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In Defense of Mike Tomlin (Against Colin Cowherd)

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What is Mike Tomlin’s great crime that he’s committed that would warrant him being singled out as a bad coach and/or a sloppy coach the last few weeks?

I don’t want to hear anything about “When’s the last time he won the Super Bowl” or “The team should be winning more games!” as the basis for the argument — if we use those arguments as a foundation then most every coach should be fired within the past two years… Except for Bill Belichick.

Colin Cowherd (who I love and admire), after the Steelers playoff loss, pointed to a number of reasons why Tomlin is worthy of heavy critique…but what’s particularly set him off is the loss to the Patriots in the division. That loss was a tipping point of a building wave for Colin all playoffs – he has been throwing darts at Tomlin since midseason 2016. Again, I ask what Tomlin’s great crime is — because I get the feeling that his entire career is being judged by losing to the Patriots. Guess what everybody loses to the Patriots (even up 28-3 in the 3rd quarter of a Super Bowl). We might as well fire 25 to 31 coaches every year if that’s the measuring stick.

How can we single out Tomlin as a bad coach today after what just happened in 2016? He won his last seven games in a row. Won his division. He won two playoff games including one of them at Arrowhead Stadium against a talented Chiefs team…and then because he lost to the Patriots he’s a bad coach? If Tomlin’s labeled a bad coach then there are 20+ other coaches that are even worse because they didn’t do any of those things (win a division, win playoff games). It’s not fair to jump up and say Tomlin underperformed for his team’s talent because he DID MAKE IT to the final four, and then lost at New England. Tomlin also lost to the Patriots in part because his best player (Le’Veon Bell) got hurt in the first quarter and was lost for the game. What might have happened if Bell was healthy all game?

The Steelers won all those games in a row to end 2016, fought through two playoff wins, dealt with the loss of Le’Veon Bell to a suspension the first four games of 2016, dealt with Big Ben’s midseason MCL sprain, had an entire season lost on Martavis Bryant, missed their planned starter/expensive free agent tight end Ladarius Green for most/all of 2016…and yet by the end of the year the Steelers had arguably the best offensive line in football, and a rebuilt, young, emerging defense — which was evolving into becoming a top 10 unit. This is all chalked up as bad coaching? Just because the Steelers lost to the Patriots – everything is always about the Patriots. That’s fine. But why don’t we hold Bill O’Brien to that standard – the guy who gets smoked by the Patriots every time he faces them. Why don’t we hold Andy Reid to that standard…the coach who couldn’t seal the deal on the Patriots in the final four last year either…and then couldn’t even get back to the final four this year because he lost to Mike Tomlin despite the home-field advantage?  To some degree, shouldn’t we look back at the 2016-17 season and say that Mike Tomlin did a great coaching job under the circumstances?

I’ll tell you what I think Colin Cowherd’s, and many fans problem here is – besides being whiny about their team losing…football people tend to emotionally pick and choose who they want to blame for their team’s problems. They either blame the quarterback or the coach. But not both. And it all has to do with what quarterbacks they personally like or what coaches they personally like. I’ll give you some examples…

 

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The Kansas City Chiefs constantly falling short is rarely Andy Reid’s problem…it’s usually blamed on Alex Smith’s shortcomings.

The Steelers not beating the Patriots…it’s not because Big Ben is getting sloppy, it’s because Mike Tomlin is out of control.

The Seahawks didn’t radically underperform in 2016 because of Pete Carroll, it was because Russell Wilson wasn’t 100% this year.

The San Diego Chargers have been terrible for five years, but it’s never Philip Rivers‘ fault it’s always the coaching and general manager’s fault.

The Giants collapse before this season was because Tom Coughlin was out of touch – not because Eli was fading off.

Thank God Marvin Lewis turned around the Bengals, despite how awful Andy Dalton is…that’s what football people think….and everyone is wrong. Dalton saved Lewis’s ass.

We pick and choose what side of the QB-Head Coach equation we want to be on and then destroy the other side we don’t like. It’s like presidential politics.

Analysts and fans are starting to destroy Mike Tomlin, and that’s what Colin Cowherd is doing even though he claims he isn’t (and he has every free speech right to question/bash Tomlin’s skills) – Colin’s debate, and Terry Bradshaw’s flippant ‘Cheerleader’ comments, are now undermining Tomlin because the assertions will dog him until he wins his next Super Bowl – or gets fired…probably, fired. Colin is asking some legitimate questions but he’s going too far in my opinion. I say that as compared to the fact that he’s not going as hard at all of the other coaches who you could say the same thing about. Why are people not calling for Bruce Arians‘ head on a stick right now? Arizona was an embarrassment in 2016. How bad does Sean Payton have to be before Colin gives him the same treatment as Tomlin? The same argument Colin applies to Tomlin applies to Payton, only Payton’s track record the past few years is 10x worse than anything you can pin on Tomlin — Drew Brees is a Hall of Fame quarterback, and the Saints can’t even produce a winning record. Colin says one of the issues with Tomlin is that the Steelers have a Hall of Fame quarterback and the team is underachieving with the special QB gift he was given. Hey, at least Tomlin gets to the playoffs – and just got to the final four. So how is Mike Tomlin is such a huge disappointment and sloppy coach, while Sean Payton is perpetually crowned an offense of genius? Did you know Payton used to be tight with Bill Parcells? Because that matters.

Why don’t we question Big Ben in all of this?

Roethlisberger is running around complaining about his head coach in subtle ways to the media (which I thought was breaking NFL unwritten code and supposed to be a sign of a problematic player when they air laundry publicly?) and we just assume he’s right and therefore Mike Tomlin must be a bad coach. What if it is the opposite? What if Big Ben is fading away and he’s just a crybaby and wants to blame the coaches and his young surrounding cast – young players who he subtly called out in public as well after the Patriots loss. Because Colin is on Big Ben’s side, all this public undermining and complaining is fine…it’s considered heroic and a strong sign Tomlin is out of control. Because somehow Big Ben knows all. However, when Stanford-educated Richard Sherman starts questioning things with Seattle, he’s dismissed and we all have a grand laugh because ‘Richard just speaks his mind’…don’t you just love that guy? Why, gosh…Sherman doesn’t mean any of that. Why isn’t it a sign of trouble in Seattle? We can never say Pete Carroll did a horrible job this year with arguably the most talented roster in football. We can’t say that because ‘liking’ Pete Carroll is what the echo chamber media has decided to echo on. So when Big Ben speaks out we see that as a Mike Tomlin can’t control his players issue. When Doug Baldwin is flipping Pete Carroll’s offensive coordinator the bird on national television during the middle of a game – well, best to just sweep that under the rug. Nothing to see here. Pete’s got total control of the situation. His guys are just ‘fiery’ that’s all.

I don’t mean to be a Mike Tomlin defender like I’m some kind of massive Steelers fan, but if I was an advocate for Tomlin – I’d point to 2015 and say, “We would’ve won the Super Bowl had media beloved, protected status coach Marvin Lewis’s team and his out of control hoodlums in Cincinnati had not intentionally injured Antonio Brown.” Pittsburgh had already beaten Denver last year in the regular season and I think they would have beaten them in the 2015-16 playoffs to get to the final four if they had Antonio. So does that make Mike Tomlin a bad coach because Marvin Lewis allows Vontaze Burfict to exist? But Tomlin is the out of control coach? Tomlin beat the Super Bowl champs (Denver) in the regular season 2015-16 – and probably could’ve beaten them in the playoffs if he had his top receiving threat? Maybe he beats the Patriots this past playoff if Le’Veon Bell doesn’t get hurt? I’m not saying he would have, but it’s definitely up for debate…and it’s a debate that can happen because Mike Tomlin IS getting his team in a position to win down the stretch. He’s in the hunt. You cannot have these ‘what if’ and ‘almost’ arguments about what Gus Bradley did in Jacksonville — because he couldn’t win any games. Mike Tomlin is winning games and has a team everyone’s afraid of in the playoffs for the past two+ years…and somehow he’s a bad coach because of that. I don’t understand how or why.

The Steelers’ shortfalls of late might not be a Mike Tomlin issue at all — the problem may very well be that Ben Roethlisberger is a giant baby. When has anyone thought Big Ben is an elder statesman in the NFL…or filled with great logic and wisdom on everything? I know he’s a great quarterback, but how about all the other things that have happened in his career off the field? So, he’s now the lone voice we’re supposed to listen about the Steelers coaching situation because he’s an almighty quarterback? Give me a break. I’m not saying Tomlin is a coaching magician or Belichick-like, but I’m definitely saying he doesn’t deserve what Colin Cowherd and other people are starting to deal out about him and his coaching prowess — if Tomlin is a bad coach, then I want at least 20 other coaches fired before Tomlin’s number is pulled to be fired.

What are you going to do? Fire Tomlin and replace him with former Steelers coach Bruce Arians or Dick LeBeau? Tomlin dumped those famed/accepted coaches and his offense got better and so did his defense. Arians is starting to become a failure in Arizona, and LeBeau is legendary and does a solid job for the Titans. Moving on from Arians and LeBeau may be a sign that my Tomlin a little smarter executive and coach than we all want to give him credit for. It was just about late 2015 that everyone thought the Steelers offense was the greatest thing ever seen. This year they showed signs of that, but when it was appropriate Tomlin hit the brakes and worked more behind his great offensive line and superior running back to go on a winning streak.

Tomlin’s switch to feature the run game might have been a purposeful plan of taking the ball out of Ben Roethlisberger’s hands because Big Ben is getting so sloppy…and maybe that’s why Rothlisberger is starting to piss and moan about the coach – Tomlin sees the trouble and Ben is throwing a tantrum about it. Remember when Rothlisberger pissed and moaned about Todd Haley coming in to be the O-C? Rothlisberger’s best years/stretches have been under Todd Haley. Again, I don’t think Big Ben is qualified to be the end all be all judge of the football administration in Pittsburgh. I think Colin Cowherd is getting suckered by siding with Big Ben over Mike Tomlin. You can point to any number of statistics to show that Mike Tomlin may have underperformed in some metric or win-loss historical numbers – but you could do the same thing with most every non-Belichick coach in the NFL. Only four of them got to this past season’s final four – if Tomlin is so bad how did he make it so far? How did he almost get there the prior season as well?

Other teams flash up like Denver and Carolina and then disappear a year later. The Steelers have been in the hunt the last couple of years. Tomlin got his Super Bowl win a few years back, hit a bit of a slide, and the team is now back on the rise – and we’re gonna kill Tomlin for that track record? I don’t get it.

 

 

About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics, and College Football Metrics. His group also provides player projections for Advanced Sports Logic’s football software “The Machine.”

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