Pittsburgh Steelers’ Team President Art Rooney II made some waves earlier Thursday when he declined to speak to giving head coach Mike Tomlin a contract extension this offseason. For a Steelers’ team that hasn’t won a playoff game in six seasons and just one AFC North Title over the last five, there’s certainly pressure for Pittsburgh to get back to their winning ways.
But despite all that, Rooney seemed to fully back Tomlin during a 1v1 conversation with Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews. Matthews asked Rooney to evaluate the job Tomlin’s done.
“I think the number one thing I look at in terms of the job that coach does is does the team get better over the course of the season,” Rooney said. “And we clearly did that. I don’t really evaluate Mike on anything other than I’m glad he’s our coach. Hopefully, he’ll be our coach into the future. I think he gives us a chance to win year in and year out. Put us in a position that we have a chance to compete for a championship.”
For those who think – or want – Mike Tomlin’s seat to be warm, Art Rooney just threw a bucket of cold water on it.
Frankly, Rooney’s comments earlier today are in-line with what he’s said over the years. The same headlines were written in 2019 when Rooney said “we’ll cross that bridge” in regards to a Tomlin extension, later clarifying he wasn’t unhappy with Tomlin’s job performance.
Despite Pittsburgh’s underwhelming finishes, there’s no indication the Steelers are even considering a coaching change. 2022 was a transitional year, the first without Ben Roethlisberger, and they had a young offense overall that suffered growing pains. Defensively, they played without T.J. Watt from Weeks 2 through 8. Once Kenny Pickett got comfortable and Watt returned, the Steelers found their groove, going 7-2 after the bye week and nearly making the playoffs. For all of Tomlin’s warts, he’s never lost the locker room and he’s able to keep guys buying in even when the season looks utterly lost.
At the least, Tomlin will be the Steelers’ head coach for two more years, his latest contract extension in 2021 running through the 2024 season. Based on what Rooney said, Tomlin will likely be in Pittsburgh for longer than that, probably as long as he wants to coach. He’s just 40 wins shy of surpassing Chuck Noll for the most in franchise history. An average of even just eight wins over the next five seasons will get him there, though hopefully, it comes sooner than that.
While Tomlin’s spot seems safe, there will be pressure to win in 2023. The Steelers have pieces in place, including their hopeful quarterback of the future. They’ll be in a difficult AFC North with three other teams who have first-rounders under center in an AFC that’s full of them. Every single AFC team who made the playoffs this year had a first-rounder at quarterback, most of which are considered franchise guys who will be with their team for the next 5+ years. For Pittsburgh, there is no such thing as “squeaking” into the playoffs. That spot will have to be earned.