No one should pay much attention to NFL exhibition games, particularly the fourth one. Still, the Steelers less-than-inspired showing Thursday night against the Carolina Panther at Heinz Field did nothing to raise expectations for the upcoming season, which begins in nine days, nor increase the level of respect that coach Mike Tomlin has among the fan base.
But if the love for Tomlin is not exactly over the top in certain segments of the SteelersNation, it's not that way at various other NFL outposts.
Mike Sando of ESPN.com went to 30 NFL insiders and asked them to rank, by tier, the league's 32 coaches. Included in Sando’s insiders were eight current general managers, four former GMs, four personnel directors, four executives, six coordinators and four position coaches. He asked them to rank the coaches in five tiers.
Not surprisingly, New England’s Bill Belichick came in first. Nor was it a great shock that Pete Carroll of the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks was second and Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints third. Belichick received 28 first-tier votes, Carroll 23 and Peyton 22. No one else has more than 12.
There were 11 coaches in the second tier and Tomlin was in that group. He was ranked sixth overall, tied with Mike McCarthy and behind Andy Reid and Tom Coughlin.
No doubt, some Steelers fans will disagree. Being disrespected by the fan base comes with the territory for Steelers coaches. It happened to Bill Cowher, despite opening his career with five straight playoff appearances, and it would have happened to Chuck Noll, if he coached in the Internet era.
I’ve always been troubled by the criticism heaped on Tomlin, which came loud and strong well before consecutive 8-8 seasons. It came, in fact, during his first four seasons when he took the Steelers to two Super Bowls and won one of them. Most of that, as stated, comes with the territory. Some of it, I believe, is racially motivated.
The preoccupation with Tomlin’s manner of speaking -- and I'm not talking about his overuse of the word 'obviously' -- is bizarre. No question, he has a unique manner of expressing himself. He does not, as some who don’t understand the meaning of the word, speak in cliches. He is not Coach Cliche. He is the opposite. He finds unusual ways to express himself and this really grates on a lot of people.
I’ve heard no one critical of Clint Hurdle, who also has a unique manner of speaking. Recently, for example, in describing the fact the Pirates were behind in a game, Hurdle said they were ‘underneath.’
Hurdle, who hasn’t had anything remotely resembling the success of Tomlin, is revered in Pittsburgh. Go figure!
Here from the Sando article, which is behind the ESPN.com pay wall, is what an NFL assistant said about Tomlin:
"For me, a definite 1 is Mike Tomlin. He has [the team's] attention, he can speak every language in the locker room, he is extremely accountable, he understands tradition at the place he is at -- he is one with his building.
''He has enthusiasm and energy that bleeds into everyone in the organization. They hired a coordinator he did not put his stamp on; but Haley is a good football coach, so Tomlin rolls with it. New offensive line coach, he rolls with it. He just keeps rolling."
A former GM said, ''"They were 2-6 last year and finished 8-8 -- that is what a good coach does.’’
Finishing behind Tomlin and McCarthy in Tier 2 -- ranked 8 to 14 -- were Jim Harbaugh, John Harbaugh, John Fox, Jeff Fisher, Chip Kelly, Bruce Arians, Lovie Smith and Marvin Lewis.
Tomlin was named in Tier 1 by nine insiders, Tier 2 by 19 and Tier 3 by two. No one ranked him below Tier 3.