When Mike Tomlin coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to two Super Bowls in his first four years as a head coach, winning one and losing one, he seemed destined to be an elite coach in the NFL.
It hasn’t worked out that way.
Seven years have gone by and Tomlin hasn’t made it back to another Super Bowl. His playoff record is now 8-7.
Even worse, he had the most talented offensive team in the league in 2017 and lost his first playoff game to Jacksonville despite a 13-3 regular season record, although the loss of Ryan Shazier during the season was huge.
Still, Tomlin must take most of the blame for how undisciplined the Steelers were during the season. And his premature talk about playing the New England Patriots twice were certainly ill-advised.
And his game management in the loss to the Jaguars was mind-numbing.
There were ill-advised calls on the two fourth-and-1 plays and then trying an onside kick with more than two minutes and two time outs left.
And trailing by 10 with less than a minute left, he didn’t kick a field goal and try another onside kick in attempt to get a touchdown and a tie. Instead, the Steelers ran out their own clock while scoring a touchdown to lose by three.
It was difficult to believe that a Super Bowl-winning coach could coach such a poor game.
Eleven years into his career, the odds seem to be unlikely that Tomlin will win another Super Bowl.
Things may get worse before they get better. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t going to get any younger, and Le’Veon Bell seems to be at a permanent contract impasse and he’s heading into his sixth year. Running backs tend to have a short shelf life. And it is uncertain if Shazier will ever play again.
Of course, all this has a lot of Steeler fans grumbling along with some minority owners. According to a silly report in Pro Football Talk, some minority owners want him fired.
But if they’re Steeler minority owners, they should know the Steelers don’t make rash moves. They’ve had three coaches since 1969, and Art Rooney II, the grandson of Art Rooney and son of Dan Rooney, continues that philosophy. They prize stability.
And there is no guarantee another coach might be worse.
You don’t fire a coach after a 13-3 year. As long as he keeps making the playoffs, he’ll have a job even though he is not likely to be remembered as a great coach.
In 1980, former Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams fired Bum Phillips after losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion three years in a row. By 1983, they were 3-13.
Of course, there will be some changes. Todd Haley didn’t have his contract renewed as offensive coordinator just as Bruce Arians contract wasn’t renewed six years ago.
Still, with a savvy general manager like Kevin Colbert, the Steelers figure to remain a contender even if they don’t get another ring in the near future.
Unless Tomlin suddenly changes his ways, though, he is not likely to fulfill the promise he had in his first four years on the job.
He needs to get his mojo back if he is to get another ring.