There are many things that annoy fans about Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
Number one, they think the only reason Dan Rooney, the late, great owner of the franchise, hired Tomlin to be the Steelers’ next head coach in 2007 was because of the Rooney Rule (Rooney stated multiple times that this wasn’t the case, but even if it was, so what?)
Number two, they think Tomlin won Super Bowl XLIII with a team that was assembled by Bill Cowher, the man Tomlin replaced as head coach and someone who only managed to win one Super Bowl in 15 years with teams he helped to assemble. (For the record, I love Bill Cowher, but that is one of the dumbest criticisms of Tomlin I have ever heard–it’s too bad it never seems to go away. And how come no one ever criticizes Kevin Colbert for “Only Winning with Tom Donahoe’s players?”) Number three, Tomlin’s teams have only won three playoff games since the 2010 season, when he guided the Steelers to Super Bowl XLV where they lost a heartbreaker to the Packers.
Of those first three reasons, the third one is by far the most valid criticism. While Tomlin has had a great career as the Steelers’ head coach, it comes down to postseason results at the end of the day, and there’s no question he’s come up short in that department over the past 13 seasons.
But there is a fourth reason why fans have often been critical of Mike Tomlin (well, there are plenty more than just four, but who has time for that?), and that’s the fact that he’s never suffered a losing season as head coach of the Steelers.
- Why is that a criticism of his?
Beats the holy heck out of me, but Tomlin’s most vocal critics love to weaponize it and mock the streak that currently stands at 15 straight seasons. Maybe it’s because Tomlin’s most vocal supporters use it to prop him up in just about every argument involving Tomlin and his abilities as a head coach in the National Football League. Can you blame Tomlin’s supporters for that, though? I mean, the man started to be roundly and unfairly criticized long before the streak was even a streak.
Tomlin remarkably kept past teams together and rallied them to non-losing seasons, and even playoff appearances, during years when they easily could have fallen off a cliff. The Steelers managed to remain relevant in the 2010s, even after the legendary roster that produced three AFC championships and two Lombardi Trophies between 2005-2010 got old all at once.
Perhaps more impressive than Tomlin’s lack of a losing season as head coach of the Steelers is the fact that his teams have only played one game during his tenure where they were officially eliminated from playoff contention at kickoff.
For the record, that game was the final one of the 2012 regular season. It was also the first time Tomlin was on the brink of having his first losing campaign (although, the streak wasn’t long enough for anyone to notice at that point). Fortunately, the Steelers took on a pretty pathetic Browns team at Heinz Field and won in a rather convincing fashion to finish the regular season at 8-8.
- It was actually the Steelers’ ninth-straight non-losing season dating back to the Cowher years.
The Steelers’ streak of non-losing seasons was in serious jeopardy in 2013 when they started out 0-4 and 2-6. After rallying to get back to 5-6, Pittsburgh then lost two heartbreakers — 22-20 to the hated Ravens on Thanksgiving Night, and then 28-24 to the Dolphins on December 8 — to drop to 5-8.
- It looked like the streak would end in short order.
In fact, my old boss, completely disinterested in attending another game that season, gave me two free tickets to the Steelers’ next matchup: A Sunday night affair against the soon-to-be AFC North champion Bengals at Heinz Field.
I invited my uncle to the game, and we both froze our butts off. Actually, I later found out that I suffered frostbite in my right big toe, an appendage that still goes numb to this day if my feet get too cold. (Because of the cold and the Steelers’ subpar record, this was the lowest-attended game in the history of Heinz Field up to that point.)
I may have suffered frostbite — and I may have spent half the night standing in the men’s room trying to stay warm–but Pittsburgh won that game rather convincingly to improve to 6-8.
Not only did the Steelers win their last two games to finish the regular season at 8-8, but they ended their season still in playoff contention, where they would remain for the next few hours until Chiefs kicker, Ryan Succop, dashed their hopes out in San Diego.
It wasn’t long after 2013 that the Steelers’ streak of non-losing seasons became Tomlin’s streak of non-losing seasons (and, again, a weapon for his supporters and detractors to use in every debate about his coaching prowess).
Tomlin’s streak hasn’t really been in danger since 2013, even if it looked like it was going straight down the tubes after Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the year in the second game of the 2019 campaign (see Tomlin’s ability to rally compromised teams).
- That brings us to the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers currently sit at 5-8 after an annoying loss to the Ravens at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Not only is Tomlin again on the brink of suffering his first losing season as the head coach of the Steelers, but thanks to the NFL’s new 17-game schedule, his team now has to win an extra game in order to keep the streak alive.
- Can Tomlin avoid it? I don’t really care.
For that matter, neither does Tomlin, who’s on record as saying that he doesn’t seek comfort in something like that. He’s only worried about winning a Super Bowl, and any season that falls short of that is a failure.
But part of me would love to see that streak stay alive. Why? Tomlin’s detractors seem to hate it more than his supporters love it.
Right now, I picture Tomlin as this heel wrestler who is trying to survive a 30-man battle royal. He’s teetering on the brink of elimination and has several other wrestlers attempting to push him out of the ring. Maybe they already have, but they don’t know that both of his feet must touch the ground in order for him to be eliminated. Much like Shawn Michaels in the 1995 Royal Rumble, maybe some people already assume that the end of Tomlin’s streak is a mere formality.
- But he’s still alive. His second foot hasn’t touched the ground.
Tomlin is still plotting out a way to have yet another non-losing season and anger Steelers fans…for some reason.
I refuse to count out Mike Tomlin until that second foot has touched the floor.