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Tim Benz: Steelers should be better than Mike Tomlin has made them | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz: Steelers should be better than Mike Tomlin has made them

Tim Benz
| Friday, January 4, 2019 6:12 a.m

Arguing about whether the Pittsburgh Steelers should keep Mike Tomlin is more volatile than any political discussion I can fathom.

Give me a nice, quiet conversation about border walls, health care, gun control, government shutdowns or Hillary’s emails any day.

Those are far less contentious topics.

Sides have been drawn. Heels are dug in. You are pro-Tomlin or anti-Tomlin.

There is no gray area anymore. I tried to live in it for a while.

Like a decade or so.

Frankly, there should be a middle ground. Because Tomlin has a resume worth defending: two Super Bowl trips with one victory, six division titles, 12 years without a losing season.

However, over the last decade, that resume also includes almost as many seasons without the playoffs (four) as with them (six). Only three of those 10 seasons have featured at least one postseason win.

Most disturbingly, those seven seasons without a playoff victory have come during a stretch of time when the Steelers have had the NFL’s most coveted possession: a Hall of Fame quarterback. That’s not to mention scores of other talented players over the years.

Just look at this failed 2018 season. A team good enough to be 7-2-1 beyond the halfway point blew numerous leads, occasionally against inferior teams. As a result, it’s sitting at home, eliminated short of the playoffs.

It’s tough to fault the construction of the roster or the individual accomplishments of its players. The team boasts six Pro Bowlers, which doesn’t even include:

• The team MVP: JuJu Smith-Schuster

• The 5,000-yard passer: Ben Roethlisberger

• The guy many consider to be the best defensive player on the roster: Joe Haden

• The linebacker with the eighth-best sack total in the league: T.J. Watt

When talent of that caliber fails to win, a lot of the blame should fall on the coach. And none of that is to mention the embarrassment bestowed upon the organization with his failure to manage his ego-driven stars.

Many of those key players generating negative headlines and distractions on a weekly basis — Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell — received only the slightest of discipline or public admonishment from Tomlin. In fact, he was often their biggest defender.

Why stop at the roster? Extend criticism of off-field behavior to his past and present assistant coaches, such as Todd Haley and Joey Porter.

For all those reasons, I’m now in favor of a change. I think the Steelers should be better.

And I’m phrasing that way for a reason. I truly believe that. The Steelers SHOULD … BE … BETTER.

In many ways.

I won’t condemn Tomlin’s qualities as a person or a coach as many detractors are doing. I refuse to marginalize his accomplishments with that tired and inaccurate “he only did it with Cowher’s players” line. I’ll recognize that Tomlin has had success, although not enough.

Certainly not enough lately for an organization that expects to be elite.

Unfortunately, though, it’s politics now. When people try to sell something political, they often exaggerate to make their point. Tomlin critics are guilty of that.

But so are his defenders. The worst thing I keep hearing from that camp is, “You can’t fire him because he’s won a championship. You don’t know if the next guy is going to do any better. Who are you going to get? Someone who has been fired before?”

Exactly. Kind of like how the Penguins got rid of a guy with a nearly identical resume to Tomlin’s in Dan Bylsma. Then — after Mike Johnston — they stumbled onto former Bruins head coach Mike Sullivan.

Too bad that bum didn’t work out, huh?

“OK. That’s an exception. If you can’t get a guy like that, you’ll have to hire someone with no prior experience.”

Yeah. Precisely. A person with no previous head coaching experience. Such as, well … Mike Tomlin?

Or maybe a couple of guys named Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll?

We could also be less provincial and more current about that list and add names such as Frank Reich, Sean McVay and Doug Pederson.

What are those people suggesting? The Steelers, a team with more Super Bowl titles than anyone else, should be content with inconsistency and mediocrity because they are afraid of trying to get better?

That’s an incredibly cowardly, small-minded, and counterintuitive way of thinking. It’s especially shortsighted given the Steelers are pretty good at identifying coaching talent.

In the Super Bowl era, there have been only three Steelers coaches. All three have won titles. By comparison, since Noll was hired in 1969, there has been more change in the Vatican than there has been on the Steelers sideline.

Popes, 5. Steelers head coaches, 3.

Maybe that analogy hits a little too close to home. Because at this point, the Steelers may need some divine intervention if they stick with Tomlin as coach.

Art Rooney II will do just that, though. Because those are his convictions.

Understandable.

If some Steelers fans support that plan because of Tomlin’s past success, so be it.

Just don’t tell me it’s wrong to suggest the Steelers may do better by moving on. Because the track record in this city suggests that could be the case.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@tribweb.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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