For the first time in his career, Mike Tomlin’s football team is 5-0. A five-game winning streak in the National Football League is not an easy thing to come by. Consider there are only three undefeated teams left out of 32. After the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers play on Sunday, there is guaranteed to be one less undefeated squad.
Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, Tomlin’s respect shouldn’t be diminished.
I’m not even advocating for Tomlin to win Coach of the Year quite yet. They are 5-0 but haven’t played too many high-end teams. He’ll have to prove his teams worth against both Tennessee and Baltimore in the next two games to legitimately bolster his candidacy in that conversation.
I am more focused on the respect for Tomlin’s work to this point.
Every year, the Steelers lose a game to a lesser opponent and the Tomlin haters come out of the cracks. They call for his job like there is an immediately viable option to replace a head coach with a 138-74-1 career record. Tomlin only wins 65% of his regular season games. Tomlin’s teams only average 10 regular season wins a year and have six division titles under his watch.
Obviously, to borrow a Tomlin-ism, those numbers are insignificant when you paint with a broad brush.
For years, Tomlin held a locker room together despite the antics of Antonio Brown and the contract dispute of Le’Veon Bell. A team that could’ve come unraveled and blown up like the Seattle Seahawks did a few years ago with their vaunted “L.O.B.” defense stayed together with his guidance.
Now, in 2020, with an offense full of potential and a young defense that is among the top three in the league, Tomlin has an opportunity to win his own Super Bowl.
Former head coach Tony Dungy went on The Pat McAfee Show Wednesday and praised Tomlin.
“Mike Tomlin is an excellent coach,” Dungy said. “He was 29-years old when I interviewed him. It took me 15 minutes to figure out this young man has something special... I’m really not sure why he doesn’t get a little more credit.”
A football figure of such stature praising Tomlin and asking why he doesn’t get more notoriety from fans and media around the league is certainly notable.
So why is it that Tomlin still gets disrespected like he does?
Many of Tomlin’s detractors love to point out that Tomlin’s Super Bowl came on the coattails of Bill Cowher’s tenure. They won’t give him the credit, and that is understandable. The second Super Bowl has been elusive.
However, Tomlin’s team has had to contend with the New England Patriots dynasty on a yearly basis. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick routinely made the Super Bowl, often going through the Steelers to do so. Not many teams successfully knocked off the Patriots. It is hard to fault anyone for the Patriots’ dominance.
But that is over.
The Kansas City Chiefs won last year’s Super Bowl. Patrick Mahomes looks like the next great quarterback. He’ll certainly add at least another title or two along his path. One thing about the Patriots dynasty is that they always had an elite defense. The Chiefs defense is good but are they five-plus Super Bowls in ten years good? I don’t think so.
Which is why the A.F.C. is wide open. The Chiefs are the A.F.C.’s standard. But the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, and the Steelers are as capable of winning a title, too. If you had to ask me who the best head coach is of the four teams, how can you not say Tomlin?
Go ahead and point to Tomlin’s career 8-7 playoff record. It is what it is. There’s no hiding that. But this year, Tomlin has his best version of Ben Roethlisberger he’s ever had. Tomlin has what could be the best receiving core he’s had, and that says a lot considering the receiving cores he has overlooked. Without a doubt, Tomlin’s defense is the best it has been. The pieces are all there for Tomlin to succeed.
If Pittsburgh outlasts all 31 other teams and wins a Super Bowl this season, nothing else matters. Tomlin’s surefire Hall of Fame resumé becomes that much better. The questions surrounding why he could never win the big one are answered. All it took was for the dynasty to finally fall.
Roethlisberger doesn’t have much time left. He wants another championship to cement his own legacy. He is sacrificing gaudy stats for more efficient play in hopes that it makes the team as a whole better. Tomlin is doing a great job managing the on-field play-calling and personnel around Roethlisberger.
In years past, the Steelers often have lost disappointing games that they were favored to win. They’ve won their first five games against underdog opponents this season. This weekend’s game is practically a pick-em. One team will leave the game undefeated still. If that’s Tomlin’s team, they’ll go into a game against division rival Baltimore on a high note. If it’s not, most Tomlin detractors will point squarely to people like me who tend to lean pro-Tomlin and ask why the Steelers couldn’t win the big one.
If you don’t like Tomlin by now, you probably never will. Whatever your reason for that is your prerogative. But you’ve got to respect him. If someone asked me to bet this game, I’d take Tomlin’s Steelers in a heartbeat. They’ve got the better quarterback, defense, and head coach. I’d be willing to bet Tomlin proves as much this weekend.