Tomlin needs to start justifying Steelers’ patience

Bum Phillips was fired by the late Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams at the end of the 1980 season after he lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion in the playoffs three years in a row.

Two years later, the Oilers were 1-8 in the strike season of 1982 and then went 2-14, 3-13 and 5-11 in the next three seasons.

That may be the best example of why it is usually not a good idea to fire a playoff coach because he keeps losing in the playoffs.

And it brings to mind the often overlooked reality that the goal isn’t winning the Super Bowl. It is to stay in contention to keep the fans coming and avoid those two or three win seasons.

Which brings us to the case of Steeler coach Mike Tomlin and the team’s recent decision to extend his contract through the 2024 season.

Giving him that long of an extension wasn’t that popular in Pittsburgh because of his record in the last decade – just three playoff wins — but it is the Steeler way of doing things. They’ve only had three coaches since 1969 when Chuck Noll was hired.

And it was really a two-year extension because they already had an option for the 2020 season.

The extension came off a frustrating season when the team started off 11-0 and then collapsed, losing five of the last six including an ugly 48-37 playoff loss to a Cleveland team that was missing its head coach because of Covid.

Despite having a Super Bowl victory on his resume, he has an 8-8 playoff record and hasn’t won a playoff game in four years.

He missed the playoffs two of those four years.
In his last two playoff losses, the Steelers gave up 93 points although turnovers played a big role in both losses. They lost to a Jacksonville team quarterbacked by Blake Bortles, 45-42, in 2017.

Tomlin didn’t appear to have his team ready to play either game and in the 2017 loss to the Jaguars, the perception was that they were looking past the Jaguars to an AFC title game duel against the Patriots.

Tomlin even said during the season that the elephant in the room was that they would be playing against the Patriots. It was a game they never got to play and it is never a good idea for a coach to publicly look ahead.

The bottom line is that even Tomlin likes to say the standard is the standard and not winning in the playoffs for four years in a row is not the standard for a team that has won six Super Bowls.

Still, Tomlin has never had a losing season in his 14 years as the Steeler coach and his winning percentage of .640 is better than any active coach except Bill Belichick.

And my colleague Clark Judge has written Tomlin should be in the conversation for a Hall of Fame berth.

Meanwhile, things aren’t going to get any easier for Tomlin the next four years.

Roethlisberger is near the end, and the team doesn’t have anyone waiting in the wings to replace him. The team appears to be something of a rebuilding mode.

Steelers owner Art Rooney II appears likely to stick with him as long as he continues to avoid having losing seasons. He knows that changing coaches can make things worse instead of better.

For the Steelers’ spoiled fan base, though, winning in the regular season is not the standard. They are looking for playoff victories and Super Bowl appearances.

Tomlin needs to show he can once again meet that standard.

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