It was only a little over a month or so ago that talk began to mount about Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin being a strong candidate to win his first coach of the year award. At that point, his team has become among the hottest in the league, going 7-1 in their last eight games following a 1-4 start to the season.
They then, of course, lost their final three games, their control of their playoff destiny, and then ultimately a spot in the playoffs altogether. It’s the second season in a row in which they started off slow, became one of the hottest teams in the league, and then bottomed out late to miss the postseason.
The process occurred in a very different way this year, however, because of Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, which shapes and colors every single aspect of the story of the Steelers’ 2019 season. That was something Art Rooney II acknowledged in discussing Tomlin’s performance.
“Well it is a hard season to evaluate, because of all the changes and guys in and out, pulling guys off practice squads, so it’s hard to assess”, he told Missi Matthews. “But the bottom line was, through all of that, we had a chance to be in the playoffs, and so it’s just too bad we couldn’t finish the job there the last couple weeks”.
Nevertheless, he wasn’t slow to offer praise for his head coach of 13 years. “No question Mike did a great job”, he told local reporters. “I think one of the head coach’s biggest jobs is to keep the team focused, keep the team fighting through adversity. We certainly had more than our share of it to fight through this year. I think being able to do that starts with your head coach and some of the leadership we have on this team”.
More than in any other recent season, I believe, the players in the locker room have really stepped up and gone to bat for Tomlin to make sure people know just how big a role he plays day in and day out in keeping the team together.
Perhaps that has something to do with people like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell being gone from the locker room. Maybe it’s just because they had so many significant injuries to deal with over the course of the year and had to win games with an undrafted rookie.
Whatever it is, something felt different this year about the bond within the team, and the players themselves have credited Tomlin with fostering that. Tomlin is under contract for 2020 with an option year for 2021. It’s unknown if that option is to be picked up this year or next year.