The 2017 Season will be Mike Tomlin’s 11th as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With his decade at the helm, he is currently the fifth-longest tenured coach in the NFL. Only Bill Belichick, Marvin Lewis, Mike McCarthy, and Sean Payton have been in their respective positions longer than Tomlin. As we count down the days until the start of Training Camp and the start of the 2017 season, we’re taking a look back at Mike Tomlin’s 10 year tenure as Steelers head coach. The “10 For Tomlin” series will be 10 posts each featuring 10 items from the past decade. We started by looking at key statistics and recapping the best games and worst games. We looked at the player-personnel side with the best draft picks and best free agents. We also took a look at some of our favorite reactions. Today’s focus is on the men who have assisted in the development of players and schemes for the Steelers – Tomlin’s assistant coaches.
10. Ray Horton
Defensive Backs (2004-2010)
Ray Horton was the Steelers defensive backs coach for much of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor’s careers. The best years of the Steelers secondary came with Horton as the defensive backs coach. After the 2010 Super Bowl run he parlayed that success and the pedigree of being a Dick LeBeau disciple into a defensive coordinator position in Arizona. He lasted only two years in Pittsburgh West and has bounced between Cleveland and Tennessee since then.
9. Randy Fictner
Wide Receiver (2007-09)/Quarterbacks (2010-present)
Fictner was hired as the Wide Receivers coach at the start of Mike Tomlin’s tenure. Under his tutelage, Santonio Holmes blossomed into a high caliber NFL receiver with multiple 1000-yard seasons. Since he was promoted to Quarterbacks coach in 2010, Ben Roethlisberger put together some of the best seasons of his career, including leading the league in passing in 2014.
8. Bruce Arians
Offensive Coordinator (2007-2011)
Arians might be the most over-rated coach in Steelers history. He had the benefit of being a medicore offensive coach on teams with some of the best defenses in the league. In his tenure as offensive coordinator, the Steelers averaged 346 yards per game and 22.6 points per game. Ben was sacked at a league-high rate. That said, the offense did perform well enough to win a Super Bowl and reach another during Arians’ tenure. Though Arians is still unhappy about the way his time here ended, it was ultimately for the best as the offense has improved significantly under Todd Haley.
7. James Saxon
Running Backs (2014-present)
Saxon’s arrival corresponded with Le’Veon Bell’s breakout in 2014. After Bell’s rookie year in 2014, the Steelers and Vikings swapped running backs coaches with Kirby Wilson going to Minnesota and Saxon coming to Pittsburgh. Saxon’s tenure in Minnesota corresponded with Adrian Peterson’s league MVP season and he has helped take Le’Veon Bell’s game to the next level.
6. Keith Butler
Linebackers (2003-14)/Defensive Coordinator (2015-present)
Butler was the linebackers coach during the time when James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were racking up double-digit sacks and Harrison won a Defensive Player of the Year award. He also oversaw the development of Lawrence Timmons and incorporated James Farrior and Larry Foote into the defense. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2015 with the departure of Dick LeBeau. While the defense struggled at times with fundamentals like tackling, he also found ways to generate sacks and pressures without having an all-world pass rusher. The Steelers have finished in the Top 10 in the league in sacks in each of the last two seasons without a single player recording more than 8 sacks in a season. Butler has been able to schematically create pressure, which speaks to his abilities as a coordinator and willingness to make adjustments when things aren’t working.
5. Richard Mann
Wide Receivers (2013-2017)
The Steelers hired Richard Mann, who grew up in Aliquippa, in 2013. Since then, Antonio Brown has blossomed as a receiver and shattered Hines Ward’s single-season records in yards and receptions. Mann has helped Brown grow into one of the best receivers in the league while also continually developing young talent to keep the Steelers receiving corps as one of the deepest units in the league. Even last season, when Martavis Bryant was suspended and Markus Wheaton was injured, guys like Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers were able to step in and make timely plays. That speaks to Mann’s teaching ability and his work up and down the depth chart.
4. John Mitchell
Defensive Line/Assistant Head Coach (1994-present)
Mitchell has been an institution on the Steelers sideline. During his time as defensive line coach, players like Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, and Brett Keisel have blossomed into dominant forces. While the Steelers 3-4 scheme does not provide many opportunities for defensive linemen to make plays, their role is essential to the rest of the defense being able to function. Mitchell has also overseen the Steelers recent reniassance in quality defensive linemen with Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Javon Hargrave.
3. Todd Haley
Offensive Coordinator (2012-present)
Haley’s arrival did not immediately produce a dramatic shift in the offense, but over time his units have proven more effective than his predecessors. Tomlin’s 10-year tenure has featured two offensive coordinators, each for 5 seasons. In that span, Haley’s offenses out-performed Arians’ by 2.1 points per game and 24 yards per game. Additionally, one of the reasons the Steelers made the change was to help protect Ben Roethlisberger. Under Arians, Ben averaged 43 sacks per season (about 2.9 per game). Under Haley that number dropped significantly to 28 per season and an average of 2 per game. The passing game has also improved with Ben averaging 4047 yards and 27 TDs per season, up from 3612 yards and 23 TDs per year under Arians.
2. Mike Munchak
Offensive Line (2014-present)
Part of the success Todd Haley had in reducing Ben’s sack numbers was in the play-calling. But another huge part of the Steelers transformation as an offense was the play of the offensive line. The group had been largely ignored during the beginning of Tomlin’s tenure. That changed in 2010 when the Steelers started using high draft picks on offensive linemen. With the selections of Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro, and Mike Adams in the first and second rounds of their drafts as well as the blossoming of late-round pick Kelvin Beachum and undrafted free agent Ramon Foster, the Steelers line dramatically improved under Munchak. The Steelers now have one of the best lines in the league, not just in pass protection but also in the run game as they have sprung Le’Veon Bell to record-breaking outings.
1. Dick LeBeau
Defensive Coordinator (2004-2014)
LeBeau’s tenure in Pittsburgh featured two Super Bowl titles and three AFC Championships. His defenses finished #1 in the league in total defense 5 times and #1 in scoring defense 4 times. From 2004-2011 the Steelers defense never finished outside the Top 10 in the league in total defense and finished outside the Top 5 only once. The defense slipped over the last two years of LeBeau’s tenure as some of the veteran stalwarts began to age and decrease in effectiveness. Nevertheless, that does not diminish his accomplishments as an assistant coach and coordinator that led one of the best units in the league during Tomlin’s tenure. In Tomlin’s first six years as head coach, LeBeau’s defenses were the best in the league in total defense 4 times, second once, and fifth once. In scoring defense they were first in the league three times and second once during that time span. “Coach Dad” was an incredible asset to the team and was a key contributor to the Steelers two AFC titles and one Super Bowl victory during Tomlin’s reign.