While Mike Tomlin might not be on the proverbial hot seat with Art Rooney II and the Pittsburgh Steelers ownership, he certainly is with the fans and the media. It’s not a new situation for him—it happens almost every year—but it is especially intense this season following a second-half collapse.
While the ownership obviously has the final say, however, perhaps no opinion carries stronger weight than the players in the locker room, particularly from the leaders, and both of the Steelers’ team captains, Ben Roethlisberger and Cameron Heyward, went to bat for him this past week.
During his radio appearance, Roethlisberger talked about the relationship that he has built with Tomlin over the past dozen years and even referred to it as a friendship. That might be a dreaded word for the disciplinarian types, but nevertheless.
Heyward appeared on the WDVE Morning Show yesterday and similarly backed his head coach as the right man for the job to get this team back to where it needs to be. “I have confidence in him a hundred percent. I think I’ve had the pleasure of learning with him for eight years. But I think I’m still scratching the surface at learning and growing under his tutelage”.
Heyward went on to say of Tomlin that “he’s a heck of a coach, he develops players. And I know there has to be changes because every year somebody changes or guys get older, some guys retire, you get new draft picks, but I want that guy steering the ship. I want that guy to lead us”.
Tomlin recently became one of the fastest coaches in NFL history to reach 125 career wins. He has never posted a losing record in his first 12 seasons, among the longest such stretches to begin a career ever. He has done a lot of winning, to be sure, even if they haven’t won the Super Bowl as frequently as they should be capable of doing.
“I think he preaches the right things, but it’s just about coming together”, Heyward went on. “And through all of it, I don’t think it ever affected us on the field because I thought we were in every game, but it’s about our consistency and moving forward and those are the things he preaches. And I think everybody took this season pretty hard, but I think he took it as well”.
Having the support of his players would not save Tomlin his job if the ownership were really motivated to make a change, but there is no reason to think that the Steelers are anywhere near that position yet. They haven’t fired a coach since the late 1960s, after all.
They stuck with Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher through worse stretches than Tomlin has had. In the case of the former, that was after he had already won four Super Bowls. For the latter, the Super Bowl finally came toward the end of his coaching career.