In Showing Loyalty to Mike Tomlin, Are the Pittsburgh Steelers Settling for Continued Mediocrity?

If Tomlin coaches until his deal ends, the Steelers will have had just three coaches in 56 seasons

NFL coach Mike Tomlin
Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on before a game.
Scott Taetsch/Getty

Unlike National Football League players, NFL coaches are generally given fully guaranteed contracts, which means they’re paid for the duration of their deals even if they get canned.

So, by giving longtime coach Mike Tomlin a three-year contract extension that runs through the 2024 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are committing to pay the 49-year-old for the next four seasons, a move that demonstrates the organization has faith he can guide the team back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2010 season.

“Mike is one of the most successful head coaches in the National Football League, and we are confident in his leadership to continue to lead our team as we work to win another championship,” said Steelers president Art Rooney II.

While the loyalty to Tomlin is par for the course in Pittsburgh — the team has had just three coaches over the past 53 seasons — having confidence he can bring the franchise back to the NFL season’s final game might be wishful thinking.

While Tomlin’s 153-86-1 win-loss record (including playoffs) and overall winning percentage (.640) are both better than those of his Hall-of-Fame predecessors Chuck Noll (209-156-1, .572) and Bill Cowher (161-99-1, .619) and the franchise has reached the playoffs nine times during his 14-year tenure, the Steelers have lost seven on their last 10 postseason games, including Super Bowl XLV following the ’10 season.

Tomlin, the third-longest-tenured head coach in the NFL behind Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll, says he is committed to reversing that trend. Whether he can is another matter entirely.

“I am extremely grateful for this contract extension and want to thank Art Rooney II and everyone in the organization for the support in my first 14 seasons,” Tomlin said. “We have a goal of winning the organization’s seventh Super Bowl championship, and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about this upcoming season.”

To Tomlin’s credit, he has never finished worse than .500 and is just the second head coach in NFL history (Marty Schottenheimer is the other) to have 14 consecutive non-losing seasons to begin his NFL career. But the knack Tomlin has for winning during the regular season has been fairly non-existent during Pittsburgh’s recent playoff appearances and the Steelers, who have lost three postseason games in a row by a combined 33-point margin and surrendered a whopping 129 total points in the process, have developed a habit of coming out flat when the stakes are the highest.

By bringing back quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who looked like he was cooked by the end of last season, and committing to Tomlin for four more seasons, the Steelers are sticking with a formula that they know. But is it a formula that still works? It hasn’t in the playoffs.

All of that said, it is hard to argue with what the Steelers are doing when you consider a team like the Cleveland Browns have had four head coaches since only 2018 (although they did beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs last season).

Still, maybe it was worth it, as the Browns do have one more playoff win since ’18 than the Steelers, who, under Tomlin, have none.

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