For a team and an organization that has been as successful as the Pittsburgh Steelers have, how could a .500 season without a trip to the playoffs be regarded as among the best coaching jobs that one of the team’s best coaches in their history has ever had? That is the argument being posited by Bill Cowher of Mike Tomlin’s 2019 season, from one great coach to another.
Cowher, fresh off being named a member of the 2020 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has now long worked in broadcasting since he resigned as head coach of the team in 2007, ever since which, Tomlin has been steering the ship.
In that time, he has four seasons of 12-4 or better, including 13-3 in 2016. He has eight 10-win seasons or better, eight trips to the postseason, six division titles, three appearances in the conference finals, two trips to the Super Bowl, one Lombardi trophy, and, sadly, no partridge for the pear tree.
With all that, many have been impressed by the work that he has done in 2019, even with the team going 8-8, a narrative unfortunately muddled by their 0-3 finish. He was being named a candidate for coach of the year prior to that finish.
Said Cowher, via Kevin Gorman, “what you saw this year was him being able to take a team and be resourceful enough to change the identity from offense to defense and find a way each week to do just enough to win. To take that team, with all the injuries that they had, to be in the fight until Week 17, speaks volumes about him as a coach”.
With three games left to play, the Steelers had the Buffalo Bills, the New York Jets, and the Baltimore Ravens to face. All proved to be tough tasks, and losses. The defense did its part in those games, but the Devlin Hodges-led offense was stymied. Still, that should not dampen the enthusiasm for the overall work he did in 2019.
“Those guys believed in him. Those guys would go through a brick wall for him”, Cowher said. “That’s what you ask for when you have a head coach: Do players believe in him? Is he a leader of men? I don’t think there’s any question that Mike Tomlin is a leader of men”.
Not a cheerleader.
“Mike’s a very good football coach. This is one of his better jobs. He’ll never admit that, but I think it is”, he said. Cowher did admit that his 2000 season, his third of three consecutive non-playoffs seasons, was one of his best coaching jobs. I doubt he said that at the time.
Perhaps in 15 years when Tomlin is being considered for the Hall of Fame, he’ll be able to look back at this .500, non-playoff season and review it in a different light. For now, I’m sure he’s beating himself up and trying to figure out how to make sure they can do better in 2020.