March is as good a time as any analyze Mike Tomlin Era thus far. As mentioned elsewhere, it is difficult to render an objective assessment Mike Tomlin, which is why an article like this did not get posed until now.
The Half Full Angle
Many others have said this, but it bears repeating. While Mike Tomlin may have walked into the best job in pro football, he did not do so under the easiest of circumstances. Bill Cowher was a native who returned home to become a legend. Cowher was very difficult to work with, but even his harshest critics in the Fourth Estate concede that the guy was loved by his players.
Filling the shoes of a legend who is loved in the locker room is hard. But Tomlin did it. He is his own man, and that’s been clear from day one. His success speaks not only to his self confidence, but to his ability to command the respect of others.
Going 10-6 and winning a division title is an accomplishment for a rookie coach. Pittsburgh woefully under achieved in 2006 at 8-8, and so all others things being equal an improvement to 10-6 represents real progress….
The Half Empty Angle
But are all other things being equal?
Or stated differently, which were the “real” Mike Tomlin Steelers? The team that started out 3-1, the one that put the fear of God into Baltimore Ravens on Monday night, the one that started with a stout defense that did not yield to anyone, the one that shook off injuries to keep players to win big games….
…Or are they the team that lost to the Jets, the one struggled to beat the Dolphins, the one whose pass rush disappear, the one that failed to protect its franchise quarterback, the one that gave up four games in the last two minutes….
If 8-8 in 2006 was an underachievement, was 10-6 in 2007 an over-achievement?
Time Reveals All
In the internet age, its unsatisfying to say “we still have to wait and see….” The contemporary penchant to cite a quarterback’s passer rating for a single quarter shows that people are ready to judge and judge now.
But some things don’t work that way. Just as it always takes more than one year to assess a player, the same is true for a head coach. Jim Mora Jr. looked brilliant in taking the Falcons to the NFC Championship as a rookie…. Bill Belichick’s record in his first year with the Patriots was the same as his last year with the Clowns – 5-11.
It is worrying that Tomlin’s teams had a penchant for giving up close games, but how much of that is due to him, and how much is it due to the fact that we lost Ryan Clark and Tory Polamalu was hurt most of the year? You have to seriously question Tomlin’s decision to retain Bob Ligashesky, but Tomlin is dead on when he says the Steelers lacked special teams stand outs.
More than anything else, Tomlin does seem like the kind of man who can and will learn from his mistakes. Case in point: He’s already cut Allen Rossum.
Moreover, with Dan Rooney at the helm, Tomlin will have the chance to learn and grow. That more than anything else should give Steelers fans hope.