Paul Zeise: National media paints a rosy picture of Mike Tomlin, but it's mostly based on willful ignorance

Paul Zeise, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

PITTSBURGH — We have reached the point of the NFL season when many national media hot-take guys begin to pontificate about just how great Steelers fans have it and how thankful they should be that Mike Tomlin is the coach of their favorite team.

It is almost always done in a condescending tone and almost always framed as "you spoiled, entitled fans don't know how great you have it."

The latest to pop off in this regard was NFL Network host Rich Eisen, who said Steelers fans and people in this town are "out of their freaking minds" to want to get rid of Mike Tomlin. ESPN radio's Mike Greenberg has been beating the drum about Tomlin being the coach of the year and underappreciated in Pittsburgh, and there are a host of others out there who all say the same thing.

I'll couch this by writing that I think Eisen is extremely smart — he isn't a hot-take guy — I listen and watch his show often and love it, so this isn't about him. The same thing when it comes to Greenberg and guys like Stan Verrett, also a "Tomlin coach of the year" guy, as they are smart and do a good job.

But all three of them and many others like them are dead wrong on this. In fact, they couldn't be more wrong. And I would be willing to bet that they have no idea what Tomlin has or hasn't accomplished recently, but these talking points are always built on many of the same pillars.

Let me say this unequivocally and as clearly as I can: Tomlin is a very good coach, and nobody would argue otherwise. Tomlin has done a good job with the Steelers for the most part, and very few rational people would even argue against that.


Good coaches, though, at times have a shelf life. And Tomlin is rapidly reaching his. If the Steelers care about remaining the Steelers, he should be coaching for his job these next five games and into (assuming they make it) the playoffs. At the very least, he should be coaching to stay off an extremely hot seat next year, and the minimum to stay off of that should be to win a playoff game.

Tomlin's career in Pittsburgh can really be divided into two careers. Actually, one that consists of his first four seasons and one that consists of the last 12+ seasons. The first five seasons, he was Bill Walsh. These last 11+ seasons, he has been somewhere between Marvin Lewis and Marty Schottenheimer. And the problem the Eisens of the world have is their entire argument is built as if we are supposed to focus on his first five seasons and act like the last 11 didn't exist or are better than they actually were.

The Steelers won three division titles, had double-digit wins three times, won a Super Bowl, got to another and went 5-2 in playoff games in Tomlin's first four years. And while I don't fully subscribe to the "he won with Cowher's players" stuff, there is no denying he inherited a Super Bowl-caliber roster that was one year removed from winning its fifth Lombardi Trophy. Yes, they were 8-8 in Bill Cowher's last year, but that was almost 100% because Ben Roethlisberger started the year trying to recover from a motorcycle wreck and an emergency appendicitis surgery, and the Steelers were 2-6 (but finished 8-8).

Still, Tomlin deserves all the credit in the world for how elite the Steelers were in those early years. The problem is the Tomlin that these national pundits want so badly to continue romanticizing about. But to do that, they need to ignore that in the last 12+ seasons they have won three playoff games, they have missed the playoffs (five times) almost as many times as they have made the playoffs (seven times), and they have only won four division titles.


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