I don’t believe there has ever been a season in which Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin has been more under fire than following a playoff miss in 2018 with a 9-6-1 record. Not even during the two seasons in which he went 8-8, the first of which consisted of a great start with an injury-plagued finish, the second with an awful start and a great finish.
2018? Awful start, great middle, awful finish. Tomlin went just 2-3 in December, and I’m just going to guess that’s his worst December record every. It’s rare that Tomlin teams have even lost more than one game in December before. But this time they played themselves out of a bye week, then out of the division, and then out of the playoffs altogether.
The 12-year veteran head coach’s abilities are being questioned from every angle, but most notably, people are wondering if the players are still listening to him in the locker room. Regarded as a ‘players’ coach’, there are certainly those who go to bat for him at every opportunity. But not all of them do.
In a recent chat session, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ray Fittipaldo suspected as much. In fielding a question about whether Tomlin’s two immediate predecessors had ever ‘had players quit on them’, he didn’t have an immediate answer (they had), but offered that it’s more difficult to coach personalities in this era.
“Players such as [Antonio Brown] who make $17 million a year know they hold the cards”, he wrote. “Do Brown and [James Harrison] make Tomlin look bad? Absolutely they do. I think it’s clear some players don’t have respect for him as a coach”.
Off the top of my head, I’m not sure which players—other than Brown—those might be, to be honest. All of the other veterans on the team have seemed to go to bat for him.
“I think the majority of the players in the locker room do respect him”, Fittipaldo went on. “Tomlin should have taken stronger stands with Harrison and Brown. You live and learn. A lot of people are watching to see how he and the organization handles the Brown situation going forward”.
Ain’t that the truth. That includes other teams who might be interested in trying to trade for Brown, one of the top players in the game, who don’t often become available. Whether or not he does remains to be seen, but the Steelers are likely motivated to do whatever they can to avoid moving him.
As for Fittipaldo’s observation that there are players who don’t respect him as a coach, I’m still coming up short. So many have gone on record to vouch for him under a variety of circumstances. Maybe somebody like Artie Burns would have a problem with him—but who would care about that?