In most cities, a Final Four appearance in any sport is a cause for a celebration.
In Pittsburgh, we want to fire the coach and his top assistants when our team finally loses.
How foolish we are.
The screams to fire Mike Tomlin started even before the New England Patriots completed their 36-17 annihilation of the Steelers Sunday night in the AFC championship game. Sadly, it was predictable. A lot of people always pile on Tomlin when the Steelers fail to win the Super Bowl.
You know the narrative. The only time Tomlin ever really won, he did it with Bill Cowher’s players. He will have to live with that nonsense for at least another year despite a 103-57 regular-season record in his 10-year run, five division titles, seven trips to the playoffs and no losing seasons. If he has won with Cowher’s players, he has won more than Cowher did.
Is Tomlin Bill Belichick’s equal as a coach? Not even close. But, tell me, who is? Belichick is the greatest coach of all time in any sport. That’s why his Patriots will be after a record fifth Super Bowl title when they play the Atlanta Falcons on Feb. 5 in Houston.
Did Belichick outcoach Tomlin, Keith Butler and Todd Haley Sunday night? Absolutely. The Steelers defense couldn’t stop Tom Brady, who threw for a Patriots postseason record 384 yards and three touchdowns and, in seven games against a Tomlin team, has passed for 22 touchdowns and no interceptions.
You might not have heard much about wide receiver Chris Hogan, but Tomlin and Butler surely did. They knew he was the NFL’s second-best deep threat during the season but couldn’t keep him from catching nine balls for 180 yards and two touchdowns, including plays of 26, 22, 34, 24 and 39 yards. There were no adjustments to tighten the coverage on Hogan and wide receiver Julian Edelman (eight catches for 118 yards and a touchdown) or get more pressure on Brady. There was no pressure, period.
The Steelers offense also had its difficulties. It failed again in the red zone, twice actually. It scored no touchdowns in the playoff win against the Kansas City Chiefs and just two against the Patriots, the second late and nothing more than cosmetic. That’s embarrassing even though the team had to play most of the Patriots game without its MVP, Le’Veon Bell.
“We didn’t make enough plays,” Tomlin said. “We didn’t execute enough. We didn’t put our guys in good enough position consistently. We failed collectively.”
Not in firing mood: I couldn’t agree more. But I’m just not in the firing mood when it comes to Tomlin and his coaches. Maybe it’s because I have too much respect for Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time. He doesn’t just beat the Steelers; he’s 17-3 in home playoff games. He’s on a personal Redemption Tour because of his silly, unnecessary four-game suspension from the NFL at the start of the season because of Deflategate. He’s determined to take the postgame podium in Houston, amid falling confetti, and watch Roger Goodell hand the Lombardi Trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft. That is powerful motivation.
I’m certainly not ready to say the Steelers season was anything less than really good. A seven-game winning streak down the stretch. Two playoff wins, including one on the road in Kansas City. Get me to the Final Four every season, and I’ll take my chances.
“From 4-5 to here? That’s something if you’re looking for a silver lining,” Ben Roethlisberger said late Sunday night.
Too many distractions: Along the way, during the postseason, Tomlin had to answer for Joey Porter’s arrest after the Miami win and Antonio Brown’s video after the Kansas City win. No coach should have to deal with such idiocy. Tomlin gets mixed reviews. He was tough with Porter initially when he put him on leave but looked weak when he reinstated him a few days later before the Kansas City game.
He was tougher on Brown publicly — “It was foolish of him to do that, selfish and inconsiderate” — but has to take some responsibility for Brown’s childish antics. He tolerated them earlier in the season when he allowed Brown to get away with three excessive celebration penalties and his sulking when the ball didn’t come his way enough. Give a guy an inch and he will take a mile.
Tomlin’s big mistake was treating his coaches and players like men. Porter and Brown let him down and made him look bad. Shame on them.
I know Tomlin will be back next season. I’m guessing Butler and Haley will be, as well. I hope so, anyway.
I expect another winning season from the Steelers team with a chance for a deep playoff run, maybe even a trip to Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII. But I know that won’t be nearly enough for many people. It’s a bad season if the team doesn’t win it all, right?
How foolish. How spoiled. How sad.