Bill Cowher once had three straight non-playoff seasons yet retained his job as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and later won a Super Bowl. In six seasons as Cowher’s replacement, Mike Tomlin has made the playoffs four times and has advanced to two Super Bowls, winning one.
What Cowher and Tomlin have in common though are tough, ‘never-should-have-happened’ losses in the playoffs. For Cowher, he was able to persevere and eventually get the Super Bowl title that had eluded him for so long. In Tomlin’s case, he won a title in just his second year and that is where things begin to change between the two head coaches.
It’s arguable that both men inherited good talent when they took over the Steelers although I will always believe Tomlin’s was a little better. But now the real test begins in earnest for Mike Tomlin and that is to replace aging and over-priced veterans with young talent that can produce immediately.
I’m not suggesting that another playoff-less season will mean the end of Tomlin’s career in Pittsburgh, but I am suggesting the pressure is much more intense now than it was during Cowher’s three-year hiatus from post-season play.
Why you may ask?
1. The team’s arch-rival just won the Super Bowl. As pissed as everyone in Steelers’ Country is that the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl, think of how close they were to it potentially being a repeat. They were within a dropped pass and shank-ed field goal of playing in the big game last year.
Mike Tomlin cannot afford to play second fiddle to the Ravens and he knows he it and the organization knows it. Ya, so the team split with them in the regular season this year after being swept in 2011. That’s 1-3 and a Super Bowl victory in favor of the Ravens. This is a ‘what did you do for me lately?’ type of league.
2. The last two playoff games the Steelers have been in were complete disasters. Think of how poorly the Steelers played in Super Bowl Super Bowl XLV and then in Denver where they were beaten by Tim Freaking Tebow.
The sloppiness on both offense and defense continued in 2012 and plagued them at crucial times. That, along with too many penalties on special teams and poor discipline, falls directly on the head coach. This must get corrected.
3. This draft has to be a good one. If you look back on what was such a promising 2012 draft for the Steelers, their first (DeCastro), second (Adams) and third (Spence) round guys all dealt with injury. Their fourth (Ta”Amu) and fifth round picks (Rainey) are in essence a wash, but they did get production from two of their four seventh rounders in David Paulson and Kelvin Beachum. You should not rely on 7th round picks the way the Steelers did.
This means quite simply for Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert for that matter, that this draft has to be filled with guys that can contribute. You can’t always do anything about injuries, but Colbert and Tomlin are due for a good, overall draft anyway.
Over the last five drafts, the Steelers have only selected a handful of starters and missed more often than they’ve been successful.
Again, Mike Tomlin is a very good football coach who does far more well than he does poorly, but that doesn’t mean the pressure isn’t on for next year. Coaching in the NFL is far more than just X’s and O’s these days. You must know talent and be able to develop that talent quickly and no one knows it more than Mike Tomlin.