A lot of people paint me as a Mike Tomlin apologist. This article is not going to change their opinion at all. But it’s a noteworthy milestone regardless, so it’s worth covering here on, you know, a website about the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While the 2018 season didn’t go as planned, Tomlin and company did managed to win nine (and a half) games. That’s below their standards but far from a bad record in and of itself. The nine wins was also enough for Tomlin to climb up to 125 wins over the course of this 12-year head-coaching career in the regular season.
That is the third-most victories by any coach in NFL history recorded through their first 12 seasons, trailing only Don Shula, who won 128 games from 1963 through 1974 (during the 14-game season era, no less) and Tony Dungy, whose first 12 seasons yielded 127 victories.
Had this year gone according to plan, Tomlin would have tied or surpassed both Shula and Dungy. He did not, which is why we are sitting here now writing about career milestones rather than the Steelers preparing to play host to the Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field at 1 PM tomorrow afternoon.
That sucks, to be sure. And the 2018 season was unquestionably a disappointment. But it’s rare for a team to reach the postseason in five straight years—even to post winning records in five straight years. This is a team that played in the AFC Championship Game in 2016 and won 13 games a year later. It’s not as though they’re picking in the top 10 in the NFL draft—which is what many critics would prefer.
For those looking for a conclusion to the Tomlin era, consider this: former Green Bay Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy is fifth on the list for the most victories in a head coach’s first 12 seasons with 121. 2018 was his 13th season, and he didn’t make it through the year—a surprising move for a franchise like Green Bay.
While Tomlin might not necessarily be in the proverbial ‘hot seat’ with the ownership right now—and to be clear, I don’t know for a fact that that is the case—I have no doubt that he is putting plenty of pressure on himself to right his ship and get back into position to compete for championships.
He seemed more conciliatory than usual on Wednesday in answering questions during his end of season press conference and expressed not just a willingness but an interest in making changes this offseason with an eye toward avoiding some of the issues that plagued the 2018 season.
Only time will tell if these changes take place, and if they are actually effective. This is and will always be a results-oriented business. As a full body of work, Tomlin’s results stack up will against just about anybody else currently in the league short of Bill Belichick, but that doesn’t mean that his appointment will be for life if things spiral further out of control. 125 wins or not.