2022 Offseason Questions: What Does Tomlin’s Recent Playoff Record Say About His Near Future?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.

This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others.

Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor is heading into free agency, as is Trai Turner.

These are the sorts of topics among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: What does Mike Tomlin’s recent playoff record say about his immediate future?

Since the dawn of the modern era with the NFL-AFL merger, the Steelers never went five straight seasons without winning at least one playoff game. Not even during the lean years of Chuck Noll’s tenure did they wallow that long in irrelevance. That is until the back third of Mike Tomlin’s career.

The Steelers’ last postseason victory was in 2016, winning in the first two rounds before getting blown out in the conference finals. A two seed the following year in 2017, they were, again, eliminated in embarrassing fashion after a bye week. Missing the postseason in two straight years, they returned without a vengeance in 2020, digging a 28-0 first-quarter hole. After barely squeaking into the dance this past season, they were appropriately discarded at the earliest possible convenience, suffering their third-worst-ever postseason defeat (tied) by 21 points.

The Steelers are a notoriously stay-the-course organization, and Tomlin remains well-regarded not just in the building but around the league. But what if he goes another three seasons—through the life of his current contract—without another postseason win?

Obviously, we’re at the stage of his career at which he can retire at any point and it wouldn’t be a shock (he will turn 50 next month and has of course already been at it for 15 years). But there are no indications that he can’t coach another 15 years. Yet if he keeps coming short of the mark, failing to even record a postseason win, how much more can the ownership take before making a change?

He’s certainly not the first notable and well-respected coach to go through a five-year dry spell, but there are few organizations who have standards that can rival the Steelers. There has to be a line somewhere where the results speak at the end of the day. Where is the line?

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