Last night was a pretty big one for the Pittsburgh Steelers, well-represented among the honorees at the Dapper Dan Awards. Not only did Cameron Heyward win the Sportsman of the Year Award, head coach Mike Tomlin was also honored, the recipient of the Freddie Fu Leadership Award.
This was the second time during his tenure in Pittsburgh to have been honored by the Dapper Dan Awards, having previously won the Sportsman of the Year Award himself. Now, more than a dozen years into his stay in the Steel City, there is one prevailing insight into his time spent here.
“The longer you’re in a place in our business, you really get an opportunity to gain real perspective. The perspective that I’ve gained over the 13 years here is just one of extreme appreciation”, he said at the award dinner last night.
Tomlin was named the Steelers’ head coach in 2007 after Bill Cowher, a 2020 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, opted to resign. He has stuck onboard for 13 seasons and counting since then, winning one Super Bowl, participating in two, and reaching the AFC Championship Game three times, with six division titles and eight playoff appearances.
His teams, however, are on a two-year playoff drought, and have now gone three seasons without a win in the postseason after going one-and-done in the Divisional Round loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017. They went 13-3 during the regular season that year and earned a first-round bye.
Last season, the Steelers limped to a 8-8 finish after losing their final three games. They were 8-5 and in a position to reach the playoffs with games against the Buffalo Bills, the New York Jets, and the Baltimore Ravens.
They lost all three, in no small part because they were without Ben Roethlisberger for nearly the entire season, and his replacements—first Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges—proved at least for the time to be inadequate.
Nevertheless, Tomlin’s leadership skills were praised throughout, particularly during the team’s 7-1 midseason run that had some whispering his name in the conversation for coach of the year award. That talk died down after they lost their final three games, of course, with the offense unable to do much of anything.
Still, with the rise of the defense last season, there is optimism in Pittsburgh for 2020, with Roethlisberger on-schedule to return after undergoing surgery to repair an injured elbow that cost him all but six quarters a year ago.