Watch Tower: Calling Tomlin Out, …For the Wrong Reason

Last Friday the Tribune Review’s John Harris called out Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

As well he should. Mike Tomlin deserves to be called out for a number of reasons.

Harris, however, honed in on the wrong one.

Let’s take a look at Harris’ argument:

Win or lose, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin should have attended Thursday night’s news conference with his mouth taped shut.

After seemingly giving up on the season following Sunday’s loss to Oakland when he flippantly cast aside his team’s fading playoff chances, Tomlin promised lineup changes entering last night’s game against the Cleveland Browns. [Emphasis added.]

OK. Harris is absolutely on the mark in berating Tomlin for promising to make sweeping lineup changes, and then failing to deliver. Steel Curtain Rising will go into depth about that in a later post.

But that’s not where Harris directs most of his fire. Later on he asserts:

No coach should ever publicly give up on his team when there’s still a mathematical chance of reaching the playoffs, no matter how slight. It was
Tomlin’s responsibility to keep his players going, even when the well appeared dry. [Emphasis added.]

Harris is right. Tomlin’s job is to keep the players going, and Tomlin has failed thus far. But did Tomlin give up? Not content to leave it there, Harris attempts to draw a contrast between Tomlin’s response to a losing streak and that of his predecessor:

To say that Tomlin jumped the gun in writing off the season is stating the case mildly.

What if former coach Bill Cowher had taken that approach when the Steelers were 7-5 and struggling late during the 2005 season? No way the Steelers would have won Super Bowl XL, much less qualified for the postseason. [Emphasis added.]

There is not question that Tomlin’s attempts to motivate the team are having the opposite effect. The Steelers performance against the Browns represented one of the worst performances in team history.

Tomlin richly deserves criticism for that.

What is at issue here is Harris’ interpretation of Tomlin’s statement, following the Oakland debacle, that he is “just trying to win a game.”

That was Tomlin’s answer in response to a question about how the loss to Oakland affected his team’s playoff prospects.

“I’m Just Trying to Win A Game.”

Considering the circumstances, Tomlin’s response was appropriate. He wasn’t writing off the rest of the season. He was simply making clear to everyone that dreams of the grandeur and glory that the playoffs bring were not appropriate for a team coming off of a four game losing streak.

Harris’ argument would have some teeth, if say, he’d gotten a player, even an inactive list dweller like Tony Hills or Sunny Harris, to say “yeah, to hear coach throw in the towel like that, that was de-motivating.” Barring that, he could have cited off the record, unnamed sources.

But he didn’t, thereby transforming his argument into a piece of conjecture.

2009 Is Not 2005

Harris’ analogy to the Steelers situation in 2005 is also inappropriate. Yes, the Steelers were reeling from a three game losing streak. But those losses came to Baltimore, whom the Steelers played without Roethlisberger, an undefeated Colts team, and the eventual division champion Cincinnati Bengals.

When the Steelers losing streak stood at four, two of those losses came to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders. NFL bottom feeders if there ever were ones.

Steelers Nation is angry and wants answers, and Harris is trying to provide them.

The Steelers 2009 season is spiraling down in a nosedive with no end in sight. Tomlin is losing, or has already lost his players, as Pittsburgh’s pathetic performance Thursday night so starkly demonstrated.

Mike Tomlin stands squarely in the bulls eye. In losing 5 in a row (and counting) he’s opened all of his decisions and all of the choices he has made since the morning after Super Bowl XLIII to question.

But to say that Tomlin, by simply declaring that he “was just trying to win a game” had quit on his players or written off the rest of the season, is one piece of criticism that is unjust.

For more criticism of those who cover the Steelers, click here and scroll down to read more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

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