Paul Zeise: Mike Tomlin is a good coach, but calling him 'great' is a stretch
December 27, 2016 12:17 PM
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin speaks to reporters Dec. 6 on the South Side.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Many dumb theories are floated about sports every day, but few I can remember are dumber than this idea that the Steelers beat the Ravens Sunday in part because they were extra motivated to prove Mike Tomlin is really a great coach.
You see, that punch-drunk sounding “get off my lawn” old fogey and meanie Terry Bradshaw had the audacity to question Tomlin’s greatness, and this was the Steelers way of shutting him up.
And if you believe that, I have the deed to the Fort Duquesne Bridge, and I would like to sell it to you very cheap.
Give me a break, will you?
You want to know why the Steelers beat the Ravens on Sunday? It’s simple. The three best players on the field — by a lot, I might add — all wore black and gold and all played like the superstars they are in the fourth quarter.
You want to know why the Steelers almost lost to the Ravens Sunday? For three quarters, two of those three superstars were in shackles and held back by a coaching staff who didn’t learn a thing from the first Ravens-Steelers game and came out with a conservative game plan yet again. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown were held in check far more by their own coaches for three quarters than anything the Ravens defense was doing and/or could have done.
I get it. Any time someone wants to criticize one of our own — in this case Tomlin — there seems to be this incessant need among a certain segment to run to defend his honor.
And that would be OK if it didn’t involve all of the “way over the top, let’s suspend our brains and become delusional” stuff that usually comes along with it.
Bradshaw’s comments last week about Tomlin being a “cheerleader guy” were way over the top the other way, but this outrage because he said Tomlin isn’t a great coach is ridiculous.
I know all about Tomlin’s record, his 10-win seasons and his Super Bowl, but numbers without context are meaningless.
Tomlin has to be judged on a different scale and with a different curve than most coaches of the past, say, 35 years, because he has never had to coach even one season without an elite/Hall of Fame-level quarterback.
That fact has to be a part of any discussion of his record versus other guys, and I’d say the same thing about Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy.
Tomlin stepped into a team that had Roethlisberger entering his prime — and with a Super Bowl trophy under his belt — and one of the best defenses in football pretty much in place.
So while “Tomlin won with Cowher’s players” is not completely fair, it is also not inaccurate. The Steelers that Tomlin inherited had won a Super Bowl two years before he arrived and still had most of the key players from that team well within their prime.
And the flip side of “but Cowher didn’t even win with Cowher’s players” is downright dumb, too, as it completely ignores facts and reality.
“Cowhers players” were 26-6 and got to an AFC Championship game in 2004 and won the Super Bowl in 2005.
Then in 2006, Roethlisberger was involved in a motorcycle accident, had an emergency appendectomy right before the season, and in the sixth game against Atlanta suffered a concussion.
Roethliberger was never healthy that season, and it is not a coincidence he had his worst season — 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions — marking the only time he had more interceptions than touchdowns and only time he’s thrown more than 20 interceptions.
That’s a huge reason they went 8-8, but the next season, with Tomlin as coach and a healthy Roethlisberger, they went 10-6 and went back to the playoffs.
I’m not saying Tomlin isn’t a good coach. He is a very good coach and has done a good job.
But he hasn’t been great — a word we throw out way too easily — given what he inherited and given the fact that he has had Roethlisberger his entire career.
He has a pedestrian 6-5 record in the playoffs — and five of those six wins came in the two Super Bowl seasons — and he has had only one of those playoff wins in the past five seasons.
And yeah, the Steelers had to rebuild their defense when all the Super Bowl guys Tomlin inherited got old, but you know why it took so long? Take a look at Tomlin’s drafts from 2008-10.
This doesn’t mean Tomlin can’t become a coach worthy of the “great” label, but he needs to win at least another Super Bowl, and it wouldn’t hurt if he had a run of successful seasons after Roethlisberger is gone.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.