As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare start St. Vincents this week in Latrobe all eyes are on Art Rooney II and his pending decision to extend or not extend Mike Tomlin’s contract.
The Steelers longstanding policy has been to extend the contract of their head coach 2 years prior to the expiration of his current deal. Dan Rooney began the practice with Bill Cowher in the 1990’s and Art Rooney II continued it in 2017 just months after his father passed away.
- However, both seasons have ended in disappointment since Mike Tomlin’s last contract extension, leading to speculation that change may be in the air.
Here we take a look at the Pros and Cons of extending Mike Tomlin’s contact in 2019.
The Cons of Extending Mike Tomlin’s Contract in 2019
For many, there is no debate. Much of Steelers Nation, perhaps even a majority, has wanted Mike Tomlin gone and wants no part of seeing him stay around. This site isn’t inclined to join that chorus but the arguments against extending Mike Tomlin are legitimate.
Two years ago, when the Steelers last extended Mike Tomlin’s contract, the team had indeed suffered a brutal AFC Championship loss to New England, but it looked like it was on the verge of completing an end-to-end rebuild around Ben Roethlisberger without dipping below .500.
- Anyone who thinks that it is “easy” to rebuild a team around a young franchise quarterback should look at Don Shula and Dan Marino’s experience in the 80’s and ‘90’s.
Yet, the Steelers have taken steps backwards in each of the following two seasons, and they’ve done it against a background filled with a lot of distractions. Are those distractions Mike Tomlin’s fault? Well, in many cases, the truth probably is “No.”
Mike Tomlin didn’t make the decision to franchise Le’Veon Bell on his own. Its entirely possible that Mike Tomlin wanted to cut James Harrison in the summer of 2017 but wasn’t not allowed to. (The fact that James Harrison was a candidate to be cut is a matter of record, the rest is my speculation.)
While Mike Tomlin does deserve criticism for enabling Antonio Brown, it isn’t much of a stretch to argue that Tomlin kept Brown’s Diva tendencies in check far better than Bill Parcells or Tom Coughlin did with their Diva wide outs. The bottom line is, Brown was a distraction early last season, then his issues were largely forgotten and only resurfaced at the end.
- Regardless, deciding to extend Mike Tomlin could be seen as sending a signal that the team’s current direction is acceptable.
Does anyone think the trend lines this team has established over the last two seasons are acceptable?
The Pros of Extending Mike Tomlin’s Contract in 2019
There are also strong arguments in favor of extending Mike Tomlin’s contract. For whatever his faults are as a head coach, and Tomlin has faults just as Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher did, Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season.
There is only one other NFL head coach whose record is head and shoulders above Mike Tomlin’s. Contemporaries with similar records, such as John Harbaugh, Sean Peyton and Pete Carroll have arguably struggled more than Tomlin has to rebuild around a franchise QB.
Results don’t lie. After knocking on heaven’s door in 2016 the Steelers have taken steps backward.
- But will refusing to extend Mike Tomlin right this trend?
- Sure, it could send a message that everyone needs to shape up. But it could also have the opposite effect.
Opting not to extend Mike Tomlin’s contract now would instantly create another distraction. That subplot would play out on social media and the “content aggregation sites” starting with the first training camp scuffle and lasting all the way until the final decision to go for it on fourth or not in the last meaningful game of the season.
In contrast, and to the extent that locker room and off the field distractions have impacted results on the field, extending Mike Tomlin’s contract could be a remedy.
Extending Mike Tomlin’s contract now would send a clear signal to everyone on the roster, “Mike Tomlin is our coach. He’s staying put. Listen to him if you want to do the same.”
Awaiting Art Rooney’s Decision
Art Rooney II has a decision to make. This past off season he’s shown an ability to pivot the Steelers standard operating procedure. The Steelers were ready to use the transition tag on Le’Veon Bell by all accounts, yet had a change of heart. And at each opportunity they doubled down in their quest to improve weaknesses at inside linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver.
- Will he also make a similar pivot with regard to his head coach’s job security?
For my money, I don’t think he should. The list of NFL owners who’ve tried and failed to fire their way to a Lombardi is long. That’s because good NFL coaches are hard to find. Mike Tomlin’s record shows he’s one of them.
Ultimately Art Rooney’s decision doesn’t come down so much as to whether he thinks Mike Tomlin contributed to the problems of the last two season, but whether he’s confident that Mike Tomlin can be part of the solution.