Over the course of the current abysmal Steelers’ season, local sports media and fans have questioned what has gone wrong with this team. That is a question that has many answers and could be discussed at length. While discussing the problems, many have speculated on what possible solutions there are as well. Many have suggested that head coach Mike Tomlin should be the one who pays the price for what is shaping up to be the worst season the Steelers have seen since the 1980s.
I am a noted Tomlin supporter. I have been a fan of his since he was hired; I liked his approach and his attitude. However, I am not suggesting he is blameless when it comes to the team’s current predicament. He certainly is not. His clock management has always been troublesome, and it continues to be a problem this season. The team has been behind late in games and they’ve shown little urgency in these situations. He also has some say over who the team drafts, and numerous draft picks have not panned out recently. No one from the 2008 draft remains on this team and spending a second-round pick on Mike Adams is surely looking like a big mistake. These are definite problems that he is accountable for.
People have also questioned the preparation of the team, especially after the pounding they took in Foxborough on Sunday. I’m not certain if the team isn’t prepared. Maybe they aren’t. However, I think the overwhelming problem of this team is a lack of talent more than anything. There isn’t much depth, and plenty of players are starting to look their ages. Troy Polamalu played an absolutely horrendous game on Sunday, and I don’t think anyone would ever question how prepared Troy is for any given game. I think it’s hard to tell if the team isn’t prepared or if they lack talent or if it’s a combination of the two.
I also see many people questioning his leadership. That I don’t buy as much. Why? Mostly because fans and media members aren’t among the 53 men in the locker room. I don’t buy that he’s a terrible leader. Nobody was questioning his leadership when he took the team to two Super Bowls in his first four years as head coach. (Please don’t give me the “but he won with Cowher’s players!” line. By that measure, Gruden won with Dungy’s players, Payton won with Haslett’s players, Coughlin won with Fassel’s players, and so on.) Until I hear a member of the Steelers questioning Tomlin’s leadership, I’m going to reserve judgment on this one.
Tomlin’s approach to the media also clearly annoys local media. I have no problem whatsoever in how he interacts with the media. It seems to me like he accepts that it’s part of his job, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it. I imagine he sees it as distracting him from doing his job, which is coaching the team, not making nice with the media.
That brings us to the two most laughable reasons for why people want Tomlin fired (and yes, I’ve actually seen people say these things). Number one: his infamous clichés. I say this in all seriousness: who really cares if he talks in clichés? How does that reflect his ability as a coach? Number two: He talks up the upcoming week’s opponent too much at his press conferences, even when they’re a bad team. You know why he talks about opposing teams like they’re really good even if their record doesn’t reflect that? Because every team in the NFL is composed of professional football players. Anything can happen on any given Sunday. Look at this past weekend, for example. The Jets defense completely harassed future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees en route to upsetting the Saints. The winless Bucs nearly beat the one-loss Seahawks. So I don’t really have a problem with Tomlin making the 2013 Bills sound like the Jim Kelly-led Bills of the early ‘90s.
Clearly, I do not believe that Mike Tomlin should be fired after this season, no matter what the final record ends up being. I honestly think there is too much coaching turnover across all of professional sports. It’s been said by many people before, but I do believe coaches receive both too much praise when their team is winning and too much blame when their team is losing. (See: Penguins’ fans who want Dan Bylsma fired for LOSING THE EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS WHEN HIS ALL-STAR LINEUP COULDN’T SCORE.)
I doubt Tomlin gets fired after this season, mostly because of the Rooneys patience with head coaches. Chuck Noll’s teams only made the playoffs four times in the 1980s. Bill Cowher’s teams missed the playoff three years in a row and he was rewarded with a contract extension. I don’t think Mike Tomlin is going anywhere just yet.