criticized? Absolutely. The team started off flat and had to play catch-up the entire game. There were a few bad play calls which thwarted the Steelers’ comeback and the defense got exposed by Blake Bortles. Blake Bortles! That alone should have created ridicule, especially after the way he’s looked this season.
But, as reported at the time by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, “some of the team’s limited partners intend to lobby owner Art Rooney to fire of Tomlin and to hire a new coach.” As I wrote at the time, that was absurd for so many reasons, including the reasons below.
“He has captured six AFC North titles, two AFC Championships and led the team to two Super Bowl appearances, winning it all in Super Bowl XLIII in the 2008 season.
Tomlin is the youngest coach to both lead his team to and win the Super Bowl, when he did it at the age of 36. He’s also the third African American head coach to lead a team to the Super Bowl (behind Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith) and this season he became only the third coach in NFL history to finish with a .500 or better record in the first ten seasons with one team, following behind legendary coaches John Madden (Raiders) and Curly Lambeau (Packers). In case you’re wondering, Bill Belichick went 5-11 in his first season as head coach of the Patriots.”
Despite these impressive facts, people still found fault with him, including Steelers’ legend Terry Bradshaw, who called Tomlin a “great cheerleader guy” two years ago.
“He’s really a great cheerleader guy, I don’t know what he does, but I don’t think that he’s a great coach at all,” said Bradshaw on “Speak for Yourself” two years ago. “His name never pops into my mind when we think about great coaches in the NFL.”
Tomlin, as is his nature, took the high road when asked to respond to Bradshaw’s comments, with just a slight veer off onto clap back road.
“I appreciate the support. But criticism and critique are very much a part of our business,” Tomlin said. “It’s an element of our business that as a competitor I embrace. The term ‘great,’ that’s something I have a great deal of respect for. I certainly don’t think that my résumé to this point reads as great. But very few coaches’ resumes read as that at this point. Guys like Bill [Belichick] in New England probably can say that, Pop [Gregg Popovich] down in San Antonio. I think the rest of us are just working stiffs, to be quite honest with you.”
“That being said, terms like ‘cheerleader guy,’ to me, maybe fall outside the bounds of critique or criticism. They probably fall more to the area of disrespect or unprofessional,” continued Tomlin. “But what do I know. I grew up a Dallas fan. Particularly a Hollywood Henderson fan.”
Hollywood Henderson had infamously attacked Bradshaw’s intelligence, saying that he couldn’t spell “cat” if you spotted him the “c” and “a”.
Fast forward two years and Tomlin faced the same criticisms at the start of the season. With the team sitting at 1 – 2 – 1, Le’Veon Bell continuing to sit out, the defense being shredded every weekend and Antonio Brown appearing to be out of sync with Ben Roethlesberger, the rumblings about Tomlin’s worthiness as a head coach simmered up again.
“It’s a circus there,” said one NFC South assistant coach, “and Mike has no control over it. He’s one of the best coaches of my generation, but the players have too much control there.”
Even former longtime Steelers’ defensive end James Harrison took a swipe at his former coach when asked to choose between him and Bill Belichick.
“Mike Tomlin is good as a head coach. He’s a player’s coach. I think he needs to be a little bit more disciplined. Other than that, the big thing with Belichick, he’s very regimented, he’s disciplined. Everybody is going to be on the same page … Over there, their coaching staff is like that. … I ain’t never been to so many meetings in my life.”
But then, as is the norm during Tomlin’s tenure with the Steelers, the team righted the faltering ship and began to win and the crickets from the haters surfaced. It’s obvious that the Steelers have some unique players and situations which require a certain type of response and handling. Antonio Brown’s ill advised usage of social media in the locker room, Martavis Bryant’s inability to get his personal life together, racist rants from critics angry over the team’s stance around the anthem last year, the Le’Veon Bell hold out and subsequent player reactions and the poor play and excessive number of penalties the team was flagged for all contributed to the venom spewed at Tomlin over the last two seasons and the first four games this year.
Yet Tomlin has never been shy or timid, so he said what he felt on national TV, did what he had to do behind closed doors, moved on with James Connor in place of Bell and started improving the units on both sides of the ball, resulting in the demolishing of the Panthers Thursday tonight.
Despite his winning record and ability to manage players and diffuse problems, Tomlin’s name sometimes gets lost when mentioning great coaches of both the past and present, which is a horrible practice. Bill Belichick aside, Tomlin has a higher winning percentage than active coaches such as Andy Reid, Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy, Jon Harbaugh and Marvin Lewis, yet the critics seem to target him more for negativity than praise.
Tomlin deserved more respect from his top players like Brown, who should have recognized how hard it is for a Black coach to survive in this league and do everything he can to support him instead of having mental lapses in behavior which embarrass his coach and team. He deserves that respect and support, and it looks like others are fully committed to the team first and next man up mantras, including Brown who’s back in sync with Big Ben and back to smiling on the sidelines.
Tomlin epitomizes what a leader, not a boss, is. He leads from the front. He takes the heat and spreads the accolades around the team. He addresses the issues and improves areas of weakness. The Defense wasn’t up to par, so they went out and dominated Cam last night. They were committing too many penalties, so last night they only had one. Stars like Bell and Ryan Shazier were lost to a contract dispute and serious injury, so he plugged in Connor and pushed his entire defense to step up.
But maybe having to face the drama and unfair criticisms goes with the territory. He’s a head coach in the NFL, a head coach of arguably the greatest pro football franchise in history and a Black head coach in a league where the leash of tolerance can be very short for those of a darker shade. So you can take him to task for mistakes, but appreciate him for what he has been able to accomplish.
Tomlin carries a lot on his shoulders. Fortunately, he can handle it and continues to do so, bringing the crickets out each and every time.