You can’t go very far into a conversation about the Pittsburgh Steelers, especially its current state, without getting onto the subject of Mike Tomlin. After all, he has been the head coach for the past 16 seasons with no signs of stopping any time soon, either on his part or the part off the organization.
He’s inextricably linked with the Steelers’ present, for better or worse. Even most who want to see him fired have come to accept that. Pittsburgh’s Cameron Heyward, however, still thinks Tomlin gets overlooked locally.
“When you look at him and what he’s done, I think the fans, we’re way too close to appreciate him”, he said earlier this offseason on the Minus Three podcast. “Everybody thinks you win a Super Bowl every year. And we would love that, don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t happen”.
Tomlin does have one Super Bowl trophy, which he won in his second season, becoming the youngest head coach in history to win it. He brought his team back to the championship game in 2010 but hasn’t advanced further than the conference finals since then, returning to the AFC Championship Game last in 2016—also the last time he’s won a postseason game.
The Steelers did not qualify for the playoffs in 2022, though they did come close. After posting a 2-6 record in the first half of the season, they finished 7-2, but they still needed help entering the final week of the season to advance. They did what they needed to do but did not get the help they needed.
Tomlin has long had a reputation as a delegator, at least when the team was having more success. Since the organization’s downturn, many have been more charitable in their willingness to credit him with being responsible for the outcomes. But whether or not it’s fair, it’s also true.
“He has his fingerprints on everything. I know he’s got the defensive background, but he was a wide receiver in college, and we like to give him hell about his wide receiver days”, Heyward said. “When you look at what Mike T does, he breaks things down for so many different people. He finds out what you need”.
While it is true in some cases that those who are closest to the team—namely, fans and the local media—may overlook some of the things that Tomlin actually brings to the table, it’s also become a well-worn argument. Yes, he gets more of a pass from the national media, and it’s true that he wouldn’t be unemployed without a contract offer for more than five seconds, but there should never be a shield for valid criticism.
Can Tomlin forge a successful second chapter as head coach with a new quarterback in Kenny Pickett? There is still a lot of room to continue to define, or perhaps refine his legacy. Many will argue that his resume is already that of a borderline Hall of Famer, but how much better would it look with another title? Even a few more postseason wins? It has been a while.