As all of Steelers Nation knows by now, this week the Pittsburgh Steelers ended any speculation about the Rooney’s satisfaction with Mike Tomlin’s performance when they extended his contract for three years.
Mike Tomlin has two years remaining on the deal he signed in 2007, and according to the story broken by the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette, but his extension is for three years.
However, up until this moment the conventional wisdom in many circles was that the Steelers would not be extending Tomlin’s deal simply because there had been “no talk about talks.”
When OTAs ended last month, Steel Curtain Rising cautioned against buying in too heavily into the assumption these assumptions, and events have demonstrated such speculation to be idle.
Extending Mike Tomlin’s contract was the right thing to do for several reasons.
Why Mike Tomlin Deserves the Extension
Mike Tomlin boasts a 31-17 record which includes no losing seasons and a Super Bowl win.
Tomlin’s record speaks for itself.
Tomlin replaced a coach who was tremendously popular with his players, stepped into a locker room full with veterans who had openly lobbied for either Russ Grimm or Ken Wisenhut to get his job. Further complicating matters, players were smarting over the departure locker room leader Joey Porter, and his only legit All-Pro offensive linemen was demanding his release because of a contract dispute.
Tomlin promptly led group of men and won the franchise’s 18th division title while fielding the league’s number one defense.
For a follow up, Tomlin led his team through one of the toughest schedules in NFL history, rebuilt his offensive line in the process – twice — and finished by winning the Steelers sixth Super Bowl Championship.
Tomlin, of course, failed to steer the Steelers away from a dreaded Super Bowl hangover. In fact, they lost five straight games, four of which were dropped to bottom feeders. The embarrassing loss to Cleveland left the Steelers as a team in total tailspin.
That fact should, and does count against Tomlin.
But the fact that he pulled the team out of the tail spin and snapped the streak with three consecutive victories over viable playoff contenders also must count in his favor.
A majority of Steelers fans seems to agree with the Rooneys, however, on-line polls on other sites indicate that a significant minority disagree.
Let’s take a moment to debunk some of the arguments made against Art Rooney’s decision.
Taking Over as Coach for a Super Bowl Team is Easy
The logic behind this one is flawless.
A team wins the Super Bowl. Its head coach decides to go out on top, handing off to a successor. Like the 17 year-old given the keys to a BMW for his first date who scores by merely avoiding avoid denting front bumper, a Super Bowl should come to the successor via little more than inertia.
The record reveals the issue is a little more complex.
- Vince Lombardi yielded to Phil Bengtson following Super Bowl II
Bengtson had one winning season in three and zero playoff appearances.
- Bill Walsh called it a day after Super Bowl XXIII handing off to George Seifert
Seifert won Super Bowl XXIV and then Super Bowl XXIX and went to 3 NFC Championship games in between and won division titles in 1995 and 1996.
- Bill Parcells yielded to Ray Handley after Super Bowl XXV
Handley failed to field a winning team in two years and had a locker room and coaching staff close to outright revolt when he was fired after the 1992 season.
- Jimmy Johnson quitgotfired after Super Bowl XXVIII and replaced by Barry Switzer
Switzer took the Cowboys to the NFC Championship the next year, won Super Bowl XXX (thanks in large part to Kneel O’Dummel) and had another playoff season before the team imploded on him in 1997.
- Dick Vermiel was forced out in favor of Mike Martz following Super Bowl XXXIV
Martz took four of his six teams to the playoffs, including a losing appearance in Super Bowl XXXVI until he was fired during the 2005 season.
The history of taking over Super Bowl champions is a mixed bag at best. Handley and Bengtson were disasters, Martz fared better but never bagged his own Lombardi.
Barry Switzer perhaps provides an example of a lesser coach winning a Super Bowl on the coat tails of another, but George Seifert more that proved he was his own man.
Tomlin, of course, took over the Steelers when they were one season removed from victory in Super Bowl XL.
Richie Pettibone tried that in 1993 with a Redskins squad that was one year shy of Super Bowl XXVI and got fired after an embarrassing 4-12 season.
Clearly, taking charge of a Super Bowl Champion team is not child’s play and additional Lombardi’s are anything but guaranteed.
Mike Tomlin is Only Winning with Bill Cowher’s Players
If the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII championship team bears Bill Cowher’s palm print, then also bears Mike Tomlin’s finger prints.
To start, 2008 team featured a completely reworked offensive line, with four new starters. In the backfield Gary Russell, Mewelde Moore, and Carey Davis replaced Jerome Bettis, Duce Stanley, and Verron Hayes.
The 2008 defense was bookended by LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison instead of Clark Haggans and Joey Porter. Ryan Clark replaced Chris Hope in the secondary, and 2007 draft pick, later to be maligned William Gay, saw significant action at corner.
Roster turnover is one of the most enduring realities of the modern NFL. Cowher had a huge hand in drafting and developing some of the biggest impact players of the Steelers 2008 Super Bowl squad.
But Mike Tomlin’s ability to add several of his own, while weaving them together with Cowher-era holdovers into a cohesive unit is to his credit.
Ending a Chaotic Off Season on a Note of Stability?
Both the Steelers and Tomlin still have issues to resolve.
2010 has been one of the Steelers worst off seasons in franchise history for reason which I need not recount here.
One of the legitimate questions Tomlin faced and still faces whether he has sufficient control over his players and coaches.
Art Rooney II has now empowered his team and his coach to overcome both hurdles.
Extending Mike Tomlin’s contract will hopefully end a horrendously chaotic period on a note of stability that extends through the entire franchise.
Rooney has also sent the locker room a loud and clear signal that Mike Tomlin is his man.
All of the off season upheaval is bound to have consequences for the Steelers during the regular season, but in reaffirming his faith in his coach Art Rooney has given Mike Tomlin a firm hand to begin mitigating those consequences.