Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin’s Value Is In The Eye of The Beholder

When perspective is applied rather than passion, the Steelers’ head coach is appreciated for what he can still accomplish. When it isn’t he’s a convenient scapegoat.
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The season began with Judy Bautista of the NFL Network and insisting to me during training camp at Saint Vincent College that in the event Mike Tomlin were to be fired, he’d have another job lined up before he made it from the inside of the Steelers’ practice facility to his car in the parking lot.

It’s ended for the Steelers with Tomlin receiving “A” grades and Coach of the Year consideration from other such national NFL pundits, and with a vocal contingent amid Steelers Nation screaming “unacceptable” regarding what Tomlin and the Steelers accomplished this season.

Sounds about right.

Tomlin has been and apparently will continue to be appreciated more nationally than he is locally.

At issue with Steelers fans complaining the longest and the loudest about him is this: Zero playoff wins for six seasons and counting now.

They have a point.

That’s not good enough and they have a right to want and anticipate more at the very least, even if such efforts end up short of a trophy presentation.

But the point they’re missing while holding Tomlin accountable more than anyone and anything else is the page that was turned from last season to this one, how difficult a transition that ultimately was and how well the Steelers navigated seismic change in their organization and operation.

It’s not 9-8 that those people should be celebrating, it’s how the Steelers got there.

Without Ben Roethlisberger.

Without Kevin Colbert.

With another reconfigured offensive line and a restructured front office.

And, ultimately, with a rookie quarterback.

In that context 9-8 isn’t unacceptable, it’s progress.

The kind that has to be made before the Steelers can realize any of the much more lofty goals they want as least as much if not more than their fans.

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If you still want to complain about 2017, when Ryan Shazier was injured; or 2018, when they missed the playoffs, in part, because JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled in New Orleans; or 2019, when Duck Hodges and Mason Rudolph were playing quarterback; or 2020, when Roethlisberger threw four postseason interceptions against Cleveland; or 2021, when Stephon Tuitt unexpectedly but understandably walked away from the game, so be it.

But this is a different team and a different time.

Had things gone completely off the rails it would have been fair to ponder whether this was still Tomlin’s team and Tomlin’s time.

But they didn’t.

The Steelers sunk to the depths and then got better as the season progressed.

And any team with championship aspirations has to first be able to accomplish the latter.

The Steelers did that in 2022, they established that they’re still functioning as an organization with designs on winning more titles, and that they still know how to get there from here.

Did you catch Tomlin during his season-ending media briefing?

He looked and sounded physically exhausted and emotionally spent.

Like a guy who admittedly hadn’t anticipated the season ending when it did, and one that was having a hard time, at least initially, dealing with the “screeching halt.”

He wasn’t celebrating 9-8 or extending for another season his career-long, non-losing season streak.

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But that doesn’t mean the preservation of the streak or how far they came toward that end should be ridiculed or interpreted as some sort of consolation prize for which the Steelers are willing to settle.

They want, as Tomlin referenced it, “the confetti game,” and always will.

They didn’t get there, but by season’s end they were “just starting to play some really damn good football,” according to no less an authority than T.J. Watt.

That’s worth appreciating at the conclusion of a season that was destined to be a rebuild/re-start all along.

That’s a credit to the head coach, not an indictment.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section