Nobody can accuse Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin of winning with Bill Cowher’s players this year. They certainly also can’t claim that he is underachieving, despite having a good amount of success, relative to the talent on the roster. The 13th-year head coach has the Steelers at 8-5 after starting 1-4 amid great adversity and a brutal schedule, going 7-1 in the past two months.
And who is responsible for this?
“Coach Tomlin is the major role behind all of this turnaround”, fifth-year outside linebacker Bud Dupree told the team’s website. “He kept us afloat the whole time, kept our head above water, even when we almost drown. There are so many words you can say about Coach Tomlin in this situation, making it happen the way he did”.
While he isn’t the frontrunner, the Steelers’ recent success—including victories in their past three—has seen Tomlin’s name come up in Coach of the Year discussions. I wouldn’t expect it to happen, but I would also argue that his coaching performance hasn’t necessarily substantially differed from years past, simply because the cast had changed.
Either way, the point is the team is where they are, from where they’ve been, not just because of their talent but because of their attitude toward their situation, and a lot of that falls back to the leadership of the head coaching position. “Nothing ever changed inside this locker room”, Dupree said.
“Like Coach Tomlin said, we never blinked. We kept going the whole time”, he added. “There are a lot of tight knit guys, guys that care about each other, guys that care about each other’s family, not just as a football player, but a person on and off the field. We are friends on this team. It’s the whole locker room”.
And that hasn’t been just about people having known each other for a long time. Guys like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Nick Vannett, Kerrith Whyte, and Deon Cain, all added to the organization in the middle of the season, have been welcomed and embraced with open arms.
“It was about the camaraderie”, said second-year wide receiver James Washington about how the locker room held itself together amid the adversity of the early portions of the season through injury and defeat. “We are all brothers. Everyone on this team is close. Everyone is confident. We all have a feel for each other, I can attest to that”.
They have been able to transform themselves into one of the hottest teams in football, led by an impact defense that has more sacks and more takeaways than anybody else in the league, and an offense able to make just enough plays to keep their opponents at bay.