If Not Tomlin, Than Who?

In the midst of a four-game losing streak, many in Steeler Nation want the 10-year coach to be fired. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

I never thought I would say this about a fan base with so much tradition and knowledge of the game of football, but Pittsburgh Steelers fans have got to be some of the most delusional and irrational in the NFL. Many are calling for Mike Tomlin’s tenure in the “Steel City” to come to an end after the 35-30 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that extended the Steelers losing streak to 4-games.

The overwhelming venom spewed towards the 10-year head coach is nothing new. He always gets it no matter what type of season the team has or is having. He gets hell when they don’t win a Super Bowl, hell, even a playoff game. They can’t stand his cliché press conferences. Which by the way are no less informative than Bill Belichick’s. How’s that worked out for him and the New England Patriots?

If Steelers fans got their way—they won’t if you know anything about the Rooney family—and he was fired, Tomlin would have a job the next day. One presumable landing spot would be in the AFC North with the heated rival Cincinnati Bengals replacing the underachieving Marvin Lewis. Tomlin would haunt the Steelers like Belichick’s firing still haunts the Cleveland Browns organization. But, I bring up the Bengals head coach to make this point, that’s what a team that needs a coaching change looks like. 12-seasons no playoff wins, and us Steeler fans, I say us because I am a die hard fan of the Black and Yellow, need to look no farther than their collapse against Pittsburgh in the AFC Wild Card game this past January to know what dysfunction looks like. The Steelers are not dysfunctional, they’re struggling.

Bengals aside, an unemployed Tomlin would be pursued by 27 NFL owners immediately upon receiving a pink slip. The only teams that wouldn’t need to call would be the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. And I only say Dallas because we all know Jason Garrett is just Jerry Jones’ puppet, he’s really the coach. Who is out there good enough to take over for Tomlin? I’ll wait. [sounds of crickets]

Tomlin detractors constantly bring up that in addition to the on-field struggles, off the field issues created by Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant would never have happened under his predecessor Bill Cower. Um, as a life long Steeler fan, who is 36 years old, I am old enough to remember and say “yes they did!” One example, remember running back Bam Morris? And there were others.

The “Tomlin haters” constantly say he inherited a Ferrari from Coach Cower. How easy they forget Cower didn’t exactly inherit an empty cupboard from the Hall of Fame legend, Coach Chuck Knoll. Do these names ring a bell; Greg Lloyd, Rod Woodson, Dermontti Dawson, Barry Foster, Carlton Haselrig, David Little? All those guys were on the roster when Coach Knoll retired  after the 1991 season and Cowher took over. Except for Little, they were all Pro-Bowlers in 1992, Little was the previous season. The roster also boasted a young Carnell Lake, Ernie Mills and Merrill Hodge. The cupboard wasn’t bare. That’s how that ’92 team was able to win a division title.

Since Tomlin’s haters love to say Cower was a better coach than him, let’s look at it. Tomlin now has a fair body of work to put up next to Cower. So let’s compare the two.

In Cowher’s first 9 seasons (1992-2000), Pittsburgh went 86-58 with 5 AFC Central titles and one second place finish. The team went 5-6 in the playoffs, lost 2 AFC Championship games at old Three Rivers Stadium, and lost Super Bowl XXX to the Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers missed the playoffs 3 consecutive seasons (1998-2000) which included two losing seasons (7-9 in 1998; 6-10 in 1999).

In Tomlin’s first 9 seasons, the Steelers went 92-52, won 4 AFC North titles (came in 2nd 3 other times that led to the playoffs). He’s currently 6-5 in the playoffs, won one Super Bowl XLIII, and lost another one Super Bowl XLV. He’s only missed the playoffs 3-times and never had a losing season. Still think Cowher had the better run through his first 9 seasons?

I agree changes need to be made in the organization, but head coach isn’t one of them. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler doesn’t appear to have been ready to take over for the Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau. If his unit doesn’t drastically improve over the next seven games, regardless if the team makes the playoffs or not, he’ll likely be sent packing. If so, this defense could use some Rex Ryan attention as the D-coordinator after the Buffalo Bills cut bait with him when they miss the playoffs. Tomlin has the personality and relationship with Rex, to manage having the boisterous coach on his staff.

The other change, is a shift in draft philosophy from General Manager Kevin Colbert. I’ve been clamouring for Colbert to use first and second round draft picks on defensive backs since Super Bowl XLIII, when Kurt Warner and Larry Firzgerald carved up that aging secondary. Before drafting rookie Artie Burns with the 25th pick in the 2016 draft, Pittsburgh hadn’t drafted a defensive back in the first round since Troy Polumalu in 2003. All we heard on draft day year after year was “linebacker or defense end from _____ university.” Now is the time to start a run of drafting defensive backs year after year, round after round until they get it right. Don’t allow this explosive offense to be wasted because the defense can’t stop a faucet.

I still believe in Mike Tomlin, and I think most knowledgable, reasonable Steelers fans do as well. Everyone can’t be Bill Belichick and win a watered down division every year. But who’d want to, we don’t need a “Deflategate” or “Spygate” cloud over the Three Rivers.

Anyway, with everything I laid out, if you still don’t like Tomlin, it’s not a football issue. I’m left to wonder what it is, but I think I already know the answer.

While I’m ranting about stuff Steelers fans should stop saying, stop chanting “HEEEEEEAAAAAAATH” every time Jesse James catches as pass. It makes you sound ignorant and foolish as to who’s on your team. For goodness sakes, James played at many of yours beloved Penn State! All tall, athletic white guys don’t look alike.

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