The Pittsburgh Steelers – my team of choice – have employed only three head coaches in the past fifty years. And in that time, those three coaches – Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin – have brought the City of Steel eight Super Bowl appearances and six championships.
But those three men have only earned one Coach of the Year honor – and that was to Cowher, in his first head coaching season.
Mike Tomlin needs to win Coach of the Year for the 2019 NFL season.
Trust me on this.
This was supposed to be a tough year for the Steelers – wide receive Antonio Brown had left the team, as had multipurpose running back Le’Veon Bell. New acquisition Dante Moncrief dropped passes like his hands were coated in Crisco. The Steelers started the season with a nasty loss to New England, and things just went south from there.
The next week, against Seattle, Pittsburgh’s quarterback damaged his elbow – and was shut down for the year. Urgh. Okay, next man up – Mason Rudolph. He played well for a few games, but then he suffered a case of interceptionitis. Against Cleveland, no less.
So Rudolph went to the bench, and third-stringer Devlin “Duck” Hodges came out. And the Steelers continued to win.
Then came the injuries. Stephon Tuitt. Juju Smith-Schuster. James Connor. But the Steelers’ practice squad and backups came to play. And they did not disappoint.
The Steelers also did something that was unexpected. In a season where teams who are underperforming might “tank” their games to improve their draft status, the Steelers chose instead to go for it and win this year, no matter what. They traded their 2020 first round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins for Minkah Fitzpatrick, who did NOT want to play for the tanking Dolphins. Fitzpatrick suddenly turned into one of the Steelers’ most potent defensive weapons, with five interceptions – including a couple of pick-sixes for the Black and Gold.
I note this because Fitzpatrick – along with TJ Watt, Cameron Hayward and Markice Pouncey – are four Steelers who are listed as starters in this year’s Pro Bowl (David DeCastro is also listed as a backup). Impressive.
Even with low-round draft picks, the Steelers have found some serious ammunition this season. First-round draft pick Devin Bush has been a defensive stalwart, and “where the hell did they find him” Diontae Johnson could be the next long-distance target of the future.
And this is a drama-less season for the Steelers. No grandiose bravado from Antonio Brown. No contract holdouts and whining from Le’Veon Bell. No passive-aggressive media comments from the quarterback.
Right now, the Steelers sit at 8-6. They are still able to make the postseason. All they have to do is keep pace with the Tennessee Titans (who are also 8-6). Two wins by Pittsburgh, they’re in. A win and a loss, combined with at least one Titans loss, the Steelers are in. Two losses by Pittsburgh – so long as there are also two losses by Tennessee – Pittsburgh plays in January.
This team is being held together by backup quarterbacks, rookies, practice players and walkons. And yet Mike Tomlin has held this team together. He’s offered praise when needed. He’s offered direction when needed. He’s benched when needed. He’s treated these men like – well – men. In his tenure in Pittsburgh, Tomlin has NEVER had a losing record. And that includes this season. Even Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher have had losing records at one point in time with the Steelers. Not Tomlin.
Besides, who are the other candidates worthy of this accolade? The coach of the Niners? Forget that, Jimmy Garappolo is a ticking time bomb and he’s going to cost them down the stretch. The coach of the Bills? Don’t even start with me on that. The coach of the Ravens? All they really have is Lamar Jackson, after that it’s just spare parts.
So let’s get a few things straight. Tomlin – coach of the year 2020.
And then let’s go to the postseason.
Because the Steelers were supposed to be left for dead.
Probably NOT a good idea to throw dirt on their graves.
Because they’re not done yet.