ZEISE: Giving Mike Tomlin a contract extension right now makes no sense
I understand why Art Rooney II wants Mike Tomlin to continue to be the Steelers coach.
He has been an excellent coach, his record speaks for itself and if Rooney fired Tomlin today, he would have a job offer by tomorrow.
So I get that part of it. I just don't get why this extension had to happen right now. Tomlin was under the Steelers' control for this year and next year if they wanted. That means Rooney had two more seasons to see if Tomlin could get the team back on track.
Tomlin's legacy is complicated and polarizing — if the discussions about him on social media are any indication of how people feel. There are some who believe Tomlin is amazing and should be absolutely untouchable and should have a contract for life. There are others who think he is terrible, won with someone else's players and is way too friendly with his stars in order to ever lead the team anywhere special again.
Then there are people who are capable of having a nuanced conversation about Tomlin and that is never as much fun as dealing in extremes. But Tomlin's tenure and career should be scrutinized in a way that is both fair to him and also grounded in reality.
Tomlin won the AFC North division in three of his first four seasons as coach. He was 43-21 overall, 5-2 in the playoffs and had been to two Super Bowls and won one. He was unquestionably headed to a Hall of Fame career. And actually, given he had a franchise quarterback in place just entering his prime, it seemed like he was headed for all-time great accomplishments over the next decade.
Ordinary, by Steelers standards, in recent years: The thing is, that second part of his storied career hasn't happened yet. He has actually been rather ordinary by the Steelers' standards and by the standards he has set. He has won four AFC North titles in the last ten seasons and only three playoff games. And in those last ten years, the Steelers were legitimate Super Bowl contenders once (based on their playoff performance), and they got smoked by the Patriots in the AFC title game that year.
That's not cherry picking numbers. It is looking at his entire career and his entire resume and understanding that almost all of his high level success came in his first four years. And this past decade has left a lot to be desired. Three playoff wins in ten seasons with a Hall of Fame/franchise quarterback is not good enough.
To put it into perspective: There have been 14 teams who have won more playoff games than the Steelers since their last Super Bowl appearance. And three others have just as many.
Rebuilding period looms: Looking ahead, it doesn't really appear that there are going to be many more playoff wins on the immediate horizon as it seems like they are headed for a little bit of a rebuilding period after Ben Roethlisberger retires. It feels like the Browns are better now, the Ravens are better and a number of other AFC teams have passed the Steelers as well.
I don't believe it is fair or realistic to judge Tomlin — or any coach — simply by how many championships he has won. That's not fair because only one team can win it every year, and it is really hard to do. That being said, I don't think it is unfair to suggest a team with a Hall of Fame quarterback at least make some noise in the playoffs with more regularity than the Steelers have in the past decade.
I mean, is it too much to ask to beat Tim Tebow? Is it too much to suggest that getting boat raced on your home field by Blake Bortles is not acceptable? The last two playoff games Tomlin has coached, the Steelers have been down a combined 56-7 before the fans were even settled into their seats.
Move didn't need to be made now: The Steelers' model of stability is often debated and often treated as if it is something that every organization should aspire to have. It is admirable, but I am not sure giving coaches a lifetime contract is a smart practice. Again, Tomlin is a good coach and has done a good job for the most part, but the Steelers' standards have slipped considerably if three playoff wins in 10 years is acceptable.
I am not saying they should fire him, but I am saying they shouldn't have been so quick to sign up for essentially four more seasons of him. If he doesn't win in the playoffs this year, when is the next time it is realistic to think he can?
I know, I know, "Well if you fire him, who will you replace him with that is better?" My answer to that question is always the same: "The next Mike Tomlin." The point is, when Bill Cowher retired, I am sure not one Steelers fan had Tomlin in their top 20 coaches to replace him because nobody knew who he was.
It turned out fine. Sometimes it isn't about getting a "better" coach when things go stale, but rather it is about getting a different voice and going in a different direction. Tomlin has been a great ambassador for the city and team and is easy to root for, so I hope this works as the Steelers think it will.
My suspicion, though, is that four years from now the Steelers will be still be stuck in a place where they win more than they lose but aren't terribly relevant when the playoffs begin. That's not who they claim they are and not who they are supposed to be.