The Steelers have ended speculation about Mike Tomlin's status as their coach by coming to an agreement with him on a three-year contract extension, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has learned.
Tomlin's new contract will carry him through 2014. His previous contract, signed when the Steelers hired him in '07, had one year and an option left. The five-year deal was worth an average of $2.5 million annually.
The Steelers have not yet announced Tomlin's new contract and financial terms were unavailable.
Steelers president Art Rooney, who negotiated the deal with his coach, is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
In similar circumstances, Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, with two years left on his first deal, signed an entirely new five-year contract in February that reportedly will pay him an annual average of between $5.5 million and $6 million.
In the past when the Steelers extended the contract of former coach Bill Cowher, the terms of the original deal would remain in place and the new salary would not kick in until the new extended portion of the contract began.
Whisenhunt was a candidate to replace Cowher, who resigned as Steelers coach after the 2006 season. Instead, Whisenhunt took Arizona's offer to become the Cardinals' head coach and the Steelers hired Tomlin.
Whisenhunt and Tomlin received virtually identical contracts of four years and an option year that averaged $2.5 million annually.
If Tomlin, 38, and the Steelers followed suit and negotiated a comparable contract again, it would be the highest contract the team has paid its head coach. For that to happen, however, an entirely new contract would have had to be done and it does not appear to have happened.
Tomlin's record as coach is 31-17 in three regular seasons.
Since Cowher succeeded Chuck Noll as their coach in 1992, the Steelers traditionally extended his contract whenever there were two years remaining on his old deal. Sometimes the extension would be for two years, others for three.
They did that until the sides could not come to terms before the 2006 season and Cowher resigned with one year left on his deal.
Often, those contract extensions came well before the start of training camp, and as Tomlin's fourth camp at Saint Vincent College approached its July 30 start with no news on a contract extension, speculation took hold as to whether the Steelers even wanted to negotiate one.
Tomlin's 2009 team failed to defend its Super Bowl title when, after a 6-2 start, it lost five in a row and tumbled to 9-7.
There were reports shortly after the season that Tomlin would fire offensive coordinator Bruce Arians at the behest of the front office.
While Tomlin did fire several coaches, he kept Arians. Tomlin and Art Rooney denied there were any pressure to fire Arians.
There also has been speculation about football operations director Kevin Colbert's status because he is in the final year of his contract and because of persistent Internet reports that he would team up with Cowher as general manager of another NFL team. Cowher has not coached since 2006 and has worked as a studio host for CBS's "NFL Today" since the '07 season.
Colbert is expected to receive a new contract as well.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com . First Published July 13, 2010 4:30 AM