The Pittsburgh Steelers are at a crossroads this weekend. And, I’m not just talking about whether or not they will make the playoffs. I think the Steelers are at a point in time where they will begin to reassess the direction Mike Tomlin is taking them in as a head coach regardless of this week’s outcome.
The Tomlin era has lasted for almost six seasons. Enough players have come and gone, that the football world is beginning to see the fruits (or lack thereof) of his labor. Tomlin has been a part of six draft classes, seen players retire, and has had to let players go. The sole discretion is not his, but what he does with the talent that is presented to him is completely his responsibility. I’m sure most, if not all of you, have said to yourself three sentences ago, ‘Come on really? You’re going to bust a guy who’s won two AFC Championships and a Super Bowl in five and a half seasons?’ Yes I am.
Many have said over the past few seasons that Tomlin has experienced success off the successes from the Cowher era – riding the coat tails as it were. With many players gone from the roster the last time Cowher yelled and let the spit fly on the sidelines, Tomlin has laid his own foundation of what he thinks it takes to have a championship football team. Because let’s be honest, when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, saying ‘a winning team’ is not enough. Wins are not enough. Championships are enough. And really, it’s one thing to be 11-5 and come ‘this close’ to winning it all vs. the 2011 and 2012 Steelers. Losing tough games is one thing, it’s how this team is losing that is really starting to worry me. But is it worrying Colbert and the Rooney’s too?
The 2012 Steelers should be a twelve win team. Should be. But they aren’t. Why? They have the talent. And, they have the potential to stand toe to toe with any top team in this league like the Texans or Falcons. But yet they fold to teams that are currently 5-9, 5-9, 4-10. Why? Preparation, lack of discipline, and lack of fire. When playing this sub .500 teams, or any team that isn’t very good for that matter, this team fails to make the essential plays it needs to make in order to win the game – whether it’s to take the lead or seal up the lead. Mistakes, miscues, and mishaps have plagued this teams for several seasons. Maybe it’s a lack of leadership in the locker room with veterans like Hines Ward and James Farrior and others gone. There is certainly a lack of fire in this team and it’s up to the coach to find it, inspire it, and get the players to use it.
Bill Cowher used to stand on the sidelines and look Greg Lloyd right in the eye while hitting his shoulder pads and say, “I need you to rush the quarterback. I need you to rush the quarterback. I need you to do that. Now go.” When was the last time you saw Tomlin stare James Harrison in the eye and say those things to him? Was there ever a time? Aside from his pacing up and down the sidelines with an occasional yelling of ‘Let’s go!’ Tomlin is never in his players faces. He’s said to be a player’s coach, but is that because he never yells at them in public?
Circumstances within a season can certainly affect certain outcomes. But, if people use the ‘injury bug’ as an excuse for Tomlin, then you are all disavowing his own mantra of ‘The Standard is the Standard’ and ‘Starters in Waiting.’ And if he can’t be held accountable for his own set standards, then how will he ever? As I mentioned, this team should be a twelve win team – even with the injuries they’ve had. I actually believe Tomlin to an extent when he says ‘The standard is the standard.’ But just because you lay out expectations of how players should perform doesn’t mean it ends there. And the way the Steelers play and fail to execute at times and have huge miscues at times, it sure seems like that’s where Tomlin draws the line in the field of how far he will go as a coach.
Is Tomlin in the ‘hot seat’ if the Steelers fail to make the playoffs? Probably not. At least not in the way that guys like Norv Turner are. Speaking of our friends out west – do you really think that the Chargers are a 5-9 team? Phillip Rivers may not be elite, but he’s no chump either. And, neither are many other players on that roster. The AFC West is so bad (aside from the Denver Mannings) that the Chargers can’t get themselves up to being a 9-7 team or better. Why? Well, Alex Spanos and A.J. Smith may finally get things right by letting go the biggest thing holding back that team – Norv.
I have to admit that I drank the Tomlin kool aid back in 2007/2008. I like him. I think he’s a very smart man and coach. I think his intentions and philosophies are somewhat in the right place of how to coach a team. But, after taking on this blog and committing myself to watching game tape each week to better understand this team, it’s hard not to look at this coach and not come down on him for the current state of this football team.
Will Tomlin be on the ‘hot seat?’ Nah. But I bet you many in Steeler Nation are going to become a little more uneasy going into 2013.