Mark Madden: It's time the Steelers consider firing Mike Tomlin
Whenever a caller broaches the subject of firing Mike Tomlin on my radio program, I dismiss it out of hand.
First off, it won’t happen. The Steelers employ coaches even longer than long term.
Second, it shouldn’t happen. Tomlin never has had a losing season. His regular-season winning percentage of .653 is second among active coaches who have worked three seasons or more. He’s won a Super Bowl and lost another.
That part of Tomlin’s resume obscures his recent playoff failings: Just three postseason wins in the last seven seasons.
Whoever the Steelers hired to replace Tomlin would be worse and do worse. That includes Greenfield product Mike McCarthy, recently pink-slipped by the Green Bay Packers.
But if there’s ever been a time to seriously consider the wisdom of the Steelers continuing to employ Tomlin, it’s now.
That’s in the wake of Sunday’s debacle at Oakland: yet another Tomlin loss to a much lesser team where the Steelers appeared to be absurdly not ready. Heck, wide receiver Ryan Switzer didn’t even wear the right shoes.
Since Tomlin took the helm in 2007, the Steelers are 6-5 straight up in road games where they’ve been favored by nine points or more. The rest of the NFL is 52-10. That’s embarrassing and alarming.
Tomlin’s clock management is putrid. After Oakland ran the ball on first and goal from the Steelers’ 7 on their final (winning) drive, Tomlin let 38 seconds run off the clock despite having two timeouts. Those 38 seconds would have come in handy after the Raiders scored.
Situations like that are Football 101, and Tomlin keeps flunking. Same with his replay challenges.
The Steelers’ special teams are the NFL’s most penalized and among the league’s worst. But special teams coach Danny Smith remains on duty and continues to yell, scream and mangle.
Kicker Chris Boswell has missed a league-worst five extra points and is just 10 for 16 on field goals, missing two at Oakland. (Do the math. If Boswell makes them, the Steelers win.) Yet, he keeps his job because of, one supposes, some twisted sense of loyalty that no NFL team has applied to a kicker in recent memory, if ever.
But that mostly pales to how Tomlin handled the quarterbacking situation at Oakland.
Ben Roethlisberger suffered a rib injury near the end of the first half. But he was cleared to play the second half.
Yet, Tomlin opted to not play him. Tomlin said Roethlisberger could have returned “a series or so sooner, but we were in the rhythm and flow of the game.”
“Rhythm and flow of the game?” What does that even mean?
The Steelers’ four second-half possessions with Josh Dobbs at the helm went as follows: punt, turned over on downs, interception, punt. (That’s an early look at the Steelers’ offense post-Roethlisberger, BTW.)
Roethlisberger came in for the last two possessions, leading the Steelers to what should have been the winning touchdown and a tying field goal. (He got none of the above.)
Why did Tomlin choose to play Dobbs instead of Roethlisberger? What sane reason could there possibly be?
Was he saving Ben for an “emergency?” Because if you’re up by only 14-10 at halftime against a 2-10 team, that’s an emergency.
Roethlisberger critics (and they were plentiful on social media despite Roethlisberger’s late-game Willis Reed impersonation) assume Roethlisberger made the decision or that Roethlisberger should have demanded to enter the game.
Who plays is the coach’s call. It’s not Roethlisberger’s job to keep Tomlin from looking like an imbecile.
Said Roethlisberger, “I was just waiting for Coach to tell me when to go.”
Before Tomlin opted to use Dobbs over Roethlisberger in what boiled down to a must-win game, I never gave serious consideration to the idea that replacing Tomlin was a good idea.
Now I can’t help but.
The Steelers look screwed.
After losing at Oakland, there’s no way to assume the Steelers should win any of their remaining games.
But they have to win two of three to go 9-6-1, which should win the AFC North. Finishing 8-7-1 probably puts them behind the Baltimore Ravens and likely misses out on a wild card, too.
Can the Steelers beat the New England Patriots or the New Orleans Saints? It looks like they have to win at least one of those games.
If the Steelers miss the playoffs because Tomlin chose to play Dobbs instead of Roethlisberger vs. a 2-10 team, things must change even if Tomlin doesn’t get axed.
Smith should be fired.
Outside linebackers coach Joey Porter should be fired. He’s more mascot than coach and has provided the Steelers a bad look too many times. Coaches shouldn’t cause chaos.
The responsibility for clock management and replay challenges should be given to somebody else. Hire a specialist. He should have autonomy. Tomlin can’t overrule. Tomlin stinks at those duties.
GM Kevin Colbert should have final say on personnel decisions. Tomlin needs to concentrate on coaching, period. Right now, he’s not too good at it.
A bad team beat the Steelers on Sunday, and it didn’t even play a good game. The Raiders took 13 penalties for 130 yards and still somehow won.
Most NFL teams would fire Tomlin given the circumstances. The Steelers won’t.
Because the Steelers are going to retain Tomlin, he must do better. The Steelers must force his hand on certain issues. There must be accountability.
No coach who had to answer for his decision would have chosen to play Dobbs over Roethlisberger. Unless said coach was an absolute half-wit.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).