When people today talk about NFL coaches on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory, they start with Bill Belichick, move to Andy Reid and might throw in a Pete Carroll or Sean Payton. Fair enough. Nine Lombardi Trophies and 15 Super Bowl appearances are in there.
But how come almost nobody includes the Steelers' Mike Tomlin?
He’s won a Super Bowl like Reid, Carroll and Payton. He’s been to two, like Carroll. And he’s never had a losing season … unlike Reid, Carroll, Payton and Belichick. You can look it up. In 14 NFL seasons of head coaching he never finished worse than 8-8.
Unusual? Nope. More like unheard of. Only Marty Schottenheimer went 14 straight non-losing seasons after becoming a head coach, and his first year was really a half season (4-4).
Granted, Tomlin’s 153 victories (including playoffs) aren’t close to Belichick (311) and Reid (238), but the guy just turned 49, for crying out loud. Plus, his total is only three behind Carroll (156) and one ahead of Payton (152).
Now look at his overall winning percentage. It’s .640, better than Reid (.621), better than Carroll (.600) and better than Payton (.631). In fact, it’s so good that he trails only Belichick (.678) among active coaches with 100 or more games. What’s more, his .650 regular-season percentage (145-78-1) ranks 11th all-time.
One more thing: He has as many Super Bowl victories and appearances as his predecessor in Pittsburgh, Bill Cowher.
I mention that because Cowher was one of two coaches named to the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Centennial Class of 2020. Including the playoffs, Cowher won 161 games, or eight more than Tomlin, and eight division titles … or one more than Tomlin. He also produced nine seasons with double-digit victories. But so has Tomlin. And while Cowher’s overall winning percentage of .623 is good, it’s not as good as Mike Tomlin’s.
So what’s not to like here, people? Yet Tomlin’s resume is subject to endless dissection, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s this: Since reaching Super Bowl XLV in 2010, he’s 3-6 in the playoffs – with one postseason victory the past four seasons. He’s also 8-8 overall, where Cowher was 12-9, Reid is 17-15 and Belichick is 31-12.
But Payton is 9-8, including 3-4 the past seven seasons, while Carroll is 11-10 and 3-5 since losing Super Bowl XLIX.
Maybe it’s this: He’s had five “one-and-dones” in playoff history, including four times in the wild-card round – with the latest a loss to Cleveland in the 2020 postseason after the Steelers opened the year 11-0. By contrast, Carroll has had three one-game playoff exits and Payton two.
Or maybe it’s just that he’s had two tough acts to follow. Chuck Noll won four Super Bowls in six years as the Steelers dominated the 1970s, and Cowher returned the team to prominence after a mediocre 1980s that included four non-winning seasons and two playoff wins.
All I know is that Mike Tomlin has his share of detractors, including one notable former Steeler -- Hall-of-Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
“I don’t think he’s a great coach at all,” he said in a 2016 FOX interview. “He’s really a great cheerleader type. I don’t know what he does.”
I do. He wins a lot of games, never had a losing season and has a Super Bowl ring. Plus, the Steelers value him. They gave him a contract extension Tuesday that runs through 2024.
I know, he has plenty of time to complete his resume, so we can withhold judgment on his career until he’s finished. But that hasn’t stopped us speculating about Hall-of-Fame trajectories for others still in the game.
So why not Tomlin? All I know is that, like a few of his contemporaries, he’s on the right path.