One of Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s strengths is his oratory acumen, an obviously important quality in a leader. In such a role, you are tasked with making people believe in things they might not otherwise believe, about their own abilities and capabilities, and about the collective capabilities as well, creating a whole stronger than its parts.
That sort of belief fostered might also get somebody to stick around longer than intended. It wouldn’t be the first time it happened. We know that Tomlin talked former wide receivers coach Richard Mann out of retirement—and then talked him out of retiring again for at least one or two years before he actually did so.
According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tomlin also convinced former defensive coordinator Keith Butler to stick around for one more season in the hopes of chasing one last Super Bowl title, after expressing intentions to retire.
“I stayed this extra year because Ben [Roethlisberger] stayed and I thought we had a chance to win a Super Bowl or at least get into a Super Bowl”, the 66-year-old told Dulac for the paper. “But we weren’t quite good enough. Kansas City was faster than we were. We weren’t going to make it”.
Many pundits had the Steelers not only missing the postseason this year, but even posting a losing record. Instead, they went 9-7-1 in spite of major losses on both sides of the ball, including in-season injuries, and squeaked into the playoffs, even if they were quickly and unceremoniously bounced out by the Chiefs.
The Steelers’ defense had its worst season under Butler as defensive coordinator, who inherited the role from Dick LeBeau in 2015. They finished ranked 20th in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed. They ranked in the top six in yards in each of the four prior seasons, and in the top seven in points allowed in three of the four.
A longtime linebackers coach, he inherited a very shaky defensive unit from LeBeau that was showing its age, both in personnel and scheme. It took a couple of years of doing, but the defense emerged into a respectable unit really starting in 2017, with additions like T.J. Watt and Joe Haden.
Adding Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2019 was another big change. Devin Bush was supposed to be, but at this point, he might be lucky to even make the 53-man roster in 2022. It’s unclear exactly where this unit stands heading into next season.
Reports are that the Steelers intend to promote Teryl Austin to the role of defensive coordinator, a job he has held in other cities, but that Tomlin will retain his usual very heavy thumbprint on the unit. Butler’s comments in retirement were the first public acknowledgement that Tomlin handles almost all of the in-game play-calling responsibilities—Dulac reporting that this has been the case since the later years of the LeBeau era.