Kovacevic: Tomlin up to the tall tasks ahead
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Tuesday, December 18, 2012, 10:00 p.m.
Updated: Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Let's get this out of the way early: If the Steelers fail to make the playoffs, it would — and should — mean nothing to Mike Tomlin's future with the team.
Even if they lose out to the Bengals and Browns.
Even if they finish 7-9 after starting out 6-3 in a mostly miserable AFC.
To even discuss the man's immediate future, to me, feels a little silly. Resumes do matter. Experience matters. For all the 24/7, tweet-and-text analysis in which our sporting culture now engages, no reasonable, rational fan (yeah, I know) could fairly assess Tomlin without weighing his:
• Two Super Bowl appearances, with one Lombardi Trophy.
• Four playoff berths in his first five years.
• 62-32 career record.
OK, with that said, as has been documented in this very space, Tomlin is not having a good 2012. And it's getting more glaring with each passing week that he has plenty of areas to address toward restoring the Steelers' elite status, as well as his once-sterling reputation for stewarding a winner.
Thus, I humbly offer these three wholly unsolicited concepts for the head coach's consideration, not so much for this weekend but for the weeks and months ahead:
1. Solve Ben vs. Todd
Tomlin predictably downplayed this topic Tuesday in his news conference, saying of Ben Roethlisberger's Sunday jabs at Todd Haley, “When you come up short, there are frustrations associated with that.”
Tomlin added that he met with Roethlisberger on Monday and that the QB is “on-board with what we're doing.”
Well, that's that, then.
Again, I'm behind Roethlisberger on this. He's the franchise player, and that's the lay of the land anymore.
To address that fully — and let's not pretend it won't come up anew — Tomlin must first accept that the star holds all the cards. He's got no choice. If it comes down to a him-or-me from Roethlisberger's perspective, the $102 million quarterback has to win that duel 102 times out of 102. And, yeah, even if that means finding a new coordinator.
I still don't buy that Tomlin had much to do with the switch from Bruce Arians to Haley, no matter the chest-thumping to the contrary. Something happened over Tomlin's head, and only Art Rooney II breathes the air up there.
If Tomlin is to reclaim his swagger at some point, he's got to reclaim his staff and his broader vision for winning football.
2. Shape up the defense
There are three ways to explain how this honest-to-Ziggy No. 1-ranked defense can exhibit sound strategy — hence, the low yardage totals — but so seldom get close enough to the ball for interceptions, fumbles or sacks: They're old, they get hurt easily and/or they're out of shape.
Or all three.
And all three, to some extent, are within Tomlin's control.
Setting aside the far larger task of finding more athletic replacements at some point, the coach can begin by asking why LaMarr Woodley, for one, has virtually vanished. Anyone isolating on No. 56 for any spell Sunday saw a $62 million linebacker being swallowed whole by anyone lining up across from him. On one play, the blocker doing the burying was 5-foot-8 running back Lance Dunbar.
To be fair, Woodley has had issues with an ankle and a long-troublesome hamstring. But the latter almost always is viewed as a conditioning issue. Not much of an excuse.
All this clearly is Woodley's responsibility, but there's no way Tomlin or linebackers coach Keith Butler — and coordinator in waiting — should have let it reach this point.
And Woodley's hardly alone.
3. Single out a leader
Leadership must originate within the locker room, but it's clearer now than ever that the committee approach isn't clicking somewhere. Brett Keisel and Roethlisberger are the captains, and both, to their credit, have been lauded by teammates for rousing speeches the past couple of weeks. But all we've seen translate to the field in that time is a flat-line loss to the Chargers and an equally blah first quarter Sunday.
Tomlin earned his reputation as a players' coach, one as much in harmony with his room as in control of it.
So where is that now?
I don't have the answers here. No one on the outside could. Maybe one player, someone in the James Farrior mold, can be anointed. Maybe Larry Foote if he's still got time on the clock. Whoever it is, one voice tends to resonate more than a cacophony in these settings.
Look, these Steelers aren't the NFL's most talented team. But they're significantly better than the sum of their results, and that buck stops on the desk of a highly capable coach facing the highest climb of his career.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Dejan, I agree with your artice in principal. But, I must take exception with certain elements as well as your healing formula. Tomlin's bad job started long before 2012. He clearly lacks an eye for talent.Tomlin has had a lot of success with Cower's personnel. But, now that Cower's guys are beginning to age, there is no-one there to step up & fill their shoes. Where is the next Ben, Harrison, Woodley, Miller, Palamalu etc etc etc ????? His picks have been insufficient to keep the Steelers eite. Who's he going to hang his hat on? Ziggy Hood? Gimme a break. Tomlin & the front office have done an abismal job in this area. And, it started long before 2012. Additonally, they've done a PP coaching job to get the weak picks ready to compete in the NFL. Put the weak picks and weak coaching together and it brings us to present day. And, t ain't a pretty picture. I agree that Tomlin won't lose his job. But, the very first thing that someone needs to do is shore up his personnel decisions - which have been absolutley dreadful. ex: Keeping 2 old, single dimensional, washed up QB's - instead of the younger, triple dimensional Dixon is just one very minute example. I say, there is no long term Elite Status future for the Steeers with Tomlin at the helm unless someone comes in to subsidize his personnel short comings. And, I just don't know how anyone does that w/o him screwing it up when / if the should hand him a super star. I guess he would just coninually run them off right tackle (hole or no hole) until the guy just broke and then he'd pout & bench him. I'm just not drinkin the Tomlin Kool Aid.
Submitted by: devon on Wednesday, December 19, 2012
well bill cowher is still available,whisenhunt former offensive coordinator and russ grimm offensive line coach will be available at the end of the season. Look for the rooneys to bring the old gang back and relieve mike tomlin of his head coaching duties. need to find a special teams coach! bobby april will become available when andy reid gets fired.
Submitted by: M on Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Point #1. Let's get back to old time Steeler football. #2 Yinz are gonna be hot when "The Chin" shows up coaching the Eagles next year.
Submitted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Tomlin is still a young coach. As the difference in age between him and his players grow, he will become a better coach. Biggest issue I have with Tomlin this year is how long it took to settle on a RB. Benching players for fumbling the ball is the worst thing he could have done. They need to get better at FS and SS (since Troy can't stay healthy) and get better at CB. They also need to find a reliable backup at QB. Can't rely on Batch and Leftwich to stay healthy. This coaching staff can get it turned around and will. @ Ed Coaches who show emotion are great, but it isn't necessary to be a good coach. I have had coaches that ran around like their hair was on fire, but couldn't coach worth a damn, and I have also had coaches that were quiet and coached in a calm manner and everyone would run through a wall for the guy and the results were the proof of their coaching ability. Tomlin is a good coach. He has had his share of issues to deal with as every coach does. Would love to see them go to the 4-3 and put Woodley at DE and get him rushing the QB on every down.
Submitted by: Ed on Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Hey Dave, i don't agree with you , isn't Tomlin the leader of the team. When he's on the sidelines he does nothing to get hs team fired up. He stands there with smirk on his face. The teams that took him o the S.B.'s were teams that Coach Cowher put together. Now that he has the team that he built they are floundering. WHY? Anymore he seems t me he acts like Oh well that the way it goes. As the Great Chuck Noll would say" Maybe its time he gets on with lifes works elsewhere" i agree he become to complacent to leafd anymore.I like a coach who shows emtions.
Submitted by: David on Wednesday, December 19, 2012
You are being too nice to Tomlin. Penalties, dropped passes, fumbles, and missed assignments are all signs of a POORLY COACHED TEAM. And who is the head coach? But you are right about injuries and conditioning: also a coaching problem. This "players coach" seems to be more concerned about appearing to being "a gentleman and a scholar" to actually be a tough head coach. Maybe he needs more "chin", if you know what I mean. And as for giving him credit for two super bowl appearances and a great record, well he did inherit a great team with a seasoned coaching staff already in place. And as his influence grows the team fades.