Should the Pittsburgh Steelers lose on Monday night in Tampa Bay the season will not have been lost. Should they win, the season will not have been saved either. What this is though is a perfect analogy of just where Head Coach Mike Tomlin finds himself in 2018. He’s at a professional crossroads and as of this writing we don’t know where it will lead.
Tomlin’s tenure as the Steelers’ Head Coach has never been under more scrutiny. Even back-to-back 8-8 seasons didn’t see the level of hostility that has been aimed at him in recent days. “He’s lost control of the team. He’s lost the locker room. Players don’t respect him anymore. He won with Cowher’s players…” Sound familiar? It’s all stuff I’ve seen or heard more times than I can count. Some of it is accurate to a point.
The one argument I’ve seen a lot of fans use against Tomlin this week is that “Noll and Cowher would have never let this type of behavior happen.” This is incredibly laughable and it also means these fans are completely ignoring history. Ernie Holmes and Joey Porter are just two of the places to start. Besides, there isn’t a coach in the NFL who doesn’t have guys who screw up.
Whether it’s the behavior of players off the field or the actions of players on it, pundits and fans believe that Tomlin has let the ‘player’s coach’ mentality go way too far. He’s lost control and the play on the field is suffering because of it. His decision to not suspend Antonio Brown is a sign of his ‘weakness’ in many eyes and his personnel decisions reek of loyalty over common sense.
Perhaps Mike Tomlin has just worn out his welcome in Pittsburgh. Just because Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher were here for so long doesn’t mean he has to be right? Plenty of coaches have admitted that staying in the same place too long can have detrimental results. Heck even Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have had “relationship problems” in recent years. Maybe this is where Tomlin is and a change of scenery would be good for him and the organization.
For all of his accolades about never having a losing season, having gone to two Super Bowls and consistently putting competitive products on the field, we are in a “what have you done for me lately?” society. The short answer is nothing. Continued dominance by the Patriots, struggling against “lesser” teams and this most recent 3-3-1 stretch since Ryan Shazier was injured are doing nothing to help his case.
But what if this turns around? What if the Steelers get hot? What if the defense starts to click and the offense doesn’t skip a beat? What will the discussion be if this team wins the division and heads into the postseason as a two or three seed? Honestly the discussion won’t change much because the only way Mike Tomlin gets fans and pundits off his back is to get back to a Super Bowl. That’s the crossroads that Tomlin faces. There is little he can do to gain anyone’s confidence back while at the same time every future loss and future poor performance piles on him like one piano after another.
I don’t know if Tomlin’s situation chooses a path this Monday night in Florida or next week against the Ravens but his future is likely to be decided over the next few games. Three weeks ago I don’t think any of us thought it would be coming down to this but that’s pro football. It’s one crossroads after another, week after week.
Photo courtesy: nesn.com