Most Pittsburgh Steelers fans know that head coach Mike Tomlin has not had a losing season in his first 16 years on the job as a National Football League head coach.
Many also know that his streak is the longest in NFL history. But where does it rank among head coaches of other major professional sports?
Greg Harvey of Stats Perform took a look and found the longest streaks of consecutive non-losing seasons to start a career in each of the four major North American professional sports leagues. His research revealed that Tomlin is tied for the sixth-best such streak of all time.
The top spot belongs to Joe McCarthy, who was fired after five winning seasons with the Chicago Cubs from 1926-30. He then caught on with the New York Yankees, where he added 15 more consecutive winning seasons to his streak, which lasted from 1931-46. With the Bronx Bombers, McCarthy won seven World Series titles, including two over the Cubs.
After taking 1947 off, McCarthy spent his final three seasons in baseball managing the Boston Red Sox from 1948-50, again failing to record a losing season. In total, McCarthy’s teams went 2,125-1,333 (.615) over his 24 seasons of MLB management, and he never posted a losing season.
Another career-long winner was legendary Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson. Jackson took over the Bulls in 1989, leading them to nine consecutive winning seasons and six NBA titles with superstar Michael Jordan.
After feuding with Bears general manager Jerry Krause, Jackson left Chicago, took a year off, and then landed in L.A., where he led the Lakers to three NBA titles in his first three seasons and eventually won two more while leading his club to 11 more winning seasons, for 20 in a row to close his career.
Jackson is tied for second on the list with 20 consecutive seasons, alongside NHL coach Joel Quenneville. While Quenneville eventually became a notable Stanley Cup winner, etching his name on Lord Stanley’s trophy three times with the Chicago Blackhawks, the started his coaching career less auspiciously.
Quenneville took over the St. Louis Blues in 1996, and while he led the Blue Notes to eight straight winning seasons, he failed to produce playoff results and was fired in 2004.
A three-year stint with the Colorado Avalanche from 2005-08 produced similar results: three winning seasons, two early playoff exits and another season missing the tournament altogether. He left Denver in 2008 and took a job as a scout with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Early in the following season, he was promoted to head coach and rattled off nine more winning seasons and three Stanley Cups before his streak was finally snapped with a 33-39-10 record in 2017-18.
In fourth place on the list is another former Los Angeles Lakers head coach, Pat Riley. A former Lakers player, Riley took over the team in 1981 and won his first of four NBA titles in his first season on the job. He spent nine years in L.A., winning the Pacific Division all nine times.
He stepped down after a playoff loss in 1990 and spent one year doing television before returning to the sideline with the New York Knicks in 1991. Riley’s Knickerbockers had four straight winning seasons, won three division titles, and made it to the NBA Finals once, but he couldn’t break through with playoff success in New York.
Riley moved to Miami where he became coach and president, giving himself more control over basketball operations. That produced more regular-season success — though it was a near thing in his first season when the Heat went 42-40. Riley’s Miami squads won for six more seasons before he posted his first career losing season in 2001-02 — 20 years in.
After stepping aside as coach in 2003, Riley got back into it in 2005, replacing Stan Van Gundy mid-season and leading the Heat to his fifth title as head coach.
Legendary NHL coach Scotty Bowman is next on the list with 18 straight non-losing seasons — all of which came before he led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 1992.
Bowman got his start as an NHL head coach in 1967 with the St. Louis Blues, and he had three winning seasons, and three Stanley Cup Final losses in his first three seasons. He resigned early in the 1970-71 season after a dispute with team ownership, while holding a 13-10-5 record.
The following year, Bowman joined the Montreal Canadiens, and went on one of the best runs of any franchise in NHL history. Under Bowman, the Habs rattled off eight straight winning seasons, including a spectacular 60-8-12 mark in 1976-77. They won six Norris Division titles, and hoisted the Stanley Cup five times, winning it four straight seasons from 1976-79.
Bowman had his eyes set on the Canadiens’ GM job and a move off the bench in 1979, but he was passed over that job and resigned. He took over the Buffalo Sabres instead, leading that club to six straight winning seasons, but no playoff success.
Bowman stepped down as head coach and assumed the Buffalo GM job in 1985, but on Jan. 17, 1986, he fired his own replacement, Jim Scoenfeld, and once again assumed coaching duties. Bowman finished the season with an 18-18-1 record, extending his non-losing season streak to 18 seasons. He was fired in 1986 after staring the year 3-7-2.
Bowman took over the Penguins after Bob Johnston was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1991. He led the club to the Stanley Cup in his first seasoning coached one more — a 56-21-7 squad in 1992-93 — before stepping down.
He went on to coach the Detroit Red Wings from 1993-2002, and that 3-7-2 start in 1986-87 ended up being his only losing season in 30 behind an NHL bench.
Tied with Tomlin at 16 consecutive non-losing seasons is former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver. Weaver is the only other coach to spend his entire career with one team, as he coached the O’s from 1968-82 and 1985-86.
Weaver led the Orioles to four American League pennants, beating the Cincinnati Reds in 1970, but losing three times, including to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971 and 1979.
If Tomlin leads the Steelers to another non-losing season in 2023, he can pull ahead of Weaver and cement his status as the best coach to start his career with one team. He has a long way to go to catch McCarthy, though.
Tomlin passed Pittsburgh native Marty Schottenheimer for the NFL record when he earned his 15th consecutive non-losing season to start his career in 2021.