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Saunders: Mike Tomlin Love-Fest No National Media Creation



Pittsburgh Steelers HC Mike Tomlin Baltimore Ravens Head coach John Harbaugh
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, talks with Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin following an NFL football game, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024 in Baltimore. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

INDIANAPOLIS — A significant talking point during the 2023 season, as the local pressure to perform ratcheted up on Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, was that while Tomlin gets plenty of criticism from the local media in Pittsburgh for not winning enough while it matters, the national media has a propensity to treat him quite differently.

NFL Network host Rich Eisen took it upon himself to be the standard-bearer for that movement, saying in December that Steelers fans that want Tomlin gone are out of their minds.

“If you want this to be the moment the Steelers finally get rid of Mike Tomlin, you are out of your frickin’ minds,” Eisen said in early December. “If this guy is put out on the market by the Pittsburgh Steelers, everyone will be falling all over themselves. And whatever the Steelers are paying him right now, he could double it. …

“Mike Tomlin is one of the best head coaches of all time. You will see him in the Hall of Fame one day, it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen, we’re going to see it.”

Tomlin is pretty unquestionably a coaching legend and fairly a lock for the Hall of Fame, but a time to move on comes for every situation, and he will not be immune to that.

Eisen’s comment and others like it prompted a lot of teeth-gnashing about why the national media seems to adore Tomlin so much, while the Pittsburgh press and public seem more agnostic about his status as the team’s head coach.

RELATED: Art Rooney II Explains Continued Faith in Mike Tomlin, Says Extension is Coming

While that debate will likely continue until Tomlin either wins something of import again or the Steelers move on, I think the gathering of the league here at the combine is a good time to point something else out.

The national media’s feelings about Mike Tomlin are the way they are because that’s the way the rest of the NFL feels about Mike Tomlin.

At this massive assemblage of owners, executives, general managers, coaches, agents, current and former players, prospects, media and hangers-on, Tomlin is a revered figure. 

As a Pittsburgh-based reporter, a typical interaction for with a source or connection from another city or team goes something like this:

“What is wrong with Steelers fans that they could possibly want to move on from Mike Tomlin?”

That’s not media talking. That’s people within the game. The national media has a pretty good pulse on the way the people around the NFL feel about the man.

At the podium on Tuesday, two members of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most-bitter rivals went out of their way to praise the Steelers and Tomlin.

Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta was asked about their own coaching stability — John Harbaugh is the second-longest-tenured NFL head coach, and has won just two playoff games since winning the Super Bowl after the 2012 season.

DeCosta said the Ravens consider the Steelers as a model of franchise stability and the right way to do things as an NFL team.

“We’ve actually looked at franchises like the Steelers over the years,” DeCosta said. “Always had an admiration for the way that they’ve conducted business. Obviously, bitter rivals, but we believe that continuity is critical to success in many different ways. I think just from a coaching staff, the system’s in place – the offense, the defense, having the same schemes. Players having the same coaches year-to-year is critical. Then from a scouting perspective – building our processes, having a way that you scout players, having the same scouts scouting players every single year, the process of the draft and how that unfolds, we believe is critically important to our success.”

Harbaugh was asked if he ever thought the Steelers would fire Tomlin this offseason, and he said he never even considered the possibility.

“I have much respect, much love for Coach Tomlin, for the Steelers organization, for the players,” Harbaugh said.

For many around the NFL, the Steelers and Mike Tomlin are what they aspire to be. And that perception is why the national media rates Tomlin the way they do.

That’s not to say that the Steelers couldn’t possibly improve their head coaching situation. Just remember that the adoration for Tomlin isn’t some media creation. It comes from the very people that compete against him.