Mark Madden: Rooney should make Tomlin feel like he has to earn contract extension
When Steelers owner/president Art Rooney II made his media rounds this week, he seemed noncommittal to the notion of extending the contract of coach Mike Tomlin.
“Those are things we’ll get to sort of later in the offseason,” Rooney said.
Translation: Tomlin will get extended, but it’s not something Rooney wants to trumpet less than a month after an epic fail of a season that saw his coach lose control.
Rooney refused to characterize the Steelers as a “circus,” and why would he? That wouldn’t do the franchise one bit of good.
But, by season’s end, the whole team could have spilled out of a solitary car at the 50-yard-line by way of pregame introductions.
Changes to the coaching staff have been minimal: Two assistants were let go. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak made a lateral move to Denver to be near his daughter and granddaughter and for no other reason — certainly not to escape the quicksand of the Steelers’ chaos, nor because Munchak was a lonely island of discipline and structure in an ocean of turmoil.
Somebody already on the staff will “assist” Tomlin with replay challenges. That’s cosmetic, not meaningful. Tomlin, who has been unsuccessful on all nine of his replay challenges over the last two seasons, still has final say. He shouldn’t.
Doing a basic read-between-the-lines translation of what Rooney said, he thinks the Steelers’ problems are neither great, nor many.
Rooney will confirm that when he extends Tomlin’s contract this offseason.
That adheres to the Steelers’ policy of extending a coach’s commitment when he has two years left on his current deal. (The Steelers are addicted to doing things exactly as they have for the past 50 years. Except Tomlin isn’t Chuck Noll.)
Tomlin largely let the reins slip during the last two seasons. It wasn’t nonstop chaos but pretty close. Review the timeline.
Tomlin acknowledged the Steelers’ framework needs modified: “I foster and develop every aspect of our culture.”
That’s a mouthful for someone who seems to rarely think he’s wrong, let alone admit it.
More tangibly, the Steelers went from 7-2-1 to out of the playoffs.
The Steelers are broken. Tomlin likely doesn’t know how to fix it. But giving him job security beyond 2020 might make him think he doesn’t really have to. The gravity of the situation would be minimized. This past season’s collapse would be normalized.
Giving Tomlin an extension now (and, very likely, a hefty raise) would be pointing him in the wrong direction.
Tomlin wouldn’t be a lame duck without an extension. He has two years left, not one.
Since Tomlin is returning, his seat needs to be a bit hot. If he gets an extension, it isn’t, and his situation will be business as usual. With just three playoff victories in the last eight seasons, Tomlin’s business isn’t boomin’. Rooney should act accordingly.
That’s the cue for Tomlin’s defenders and apologists to cite his regular-season record, manufactured quasi-accomplishments, the Steelers’ iron-clad philosophy of employing coaches long-term and a dozen other forms of outrage that frustrate, but mostly bore.
All that angst is misguided. Tomlin isn’t getting terminated, nor is anyone suggesting that. (Not in this column.) He still has two years on his deal. That’s job security more than reasonable for a coach who has mostly specialized in disappointment since the Steelers’ last Super Bowl appearance at the end of the 2010 season.
Make Tomlin feel he has to earn an extension. Perhaps he will.
If he doesn’t, then fire him.
Tomlin didn’t pull a sword from a stone. Coaching is a job based on performance.
Improving on 9-6-1 will be hard given that the Steelers will have lost Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Ryan Shazier and Munchak within a relatively short time. The defense is dilapidated. But Ben Roethlisberger is the best of building blocks, and return for Brown should give the Steelers opportunity for immediate upgrade via the draft.
But more than anything, Tomlin has to do a better job fostering and developing every aspect of the Steelers’ culture. He needs to get control back.
When Tomlin does that, give him an extension. Not a moment before.
If Tomlin takes offense to the Steelers deviating from their usual timetable and wants to leave at contract’s end, let him. Tomlin could easily get another job, but it wouldn’t be as good as the one he has. The Steelers should choose to not live in their fears.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM 105.9.