Mike Tomlin just earned his 17th straight season without a losing record. The Pittsburgh Steelers head coach isn't going anywhere unless it's on his own terms. But even considering his history with the team, is a Tomlin departure really that hard to imagine?
The Steelers are 3-7 in the NFL playoffs over the past 12 years and they haven't won a playoff game since the 2016 postseason. Like we recently saw with the Seahawks' decision to part with Pete Carroll and the Patriots' choice to move on from Bill Belichick, eventually, things just get stale.
If Tomlin were to walk away while still under contract, as recent rumors suggest he could, it would be remarkably similar to what Sean Payton did following his 15th season with the New Orleans Saints. After taking a year off, the Saints traded Payton to the Denver Broncos for future draft capital -- including a first-round pick.
Already, one-fourth of NFL head coaches have been relieved of their duties. Shockingly, Mike Vrabel was one of them. The former Titans head coach began his tenure with four straight winning seasons in Tennessee. But after going 13-21 over the past two years, Vrabel is suddenly looking for work.
Many fans instantly made the Vrabel connection to the Steelers -- claiming that he would be the perfect HC candidate if Mike Tomlin walked away. This might be the attractive pick, but there's a different head coach candidate the Steelers need to (and they probably don't even know it).
Steelers should hire Ben Johnson if Mike Tomlin leaves
Even with Mike Vrabel thrown into the 2024 coaching carousel, Ben Johnson is my favorite head coach candidate this year. While Vrabel mirrors Tomlin in many ways, Johnson complements the Steelers in everything that they have been missing over the years.
Vrabel is an expert at getting his team to play above expectations. He hasn't had much to work with on offense over the years, and somehow he has made it work to the point where his team was routinely competitive. But the Steelers need more than that.
Johnson, the current offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions, hasn't had a chance to prove whether or not he can get his team to play above their pay grade. But what he has done is shown the makings of one of the greatest offensive masterminds in the NFL. Since becoming Detroit's OC in 2022, Johnson's offense has consistently been among the best in the league.
For the second straight season, Johnson's offense finished as a top 5 unit in both scoring and yards per game. This past season in 2023, his brilliant play design and game plan aided the Lions to 27.1 points per contest to go with 394.8 yards per game. Advanced data backs up his brilliance as well, as Johnson's offense was 5th in DVOA and 8th in EPA.
Johnson's remarkable passing concepts revitalized Jared Goff's NFL career and made a journeyman like Josh Reynolds one of the most efficient receivers in the league this year.
There's no question that Mike Vrabel is more proven than Ben Johnson, but doesn't automatically make him the best candidate. I think Vrabel would be a great head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Johnson's to turn an average offense into an elite unit will make him even better.