I’m usually not so brash in my opinions, but one thing that has really gotten under my skin lately is the “fire Mike Tomlin” crowd. It’s not because they have any valid arguments as to why the Steelers current head coach should be fired. No, on the contrary, it’s usually because of their entitlement mentality which leads them to believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers should win every single game they play in.
Newsflash: this isn’t John Madden Football by EA Sports where the outcomes play out like a video game.
I’ve often said on the Steel City Underground Podcast that coaches coach and players play. During the 2017 season former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley was the fall guy for what felt like the team’s shortcomings. I thought this was odd given their success, in a sport where parity is the rule and super teams, such as the Boston Red Sox or Golden State Warriors are the exception.
Yes, I understand the New England Patriots, mainly Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, have won five Super Bowl rings: he’s also been coaching the Pats for 19 seasons now, meaning he’s had 13 failures under his tenure, according to the same measuring stick some of “Steelers Nation” uses to judge Tomlin.
Then there are the sheer number of NFL head coaches who have won a Super Bowl who currently have a job with the same organization who they won it with. Aside from Belichick and Tomlin, those coaches are the Ravens John Harbaugh, the Saints Sean Payton, the Eagles Doug Pederson, and the Seahawks Pete Carroll.
Even including Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, who won his in 2002 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, only brings that list to five besides Belichick and Tomlin: and only Belichick has more victories in the big game when compared to his peers.
That’s why the “Fire Tomlin” crowd, led by infamous Pittsburgh sports talk shock jock Mark Madden, is beyond foolish to argue for his head on a platter. Here’s a coach who has never had a losing season and has brought the Steelers to two Super Bowl appearances in his first eleven seasons as a head coach.
So why fire him?
That’s what I’m asking too… and I’m not afraid to call people “dumb” for this notion. Look, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Looking at other top coaches around the league, you can already get a sense for how difficult it is to be consistent. The Patriots are a rare breed and playing in the same conference, their success negates that of the Steelers. Yet, it’s not as if the Saints and Seahawks are always lighting the world on fire with multiple appearances in the NFL’s title game.
Taking this a step further, I’ve often advocated for Tomlin and his job performance by comparing him to coaches in the Hall of Fame. Four of the last five who were inducted are as follows: Tony Dungy, John Madden, Marv Levy and Bill Parcells.
Of those coaches, only Parcells is a multiple-time winner, having won a pair of Lombardi trophies with the New York Giants. He also took the Patriots to a Super Bowl appearance in a losing effort against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. He would be lured out of retirement to become a head coach two more times, with the Jets and Cowboys, but would never have the same success. Even a Hall of Fame coach such as Parcells’ caliber would miss the postseason four out of seven times with those two franchises and even five out of twelve with his Super Bowl contending organizations.
Tony Dungy coached Peyton Manning to “choke” status, or so the public called it, on many occasions with early playoff exists. Marv Levy lost four consecutive Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills, and John Madden, whom I compare with Mike Tomlin most, only has one ring in his trophy case after a stellar ten-year coaching tenure with the Raiders.
Surely these Hall of Fame coaches could’ve done better with “talented teams” just like Tomlin could or should have, right? Or is that Tomlin’s success should be credited with inheriting Ben Roethlisberger and previous head coach Bill Cowher’s players? While that’s an argument I hear made often, it’s not remotely true: Cowher couldn’t even win with Cowher’s players.
If 15 seasons the former Steelers head coach only has one Super Bowl win on his resume, with one other appearance total. In fact, he didn’t get that win until Ben Roethlisberger arrived in town: he lost four of his five AFC Championship appearances, all of which were played at home. (And two of those to Belichick-led Patriots squads to boot!)
Just to be clear, I don’t want to show each of these coaches’ failures as an excuse for Mike Tomlin’s: in fact, it’s the opposite. These coaches each had success in the NFL, which could otherwise be seen as not being too successful. That’s because winning in the NFL is rare… and winning consistently even rarer.
For his record, Bill Cowher had missed the postseason five out of his fifteen total seasons. His teams, like others listed, also had early exists and shortcomings that ended a year with anything but hoisting a Lombardi Trophy at the end.
It takes a special person to lead a group of men being paid millions of dollars to be successful each season. That special person must also coach through injuries and rebuild his team’s roster each season as well. For what it’s worth, Mike Tomlin is one of the best there is. He very well, to the chagrin of those who are dissatisfied with his “lack of success” lately, be one of the best ever.
Putting his ability to keep the Steelers in contention through each season is remarkable and makes him stand out among his peers, such as the Panthers Ron Rivera, Cowboys Jason Garrett or Bengals Marvin Lewis: all who have nowhere near the pedigree that Tomlin has to show for their efforst.
Perhaps we should think twice before firing off a frustrated quip of “Fire Tomlin”. You just don’t know what you’re going to get if your wish comes true. Instead, we should relish what we have while we have it and understand that winning in the NFL is never a given.
That’s the reason the “NFL” is also known as the “Not For Long” league. That’s why when someone comes along and has a great rate of success over a long period, they are retained as a head coach.