Mark Madden: In grand scheme, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s extension means little
The extension of Mike Tomlin’s contract through 2021 (with an option for ’22) was business as usual for the Steelers. The usual timetable dictated and was followed.
If it’s me, I don’t extend Tomlin.
He was signed through 2020, so he would not have been a lame duck in ’19.
The extension emphasizes Tomlin is in charge. But anyone who challenged that is gone.
Extending Tomlin means little tangibly. It keeps the media from harping on the timeline being violated but not much else.
Tomlin doesn’t feel pressure because the Steelers don’t fire their coach.
Tomlin might not know for certain that he will coach the Steelers as long as he wants, but he’s got a pretty good idea.
Ben Roethlisberger’s contract expires in 2021. Tomlin’s could.
That’s interesting. Except for a few injuries and 2010’s suspension, Tomlin has always had Roethlisberger as his starting quarterback.
Maybe the careers of Tomlin and Roethlisberger should conclude simultaneously. Perhaps Tomlin wouldn’t want to forge forward with Mason Rudolph (or whoever) at quarterback, or the Steelers would see Roethlisberger’s retirement as a good time to hire a new coach and do a total on-field reboot.
But right now, Tomlin is in command — as emphasized to some small degree by the extension.
The idea of making Tomlin “coach for his job” and “earn a new contract” in 2019 is quaint, perhaps even reasonable. But the Steelers operate like they operate, and it has nothing to do with talk-show rhetoric.
Tomlin won’t get fired. Not ever.
The Steelers have had three coaches in 50 years and haven’t fired any. (Chuck Noll got gently nudged into retirement in 1991 after 23 seasons.)
There’s one safer bet than Tomlin not getting fired.
Tomlin won’t change.
Tomlin is a good coach. His .654 winning percentage speaks for itself. Tomlin makes his players believe in each other and, usually, they follow the program. He’s a good big-picture coach, and doesn’t panic upon stumbling. He sees things through. (A lot of that is enabled by his unique job security.)
But Tomlin is flawed. His record on replay challenges speaks for itself: zero for his last 10. He has three playoff victories in the last eight years despite resources that dictate doing better. While injuries have hurt Tomlin in that context, two of those three wins came against backup quarterbacks.
Tomlin is a players’ coach, but that’s backfired. Antonio Brown ran wild and could not be stopped. Maybe no coach could have reined in Brown (except Bill Belichick). But while Brown might have been the loudest symptom, his nonsense trickled down to others.
After last season, Tomlin said, “I accept responsibility and I foster and develop every aspect of our culture.”
But Tomlin’s admission rang hollow and forced. Tomlin has never considered player conduct a problem. He thinks it’s irrelevant. At any rate, Tomlin likely thinks any headaches of that ilk exited with Brown (and Le’Veon Bell, James Harrison, Martavis Bryant and Joey Porter).
Tomlin might be right. If Broadway-style player entrances at training camp are any barometer, Thursday’s were quiet save Eli Rogers arriving in a big rig. He was wearing a hard hat but looked like one of the Village People, not a construction worker.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is almost always promoting his brand via social media, but he arrived at camp quietly, almost on the sly.
Tomlin will be the same coach he’s always been.
Roethlisberger will be the same quarterback he’s always been.
But now each can more easily and effectively perform his job because there are no egos and brands to super-serve, or stat lines to pad. The whispers and shouts heard in the huddle, in the locker room and on the sideline have been muted.
When Tomlin and Roethlisberger went against logic and game situation in 2014 to extend Brown’s hokey record of consecutive games with at least five catches for at least 50 yards, they should have raised a white flag. They surrendered. The team belonged to Brown.
Now, they can reclaim what should have always been theirs, and the Steelers will be better for it. That’s got nothing to do with Tomlin’s extension.