Steelers president Art Rooney II 'happy' with Mike Tomlin's work
There seemed to be no limit to the anger directed at coach Mike Tomlin after the Steelers flamed out in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It came from fans upset that the Steelers, the No. 2 playoff seed, lost 45-42 at home after falling behind by 21 points twice in the first half.
It came, reportedly, from some of the franchise's limited partners, who allegedly lobbied for Tomlin to lose his job because of his clock management in the fourth quarter.
But it didn't come from team president Art Rooney II, who has the final say in evaluating Tomlin's coaching acumen.
On the contrary, Tomlin has the full support of Rooney, which the principal owner made clear Wednesday during an interview with a handful of Steelers beat reporters.
“When you win 13 games in this league, it's hard to ignore that,” Rooney II said.
The Steelers went 13-3 — their best record since the 2004 season and before Tomlin was head coach — but made only a brief appearance in the playoffs, a letdown for a team that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations.
Rooney II called the way the Steelers season ended “disappointing,” but attributed the loss to a pair of first-half turnovers that led to two Jacksonville touchdowns (one directly) rather than fourth-down play calls that snuffed out two drives or the clock management in the waning moments.
“We played against a good team and turned the ball over twice early that led to scores on their end that we couldn't overcome,” Rooney said. “That is part Mike's problem, but mostly it's the guys on the field who have to make sure it doesn't happen. Some of it was good plays by Jacksonville.
“Anybody that wants to look at Mike's track record since he's been our coach, I think the record speaks for itself.”
In 11 seasons, Tomlin has won 116 regular-season games, more than any other coach in NFL history aside from Hall of Famer Don Shula. But critics point to Tomlin's recent postseason record as his downfall.
Since the Steelers appeared in the Super Bowl following the 2010 season, Tomlin has compiled a 3-5 record over five postseasons. In three of those years, the Steelers lost their playoff opener, two of those defeats coming at home.
Tomlin, who is signed through the 2020 season, has an 8-7 career playoff record with a Super Bowl title on his resume.
“You look at Mike's record overall and you start to look around,” Rooney said. “It's always easy for people to say you should get rid of your coach. OK, well, who are you hiring next? There's another part to that equation that people don't want to get into. I'm very comfortable Mike is our coach and happy that he's our coach, and I think he's one of the best coaches in the NFL.”
Tomlin dealt with his share of distractions during the season, from the national anthem fiasco in Chicago to the Martavis Bryant trade request to Ryan Shazier's career-threatening injury to James Harrison's release.
Rooney called the season “unusual” because of the disruptions but added, “all that considered, winning 13 games over the course of the season speaks to the kind of focus our team has, the resiliency we have and the leadership we have on the team.”
Incidents such as Tomlin in November looking ahead to an AFC championship rematch against New England that never happened or bulletin-board quotes from Le'Veon Bell and Mike Mitchell comments led to criticism that the Steelers lacked discipline or weren't properly prepared heading into the playoffs.
“I would say that, again, you don't win 13 games in this league if you're not a focused group,” Rooney said. “To me, that kind of is the barometer that I use to say, ‘Did we have a problem here?' Here and there, maybe there was a comment that I would have rather not seen, but I look at it as those two turnovers in the first half had more to do with what happened in the Jacksonville game than what anybody said before the game.”
Rooney also made light of the report that surfaced a few days after the playoff loss in which several limited partners in the Steelers ownership group supposedly wanted Tomlin fired.
“I didn't get that letter yet,” Rooney said, smiling.” I don't know if it got lost in the mail or whether it's coming by Pony Express. I'm not sure what happened, but I never got that letter.”