Mike Tomlin: Hero or Zero?

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My last post covered the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

One thing I discussed was their long-standing policy of not negotiating new contracts during the season.   Another of their policies is to always give their head coach a new deal when he’s down to two years remaining on the current one.  If nothing else, this prevents any messy “lame duck” situations from occurring.  Well, guess what?

Mike Tomlin has two years remaining on his contract.

As of this writing, I have heard exactly zero rumblings about a contract extension.  Of course, there are still over three months until the start of the season.  And the Steelers could always use the fact that a coach is not a player as a loophole if they want to negotiate during the season.  Still, it’s an interesting situation with big repercussions for the future of this franchise.

Personally, I’m not sold on Tomlin.  “But he won a Super Bowl in only his second year!” is pretty much the sole argument for why he’s a great head coach.  That’s idiotic.   Know who else won a Super Bowl?

George Seifert and Barry Switzer.

Are either of them “brilliant” head coaches?   Switzer won a Super Bowl in his second season as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.  Seifert did both men one better by bringing home the Lombardi Trophy in his first season.   Switzer resigned only two years later and hasn’t been back in the NFL.   Seifert won a second Super Bowl a few years later before taking some time off.  He resurfaced to coach the Panthers in 1999.  He put up a 16-32 record, going 1-15 in his final year, with a team that would go on to make an appearance in the Super Bowl just two seasons later.

Were they great coaches?  Certainly not.  They were successful because they inherited a great team from a much more talented coach.  Switzer won with Jimmy Johnson‘s Cowboys.  Seifert won with Bill Walsh‘s 49ers.  They were handed the keys to a Ferrari and simply told not to crash it.   That’s a lot easier than building the Ferrari yourself.

Is Tomlin a Switzer?  At this point, I have to think the jury is still out.  The team he won Super Bowl XLIII with was undoubtedly Bill Cowher‘s team.  The nucleus of Hines, Ben, and Troy are all Cowher’s guys.   Defensive stalwarts like Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton are Cowher’s guys.  Key offensive players such as Max Starks and Heath Miller are Cowher’s guys.  Tomlin built nothing, he just basically rode the same team that won it all in 2005 to another title in 2008.

I think there are still some questions as to how good a coach he truly is.   His first season was an improvement over Cowher’s last but only by two games which is almost a given considering he didn’t have a brain damaged Roethlisberger behind center.  The Steelers were one-and-done in the playoffs that year which can partly be blamed on season ending injuries to Willie Parker and Aaron Smith.  But the game was badly coached by Tomlin, who kept going for idiotic 2 point conversions when had he kicked XPs they likely would’ve won.  He won the Super Bowl in his second year behind an incredible defense and incredibly good luck when it came to injuries.  Last year was an absolute embarrassment as the team showed little passion, heart, or character.  What’s worse, when the team went into a mid-season tailspin, Tomlin seemingly had no clue how to pull them out.  He’d issue weekly threats and proclamations which would inevitably fail to be backed up on Sunday.

The Steelers are known for patience with their head coaches.  I am by no means suggesting they start making plans for Tomlin’s replacement.   But I think in this case, they should excercise some patience of their own.  Because the story of the 2010 season will tell us a lot about what kind of coach Tomlin is when he has to win with his own guys.  And that story will tell us a lot about what needs to be done in 2011 and beyond.

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  • http://www.wix.com/psycho4steelers/12thmanforgedinsteel psycho4steelers

    This is more Bruce Arians problem than MT’s IMO. “I believe Mr. Arians is living in a dream world as tho he created this team. AHHEM!! Anyone remember Ken Wisenhunt? On Jan. 27, 2007 Arians became the Off. Coord. of this (his) team, or the remnance of Kennys boys. KW won two rings IMO, Arians has won 0. Just because his lucky ass is on the sideline means nothing to me!!..He is a schmuck.” Steeleraero @BTSC. May 20, 2010. http://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com/2010/5/20/1480317/arians-speaks#comments

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    Um, that doesn’t explain why the defense took a giant step backwards last season. In fact, the D was much more to blame for last year’s debacle than the offense.

    The Patriots changed O and D coordinators a bunch of times and kept on winning. So did the 80′s San Fran and the 90′s Cowboys. How many coordinators did Cowher lose but kept on winning? That’s because they were smart HEAD COACHES and the coordinators were replaceable parts.

    Blaming Arians for the team’s failures is tired and lazy thinking. Put the blame where it belongs.

  • dracula

    The nucleus of (Cowher’s) players you mention is still here and most of them will be here for at least a few more years. If the squad does a complete 180 and makes a deep playoff run this year I’m guessing there will be a lot less of these articles, but would Tomlin “get credit” for that? Until there’s enough turnover where there are more players drafted on Tomlin’s watch than Cowher’s, is this considered to be Cowher’s team – or is that just when they miss the playoffs?

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    Actually, if you go back through my archives, even when they won the Super Bowl in 2008 I said Tomlin was winning with Cowher’s team. So if you’re trying to infer I’m just jumping on a “Hate Tomlin” bandwagon because they missed the playoffs, sorry to burst your ignorant bubble.

    Now, it is true Cowher’s nucleus is still here but the turnover is definitely starting to be felt. FWP is gone, Mendy is in. Holmes is gone, Wallace is in. Guys like Smith and Farrior are aging rapidly so we’ll see what Tomlin does about inserting new younger blood. And we’ll see what he does when Ben is serving his suspension. Cowher succeeded before Ben, will Tomlin?

    The time for riding Cowher’s coattails is nearing an end. If Tomlin is this “great young coach” everybody raves about, it’s about time we see evidence of it.

  • keith

    what are talking about you talk as if bill won all the super bowl in pitt wake up be real it took bill a long time get his first win in the big game and that after getting us are first super bowl loss I love bill but bill is not god gift to coaching before you start judging give both coaches the same body of work first then do the math and for the record they took their time giving bill his new contract to after his first years he also make dumb call and some bad picks

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    So I have to give Tomlin fifteen years before I can decide whether he’s a good coach or not? That’s idiotic.

    Chuck Noll was 7-9 his final year. The team didn’t appear in a Super Bowl for 10 years at that point. Cowher took over and they went 11-5 the very next season and were in the Super Bowl a few years later. To put it in simple terms, he took over a BAD team and he coached it to SUCCESS.

    Tomlin was handed a team one season removed from WINNING THE FREAKIN’ SUPER BOWL. Do you not see the difference? When you are handed a team that is already good, that doesn’t mean you’re a good coach. It means you’re lucky.

  • whenhellfreezezover

    Was Cowher a great coach I would also ask? I mean with all those great draft picks over the years he seemingly came up empty or fell far too short too many times, then he wanted a ridiculous sum of money for one season to stick around! I like what we have in Tomlin.

  • tony12

    sorry took so long to join in, I hear the word luck being tossed around the field is not a casino there is no luck you study practice prepare and line-up you can lose with talent ask the Chargers.Coaches win and Lose is Tomlin a Great coach no let’s call it what it is.He is a young good coach that’s still learning.-with a super bowl ring

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    Sometimes I think people don’t actually read my posts…

    Was Barry Switzer a great coach? George Seifert? John Gruden?

    They all won Super Bowl rings in their first or second season. And where are they now? How much success did they have after winning that ring?

    Answers: None and none.

    People, stop with this “He won a ring, he’s awesome” thinking. That’s simplistic nonsense. I thought Steeler fans were smarter than that. If you can’t point out positives about Tomlin’s coaching that either A) don’t involve Cowher’s players or B) doesn’t begin with the sentence “He won a ring” then don’t bother defending him.