The Pittsburgh Steelers erased any doubt about Mike Tomlin’s future with the team Thursday, giving their 13th-year coach a contract extension on the day they reported to training camp at Saint Vincent.
Tomlin, however, only had one year added to his deal, not the typical two years he has received in the past, and his contract now runs through the 2021 season.
Tomlin confirmed the contract also contains an option for 2022.
“I don’t dwell a lot on that, but that’s not to say it’s not really appreciated,” said Tomlin, who was hired in 2007 and is the organization’s third head coach in a 51-year span. “I’m blessed to have the opportunity I have to lead this group, and I’m continually thankful for that.”
Tomlin isn’t concerned he didn’t get the full year extension that he most recently received during the 2017 training camp.
“I don’t think a lot about it, to be quite honest with you,” he said. “I focus on the task at hand. If you do that, contractual things will take care of themselves.”
If Tomlin fulfills the three years, he will tie Bill Cowher as the organization’s second-longest tenured coach at 15 seasons. Chuck Noll lasted 23 years.
“He’s one of the main reasons I came to the Steelers when I was a free agent,” said veteran cornerback Joe Haden, who is entering his third year with the team. “Just the way he treats his players, the way his coaching style is. Being here, I love him even more.”
That feeling isn’t unanimously shared outside the organization. When the Steelers missed the playoffs last season for the first time in five years, finishing with a 9-6-1 record, debate began about whether Tomlin deserved his customary extension.
Although Tomlin has a 125-66-1 record in the regular season and has guided the Steelers to eight postseason and two Super Bowl appearances, winning one, he is 8-7 overall in the playoffs. The Steelers are 3-5 in the postseason since 2010, their most recent Super Bowl visit.
By extending Tomlin on Thursday, team president Art Rooney II didn’t allow his coach’s contract uncertainty to carry into training camp. Tomlin’s contract runs concurrent with the deal that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signed in the spring that carries through 2021.
“Mike is one of the most successful head coaches in the National Football League,” Rooney II said in a statement. “We are confident in his leadership to continue to lead our team as we pursue our goal of winning another championship.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey, a team captain, said any rhetoric about whether Tomlin should have his contract extended was misplaced.
“He deserves it,” Pouncey said. “He runs the team the right way. He disciplines guys the right way. He’s everything you want in a head coach. I know in some offseasons he has taken some heat and some pressure, but I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else.”
Neither would defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, another team captain.
“He pushes us, he’s accountable,” he said. “He lets us know when we drop the ball, but he does it on a very personal level where he’s not just going to say it to you. He’s going to motivate you to do it. Hopefully, we have many more years together.”
Tomlin’s extension was the biggest news on an otherwise mundane reporting day. Nobody arrived in a helicopter like Antonio Brown did last season. Nobody piloted a fire truck, as James Harrison once did. Aside from backup wide receiver Eli Rogers riding shotgun in the cab of a tractor trailer while wearing a hard hat and construction gear, no player made a grand entrance.
Most players, mindful of the missed opportunity last season when the Steelers lost four times in a six-game span to lose control of the division, were happy to take a low-key approach to the start of training camp.
For outside linebacker T.J. Watt, the day was a long time coming.
“Not being able to make the playoffs extended the offseason a little more than we wanted,” he said. “It feels like we have been away from this place for a long time. It really is refreshing to be back.”