The Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 season has been one heck of a rollercoaster ride so far. From thrilling offensive numbers to near record-breaking penalties, it’s time to be honest about Mike Tomlin.
Coming off the heels of a win, this obviously isn’t an over-the-top, emotional reaction to anything. This isn’t a campaign to get the Steelers coach fired. This is just an honest assessment of where the Steelers are under Mike Tomlin.
Right now, in some ways, the Steelers are flourishing. The offense is starting to click as they are truly running through Ben Roethlisberger. Tomlin, despite being in a bad situation with star running back Le’Veon Bell, has put his confidence in James Conner, who has been considerably more than just a mere replacement.
Yet, in other ways, this team is a mess. They’ve committed 37 penalties in their first three games, which is tied for 2nd-most in a team’s first three games of a season since the AFL-NFL merger. The defense continues to struggle, especially in the secondary, which for a former defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, is a bad look.
Mike Tomlin has been blessed with certain things. He inherited a franchise quarterback, who will ultimately be in the hall of fame. He also inherited a stout defensive unit built by Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher. He’s been blessed with one of the most well-run organizations in sports.
Tomlin has also been burdened with some daunting tasks. He’s succeeded at some and failed at others. He’s added great talent to the offense with draft picks like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. He’s also had to rebuild the defense once the unit he inherited started to wither away.
This is probably the thing that is the most damning for Mike Tomlin’s legacy as the head coach of the Steelers. Being known as a defensive coach, you’d expect the Steelers’ defense to begin to flourish after the defensive rebuild. Tomlin has hit home runs a couple times with Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier, but there has been some awful swings-and-misses with picks like Jarvis Jones, Bud Dupree, and Artie Burns. Even if Dupree and Burns turn things around in 2018, they still haven’t turned into the prototypical first-round player.
The further and further the Steelers got away from the Cowher era, the more and more this team became Tomlin’s team. It’s not just coincidental that from Tomlin’s debut in 2007 through the 2010 season, the last time the Steelers were in the Super Bowl, the defense was top-five overall every year, and since that time, the defense has continually gotten worse and worse. Eight years is more than enough time to rebuild a defense, and outside of 2017, the defense hasn’t finished in the top-ten overall.
No matter how big of an impact people may think the off-the-field stuff affects what happens on the field, that fact is these players are human. When the Steelers players keep giving the media ammunition to create a possibly distractions, like Facebook live videos in locker rooms and replying to social media trolls, you know these players get sick of being asked about non-football related things when they’re trying to focus on a game.
When James Harrison came out and criticized the lack of discipline under Tomlin’s tenure, it wasn’t that outlandish of a statement. After all, this is a team that has committed 37 penalties in three games, has had coaches running out on the field getting in player’s faces. Let’s also not forget that Tomlin was fined $100,000 for trying to trip a player mid-play. The team is an absolute mess right now, and if the Steelers didn’t have great talent, it would be an even bigger deal than it already is. After all, winning cures everything.
Speaking of winning, let’s also not forget some things that Tomlin deserves credit for. He deserves credit for his Super Bowl win. it may have been with majority of Bill Cowher players, but he’s the coach that had the cajones to give James Harrison a shot at starting. And he was the Defensive Player of the Year in Tomlin’s Super Bowl year.
Tomlin deserves credit for righting the ship in 2016 when the Steelers fell to 4-5 after a loss to Dallas at home, then reeling off seven consecutive wins to catapult the Steelers to a AFC North title and AFC Championship appearance.
Tomlin deserves credit for drafting elite offensive talent in late rounds, most popularly Antonio Brown in the sixth round in 2010. He also drafted Le’Veon Bell in the second round, and drafted Martavis Bryant in the fourth round.
Finally, he deserves credit for never having a losing season. Tomlin, despite any flaws, has ways of motivating and elevating his players to the big game.
It’s also not Tomlin’s fault for what happened to Ryan Shazier.
I am not about knee-jerk reactions and wanting to fire Tomlin because there are obvious flaws about him as a coach. If he were fired, who do you replace him with? It is a conundrum, because who knows what next great coach is out there, but it’s a risk that the Steelers can’t afford to take right now. Bringing in an unknown coach would pretty much be throwing in the towel for winning a Super Bowl in the remaining window the Steelers currently have with Big Ben still under center.
Tomlin still has time to fix the issues for 2018. It’s early in the season. Tomlin has righted the ship before, and I have faith he can do it again. Three playoff wins since 2010 is massively underachieving with the talent Tomlin has at his disposal. Tomlin can take control, and he better, to help preserve his legacy. After all, a second Super Bowl win would solidify his legacy and silence the critics. Winning cures everything.