Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is generally, though not universally, regarded as one of the best head coaches in the league. Sometimes you won’t even find him inside of the top 10 of a list ranking each head coach in the NFL. Sometimes such a list is posted on a Monday morning such as this.
And usually it’s from Pro Football Focus. This is one of those Mondays. This is one of those Pro Football Focus articles. In a list compiled by Conor McQuiston, Tomlin ended up placing 13th, the final coach listed in the ‘Good’ Tier before we get to ‘Average’ coaches. He writes:
If this list were to consider how well a coach manages a team off the gridiron, Tomlin would undoubtedly be in the top tier. His defenses have been consistently strong, but he suffers in these rankings due to having one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL throughout his head coach tenure lead his offense without consistently elite results.
To offer some modest defense of Tomlin’s recent offenses, the last three years have not been representative of the norm, and they had a top-10 offense, typically, through much of the 2010s. Ben Roethlisberger tore apart his elbow in 2019, just a year after throwing for over 5,000 yards and setting a franchise record in touchdown passes, and for obvious reasons, he wasn’t the same since.
Yet Tomlin somehow managed to get an offense led by a noodle-armed Roethlisberger in 2020 to perform well enough within the overall team effort to go 12-4 on the season. Yes, they embarrassed their way out of the playoffs, and Roethlisberger looked like he was hanging on by a thread by the time they got to that point, with defenses already having adjusted to their modified approach. But 12 wins is 12 wins.
I don’t necessarily think a player’s salary is the greatest barometer for what a head coach should expect to get out of that player. It’s the front office that makes the contracts. Nobody thought Roethlisberger was a top-10 quarterback the past two years, so Tomlin shouldn’t expect to be able to get top-10 play out of him.
As for the rest of the list, it’s helmed by Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, and Andy Reid making up the three-person ‘Hall of Fame’ Tier. The next 10 coaches all fall into the good, led by Kliff Kingsbury, Pete Carroll, Matt LaFleur, Kyle Shanahan, Mike Vrabel, Frank Reich, Mike McCarthy, Sean McVay somehow all the way at 11, and then Brandon Staley.
Given that top 11 ahead of Tomlin, where would you put him? Would he still be at 13? Would you juggle a few? I’m still not sure what the logic is in putting McVay all the way at 11, but I think cases could be made for a good chunk of the back half of this list. And I think we’ll know a lot more about Tomlin as a head coach after this season.