The Steelers just don’t fire coaches, especially successful ones. It’s not a part of the team’s DNA and it’s certainly not how the Rooney family operates.
Chuck Noll endured three losing seasons and no playoff berths in a four-year stretch in the late 1980s. Bill Cowher missed the playoffs three straight years, with back-to-back losing seasons from 1998-2000, before he ever won a Super Bowl for the franchise.
In Mike Tomlin’s career, he’s missed the playoffs four times, twice in back-to-back situations in 2012-13 and 2018-19. The Steelers have currently not won a playoff game in four seasons, despite a pair of AFC North titles and home postseason games in 2017 and 2020.
As Daniel Valente of The Score noted, there have been more popes than Steelers head coaches since 1969. So the idea that Tomlin would somehow be fired or otherwise forced out for that run of performances was completely nonsensical.
On the other hand, it was completely reasonable to wonder how long Tomlin would still want to be the Steelers’ head coach.
The team is clearly entering a period of change, with star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the final season of his contract. General manager Kevin Colbert has been operating on a series of year-to-year contracts and Tomlin’s last deal, signed in 2019, was set to expire following the 2021 season (with an option for 2022), as well.
It certainly seemed plausible that Tomlin might not have been interested in undergoing a rebuild without a star quarterback, 15 years into his tenure with the team. That’s the whole of a career for the vast majority of NFL coaches, and I doubt many would have judged him for deciding to pass the reins and ride off into the sunset alongside Roethlisberger.
The fact that Colbert has been operating under a series of a one-year contract suggests that the Steelers would have likely allowed Tomlin to go down that route, as well, if he were so inclined.
Instead, the 49-year-old that was once the youngest coach in the NFL and the youngest to win a Super Bowl signaled that he still has plenty in the tank, by signing a three-year contract extension on Tuesday to keep him in Pittsburgh through the end of the 2024 season.
It’s nearly assured to take him through the end Roethlisberger’s tenure, giving Tomlin a chance to guide the team through a transition period at the game’s most important position.
Tomlin’s resume on the whole speaks for itself. He’s won a Super Bowl and been to another. He’s tied for third in the NFL in wins among active coaches and tied for 21st all-time. In four more seasons, Tomlin (145) will certainly pass Cowher (149) in wins, and there’s a an outside chance he could catch Noll (193) as the franchise’s all-time leader. Very few coaches with a resume approaching Tomlin’s have not been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But he’s also never re-built a team without a star quarterback, having inherited Roethlisberger when he took the job in 2007. By signing a long-term deal at this stage, Tomlin has signaled that he is up for that challenge and plans on staying the course in Pittsburgh.
Given the team’s history, that will likely be for as long as he cares to stay.