Election season can bring out the worst in us. We get overly political, falling into the trap of Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative, and so on. We hold fast only to our agendas. Most importantly, we forget that we're all Americans and our intentions are usually far purer than what we say from behind a keyboard.
I learned yet another lesson from one election season to another. Not so long after Donald J. Trump was named President-elect in 2016, I grew tiresome of another leader: Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
The team was in a free fall, going from a strong 4-1 start to four straight losses, dropping a promising team to 4-5. After years of underperforming, I had enough. I grew tired of one playoff win since the loss in Super Bowl XLV to the Green Bay Packers, which was gift-wrapped and tied with a bow of stupidity by Vontaze Burfict and the Cincinnati Bengals. I became exhausted of watching Ben Roethlisberger's best years and best supporting cast be wasted in playoff losses, not playoff wins.
On my own blog, I announced my displeasure of Mike Tomlin, citing his playoff failures along with his sub-.500 record against sub-.500 teams. I also said that Tomlin, "sure as heck is not Bill Cowher." I wasn't arguing that Tomlin was a bad coach, but I came to the point where I didn't believe Tomlin could take the Steelers to the top of the mountain again.
I'm here to officially say I was wrong — big time.
Mike Tomlin is an elite coach, and he didn't take long to show me how wrong I was. After the painful loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10 in the 2016 season, the Steelers didn't lose again until the AFC Championship in New England. He rallied his team together and turned a potentially failing season into the first trip to the AFC title game since the 2010 season.
In addition, since my 2016 rant, Tomlin's team has excelled against sub-.500 teams. Why does that matter? Because good teams beat the teams they should beat. No exceptions. Since Week 10 in 2016, the Steelers are 24-5 against sub-.500 teams. That's including the 2019 season where he only had Big Ben for six quarters.
Sure, Tomlin comes with his flaws. Every coach has them. I still question his time management and record on challenges is something you'd like to forget. Even this season, he's made a few head-cocking decisions, like not kicking a short field goal in Dallas to extend the lead to eight points and make it essentially impossible to lose in regulation.
Tomlin's biggest flaw may have been his handling of Antonio Brown. Stories from others that shared a locker room with Brown knew he was going to be a problem eventually. When Tomlin finally put his foot down ahead of the 2018 season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, it was the beginning of the end of Brown's tenure in Pittsburgh.
Maybe Tomlin should have put his foot down sooner. Maybe if he did, Brown wouldn't have exploded like he did. Maybe his ego wouldn't have inflated to an uncontainable size. Or maybe, and the much more likely scenario, former Steelers like Ryan Clark were right. Antonio Brown was always going to be a problem. It didn't matter when Tomlin put his foot down. It was going to get ugly, regardless of when it happened.
In addition, knowing everything we know about Antonio Brown after his well-documented departure, it takes one hell of a coach to deal with a grade-A narcissist for nine seasons.
I don't think it's a coincidence that we've seen Tomlin's best coaching over the past 26 games. With the cancer removed from the locker room, there is no question of how much respect and trust the players have in Tomlin. He pulled off a coaching clinic in 2019, taking a team with a quarterback carousel of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges and pulled off an 8-8 record, making the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade an absolute steal.
Now with his franchise quarterback leading the troops again, the Steelers are the best they've been in a decade. Big Ben runs the offense like a well-oiled machine and the defense is one of the best in the league. Even with a perfect 10-0 record, Mike Tomlin isn't satisfied.
Ahead of the win over Jacksonville, Tomlin thoroughly acknowledged the Steelers' inability to run the football over the past few games, which is currently the biggest weakness on the team.
"The only thing that's perfect about our team is our record," Tomlin told the media while addressing the struggles in the running game.
Tomlin is well-versed behind the podium while addressing the media. You could fill a book with all of the "Tomlinisms" that have kept fans entertained since his arrival in 2007. But his labor is bearing fruit. The Steelers went 8-8 in 2019 when they should have been far worse. His team is currently 10-0 while many argue they aren't as good as their record indicates.
It shouldn't have taken me four years to fully appreciate Mike Tomlin and his legacy. I guess I had too much red paint for my barn. Now, I'm switching colors.
We still have yet to see how the 2020 season plays out. We don't know yet if this is the season where Mike Tomlin leads his team to another Super Bowl.
But is he capable of doing it?
One hundred percent.