Fire Tomlin? Be careful for what you wish

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The knee-jerk reaction of some fans to any downturn in the success of the team they root for is to fire the coach/manager and/or fire the general manager. In some cases, the Tampa Bay Bucs, for example, that response might be understandable.

But when that kind of talk focuses around the Steelers, it makes no sense.

Mike Tomlin is in his seventh season as coach of the Steelers. During his first six full seasons, he not only never had a losing record, but he went to the playoffs four times, to the Super Bowl twice and won the Super Bowl once.

And spare me the nonsense that he did it with another man’s players. He did it with his team and that’s all that can be asked of a coach. If in-game coaching strategy is important, and the comment sections after every loss indicates that it is, then Tomlin deserves quite a bit credit for the successes of his teams. Just as he deserves blame for the lack of success of this team.

The notion that general manager Kevin Colbert should be fired is even more ridiculous. Since becoming GM in 2000, Colbert has built highly successful rosters that have gone to three Super Bowls and won two of them.

Does anyone seriously believe the Steelers definitely are going to find better men at their jobs than Tomlin and Colbert?

Remember the almost universal demand that Bruce Arians be fired as offensive coordinator? How has that worked out?

The next eight paragraphs are taken from a column I wrote for the Post-Gazette almost a decade ago in response to some unhappiness about the work of Bill Cowher. I repeat it now because it proves the same point it did in the July, 2004. Here it is with some of the coaching records updated:

"Hasn't anyone noticed the massive level of failure among newly hired NFL coaches? Firing Cowher would put the Steelers back into the mix to hire another of those incompetents.

As much as some might think there is, there's no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to NFL coaching success. Brilliant young coordinators fail. College coaches with massive success fail. Longtime assistants, who wait their turn, fail. Even Super Bowl winners fail.

Here's a list of NFL coaches, hired in the 1990s from different backgrounds, who appeared to be just the right man but were not.

Defensive coordinators: Gregg Williams (17-31 at Buffalo); Buddy Ryan (12-20 at Arizona); Ray Rhodes (30-36 at Philadelphia, 8-8 at Green Bay); Jim Haslett (45-51 at New Orleans, 2-10 at St. Louis).

Offensive coordinators: Chris Palmer (5-27 at Cleveland), Lindy Infante (12-25 at Indianapolis); Kevin Gilbride (6-16 at San Diego); June Jones (19-30 at Atlanta, 3-7 at San Diego); Mike White (15-17 at Oakland).

College coaches: Florida's Steve Spurrier (12-20 at Washington); Miami's Butch Davis (24-35 at Cleveland); Syracuse's Dick MacPherson (8-24 at New England); Oregon's Rich Brooks (13-19 with the Rams); Miami's Dennis Erickson (31-33 with Seattle, 9-23 at San Francisco).

Older NFL assistants in their first job: Dick LeBeau (12-33 at Cincinnati); Gunther Cunningham (16-16 at Kansas City); Rod Rust (1-15 at New England); Joe Bugel (20-44 at Arizona); Ray Handley (14-18 with the Giants); Richie Petitbon (4-12 at Washington).

Super Bowl winners: Mike Ditka (15-33 at New Orleans); George Seifert (16-32 at Carolina); Tom Flores (14-34 at Seattle) Dick Vermeil (44-36 at Kansas City); Mike Holmgren (86-74 at Seattle)."

Let’s suppose for a minute that Spurrier never had his ill-fated stint with the Redskins and was known strictly as one of the great college coaches of recent times (214-79-2). Imagine the celebration if at the end of this season he replaced Tomlin. And now remember what he did with the Redskins.

Haslett is another. He had the markings of an excellent head coach when he was the defensive coordinator for the Steelers. It did not work out for him.

Chuck Noll was 1-13 in his first season and 12-30 in his first three. Cowher was 22-26 from 1998-2000. How do you think those numbers would play with the Internet crowd today?

In Tomlin's past three full seasons, he is 32-16. To suggest a coach with that record should be fired based on a 2-5 record is insanity.

The Steelers have shown over the years that stability is important. They need only look next door at Pitt -- eight coaches in the past 32 years -- or north to Cleveland -- five this century -- to learn that musical chairs is not the answer.

But neither is lifetime security.

Tomlin has shown he can coach a high-caliber team. He went to the Super Bowl twice in three years. His teams posted three consecutive 12-4 records. That means something. But now he must be viewed in a different light.

How does he handle mediocre talent? How does he deal with young talent? How does he handle adversity?

Those are questions he will have to answer and, based on his previous accomplishments, he deserves ample time to prove his mettle. Tomlin is not going away -- nor should he.

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