There are quite a few reasons why Mike Tomlin should not be fired—and will not be—as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let me give you 10:
1. The Rooney family is sane.
2. The Rooney family reads the paper and hears the voice of the fan, but allows neither to dictate family business.
3. You don’t fire a head coach after a 13-4 season, unless the locker room is in flames.
4. You don’t fire a head coach after winning 48 games in four seasons, unless the locker room is in flames.
5. The locker room is not in flames.
6. The Steelers have made their living, and built their success over the past half-century, on stability. The three head coaches in the past 49 seasons have lasted, in order, 23 years (Chuck Noll), 15 (Bill Cowher) and 11 (Tomlin). Noll was 4-0 in Super Bowls, Cowher 1-1, and Tomlin is 1-1.
7. Winning percentage of Pittsburgh coaches since Noll’s hire in 1969: Tomlin .649, Cowher .619, Noll .572.
8. Tomlin is cold and calculating when he and the organization feel it’s necessary; Bruce Arians, Dick LeBeau and James Harrison will tell you that. By and large, players like playing for him, and players play very hard for him.
9. Tomlin has coached 11 seasons and never had a losing one. One other man who’s been a head coach that long hasn’t had a losing season since 2007: Bill Belichick.
10. Who exactly would the Steelers get to replace Tomlin? And don’t give me “ANYONE!” Five of the best candidates in what’s considered a lousy year for candidates (which I don’t agree with) are already spoken for. So ask yourself: Pick a coach you can get. Jim Schwartz? Jim Bob Cooter? Steve Wilks? James Bettcher? I am not maligning them in the least. I am just asking if, as a Steeler partisan, you’d like one of those coaches over Tomlin.
Tomlin would be foolish to take president Art Rooney II’s looming vote of confidence (if one is coming) as an everything’s-fine mandate. Tomlin may need to fire offensive coordinator Todd Haley; whatever happens on the offensive staff, a team with this talent has to be better than eighth in scoring and 20th in rushing yards. Though Tomlin may well keep the defensive staff intact, something’s got to be done about the 28th-rated red zone defense, and allowing 4.4 yards per rush. Leonard Fournette has twice shown that run defense is broken.
More than that, Tomlin should fix two other things about this team. One starts with himself. I thought it was cute and would play well in his own locker room when before playing the Patriots in December he was already talking about the rematch in the playoffs. Cute, until his players—Mike Mitchell, Le’Veon Bell—began talking about it openly. It’s dumb. It's not the reason the Steelers lost to Jacksonville, but it just shows an immaturity that a big-time team shouldn’t show. The Steelers were terrible in the first 20 minutes of the Jacksonville playoff game. Terrible. It’s a cliché and just wrong to say it’s because some on the team were so chatty about the rematch with New England. But Tomlin shouldn’t give his players the leeway to talk crap by starting the talk himself.
I also think the offense has to be more disciplined. Sloppy play at the end of the game against New England—even with the very close replay reversal on the Jesse James catch-no catch at the goal line—cost them dearly. On second-and-10 with no timeouts left at the Patriots 10, Darrius Heyward-Bey caught a crossing route going across the middle and couldn’t get out of bounds. Tick, tick, tick. There was clear confusion about what the call should be on third-and-goal from the seven, ridiculous confusion, and when the Steelers had a chip-shot field goal to send the game to overtime, for some reason Roethlisberger threw a contested pass into the end zone that was intercepted. Game over—instead of making a safe throw and, if it was incomplete, kicking the field goal and going to overtime. It looked completely disjointed, totally disorganized.
So Tomlin needs to fix that too. He knows he has a few broken things, and the man with the best winning percentage in franchise history should be allowed to fix them.
Now for your email...
After seeing the Steelers get torched by a team with a mediocre at best QB (again!) and a power running game, is it time for them to revert to a 4-3 base package? The time has come for difficult decisions in Pittsburgh, the first of which is that we have to accept the devastating reality that Ryan Shazier is never playing again. The Steelers need to understand that even while he was around, the defense was, at best, around the 10th best in the league and horribly vulnerable to power runs straight up the gut as the Jags and Bears showed. It seems to me that the only time a 3-4 truly worked anyway was when you had a generational player like Troy Polamalu who could hit a runner like a linebacker or drop into coverage like a corner. Without that kind of mismatch in D, the 3-4 just doesn't work anymore. Given that the 3-4 was really just a holdover from when Dick LeBeau was running the defense, maybe it's time to move on?
—Leo, Perth, Western Australia
Great to hear from you, Leo. What a fan you are, obviously. Because there are so many hybrid schemes being played in the NFL now, I don’t get too excited about whether a team says it’s a 3-4 or 4-3 base defense. Look at the Patriots. They shift from one to the other series by series. In my opinion, Pittsburgh needs to draft a sideline-to-sideline linebacker to replace Shazier. That’s the biggest need.
GET RID OF THE MEANINGLESS EXTRA POINT AFTER A WALKOFF TOUCHDOWN
I feel NFL needs to drop the "mandatory extra point attempt" rule in situations like Saints-Vikings in the postseason. Gathering 11 Saints players in a disappointing time like that is embarrassing.
The reason that rule is in place is because one of the down-the-line playoff tiebreakers is point differential. And it should be in place in the regular season, and in playoff games that have a two-point margin or less … because returning a failed conversion to the opposite end zone gives the defensive team two points. But in any playoff game when the margin is three points or more, there’s no need whatsoever to run the play, and the league should change the rule.
THANKS FOR YOUR PERSONAL TAKES
"I shudder, and I almost cry, when I realize we have three years left of the endless indignities this president inflicts upon our country."
This is why I love your writing. I really enjoy that you will offer a personal view unafraid of a comment that opposes it. I am a teacher, coach, husband, parent, beer and coffee lover, have a massive man-crush on Springsteen and LOVE spending Monday morning with my coffee diving into your world. As a Canadian, I find myself so thankful we live here. That being said, I love the USA, we love visiting and spending time there for so many reasons. This president does not represent so many people I know that neighbour our country. Thanks!!
Erwin, thank you. I just try to be small-part citizen in my columns. I know it infuriates some people, but I’ve been writing personal stuff in the column for 21 seasons. I like doing it.
ON MARCUS WILLIAMS’ MISTAKE
While Marcus Williams was the goat on the biggest play of the year for each team, I think if you review the tape you may see it differently. He missed upending Diggs on purpose because he was a fraction of a second early. Had he hit Diggs, he would've been flagged for defensive pass interference—and possibly a defenseless receiver personal foul—and Minnesota would've gotten the ball in field goal range with the clock stopped. Of course, in hindsight, a penalty would've been worlds better than what actually happened. But his mistake was not missing the tackle, but miss-timing his approach.
—Stuart S., Newport, R.I.
I think Williams should have simply waited for the ball to be caught, then tackled Diggs in-bounds.
A VIKINGS HAIKU
Case Keenum throws long
His rainbow guided by God.
Amen, Stefon Diggs.
You’ve got the job this week, R.J.! Thanks!
LEVELS OF PASS INTERFERENCE
Why not have different degrees of pass interference, such as:
1. Five yards and repeat of down for hand checking.
2. Ten yards and repeat of down for “impeding” the catch.
3. Spot foul for ‘egregious.’
—Tom, Lowell, Mass.
Not bad. It’s certainly a better idea than the spot foul. I spoke to Sean Payton on Monday morning, and he was still incensed (in a controlled way) on the 34-yard DPI on Ken Crawley. I didn’t blame him.
COUGHLIN IS EXEC OF THE YEAR
I don't know how you can totally ignore the role Tom Coughlin played in bringing a possible AFC championship to Jacksonville. From bringing in Doug Marrone to establishing a winning culture Coach Coughlin is certainly the executive of the year.
—Stan W., Jupiter, Fla.
Hard to argue with you, Stan. I’d put the Saints’ combo of Mickey Loomis and Jeff Ireland one, and Howie Roseman of the Eagles two. But Coughlin deserves all the praise he gets.
DIGGS HELMET THROW
Why wasn't a penalty called on Stefon Diggs when he threw his helmet immediately after scoring the touchdown at the end of the Vikings-Saints game? As you may recall, this happened against my Cleveland Browns when Dwayne Rudd threw his helmet back in 2002 during a game with the Kansas City Chiefs. Why would this be treated differently? It cost us the game.
I asked a league official in the officiating department this question, and the answer came back that a foul like this would be enforced on the ensuing kickoff. Seeing that there was no ensuing kickoff because this happened on the last play of the game, there was no infraction.
This is the rare case when you can’t trust the horse’s mouth :) Nagy is a hungarian word meaning “big” or “large”. It is a common Hungarian last name, and Matt has to have Hungarian heritage. The proper pronunciation has the “a” sound from “wall”, and the “gy” is a letter in the Hungarian alphabet that doesn’t exist in English. (Hungarian alphabet has extra letters, most of them combination and/or accent types). The “gy” sound is closest to how one pronounces “Adieu”, the transition sound between the consonants. I am also Hungarian by origin, born in Transylvania (escaped across the Iron Curtain as a 13 year old) and it’s routine for us to use anglicized pronunciation of our name. Google Translate has a pronunciation feature.
Thanks for the great writing, I moved to Kansas in 2001, got into football via neighbor’s fantasy football league, and I have been reading your writing every week without fail. I am a big Chiefs fan now, and everything I know about football traces back to your writing. All the personal stuff you write, it is what makes it so exceptional. I often feel like I am walking through your life, and I particularly found resonance in your feelings and opinions when you write about your daughter marrying a woman. Both my kids are gender-flexible, for lack of better word, in their partner preferences, and I am also, like you, an old school guy with an open mind, and that open mindedness got tested straight on when it involved my kids. I also chose the “if my kid is happy, I am happy” path.
Zoltan, your letter means so much to me, in so many ways. Thank you. I write this column for people like you, so know your words resonate with me. Here’s the way I look at Nagy’s version of his name: If he says the pronunciation is “Neggy,” that’s what I’m calling him.
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