Cook: Priority for Steelers should be to extend Tomlin's contract


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There has been much angst about Mike Wallace's future with the Steelers. Will he sign his one-year tender for $2,742,000 and report to training camp next month? Will he hold out and continue to try to negotiate a long-term contract? Will he be a disgruntled, disruptive player all season if he ends up having to sign the tender?

All are fair questions.

The angst is legitimate, although the belief here is that Wallace will report to Latrobe on time. He has no other option. He also will have a great season, either because of his peace of mind with a new multi-year contract or because he is smart enough to realize he has to have a great season to get the big money next year as an unrestricted free agent.

But Wallace isn't the most significant man the Steelers need to re-sign this summer.

That would be coach Mike Tomlin.

Keeping Tomlin for the long haul is much more important to the team's future.

According to Steelers.com, Tomlin is signed through this season with a club option for 2013. Traditionally, this is the time when the team does a new deal with the coach. It seems likely there will be an announcement -- quietly, of course, with no fanfare -- of an extension for Tomlin before camp. But if it doesn't happen before the start of the season in September, it will be reason for great concern. Bill Cowher led the Steelers to a win in Super Bowl XL after the 2005 season but didn't get an extension that offseason when he had two years left on his contract. After coaching the team in '06, he was gone.

What a shame it would be if Tomlin left.

The Steelers and Tomlin belong together. The Rooneys love continuity with their coach. That's why they stuck with Cowher for 15 seasons and Chuck Noll for 23 seasons, even through hard times. Tomlin has done a fabulous job for the franchise in his first five seasons, leading the team to two Super Bowls, including a win in Super Bowl XLIII. Yes, the Steelers were Tebowed by the Denver Broncos as heavy favorites in the first round of the playoffs last season, but that sort of thing happens to the best of teams and coaches occasionally. Tomlin still deserves an extension with a big pay raise, based on his body of work. But it's a two-way street. Tomlin has to realize he's working for the best, most stable, most understanding owners in sports. He should want to do a new deal and stay here for a long time. Here's hoping that's exactly what happens.

There's just one thing that could end this happy marriage ...

No, not Todd Haley.

The way the Steelers handled their change of offensive coordinators this offseason was filled with intrigue. Bruce Arians was forced out by president Art Rooney II against Tomlin's wishes. Tomlin said it was his decision to hire Haley for the job. There's no reason not to believe him. By all accounts, Haley has worked hard to earn the trust of Tomlin, the other coaches and the players. Everyone seems excited about the new offense's potential. Even Ben Roethlisberger has gone days without complaining about its complexities.

Tomlin couldn't have liked the way Rooney stepped in to ditch Arians, but you know what they say about the boss. He's the boss for a reason. You have to live with that fact, no matter how much you might hate it at times. Certainly, in this case, it's not a reason for Tomlin to give up what many consider to be the best coaching job in sports.

Now money?

That might be a different story.

The top NFL coaches are making a fortune these days. New England's Bill Belichick heads the list at $7.5 million per season, according to the May issue of Forbes Magazine. That's as it should be. Belichick has led the Patriots to wins in three Super Bowls and losses in two others.

The New York Giants' Tom Coughlin approached Belichick money when he signed a new three-year contract earlier this month. That, too, is deserved. The Giants won Super Bowl XLVI in February, their second championship under Coughlin.

Tomlin, who is making $5.75 million a year, according to Forbes Magazine, deserves to be on the next tier of coaches. Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins, Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams and Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks each make $7 million per year, the magazine reported. Shouldn't Tomlin be allowed in that very exclusive neighborhood? He's that good at what he does.

It will be interesting to see if the Rooneys pay that much for a coach. It's believed they didn't meet Cowher's price after that 2005 Super Bowl season, even though his exit was said to be for family reasons. He still might be coaching here if the team had stepped up to pay him.

As for Tomlin?

Letting him get away simply can't be an option.

roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published June 19, 2012 4:00 AM


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