I read a thread on Steel City Insider titled "I've had all I can take of Tomlin...fire him now."
Are you serious? The
moron's writer's main point was based around the injury QB Ben Roethlisberger suffered in Week 17 - a game the Steelers didn't need to win.
Maybe it's just me, but I don't believe in acceptable losses. Momentum is everything in the playoffs. Let's take a glance at the results of the last few AFC No. 2 seeds - 2005, Denver loses at home to Pittsburgh. 2006, Baltimore loses to Indianapolis. 2007, Indianapolis loses to San Diego. None advanced to the Super Bowl, and two of them didn't win a playoff game.
Roethlisberger could slip and hurt himself in the shower, but he needs game reps to stay sharp to avoid the recent trend of lower seeds knocking off higher seeds on the road. But I digres...this is about coaches. Romeo Crennel was, and should have been, fired. Tomlin? Call me a homer, but Mike Tomlin deserves Coach of the Year recognition.
There. It's on the table.
I'm a huge Jeff Fisher fan, and I think Mike Smith has done a fantastic job in Atlanta - they are most likely the 1 and 2 for the yearly award. Throw in Bill Belichick in New England, Tony Sporano in Miami and John Harbaugh in Baltimore, Coach Tomlin clearly is a tough argument to make.
I'm gonna make it anyway, because the man deserves at least that. The job Tomlin did this season is worthy of mention alongside the work these fine coaches put into their franchises.
Let's keep in mind, too, Coach of the Year honors aren't given to one coach. It's for the entire staff. Under Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, they finished 2007 ranked first overall in total defense, but they were giving up 16.8 points per game, with 266.4 yards per game. Now, Pittsburgh gave up 237.2 yards per game, and just over two touchdowns per game (14.9). This is the same unit that did not give up 300 yards in a game until Week 15 - and that was on the road against the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Probably more than anything, though, look at the difference between last year's special teams units compared to now. Steelers Rookie of the Year Patrick Bailey has been arguably the team's best addition, and he wasn't even drafted. Keyaron Fox is right up there with Bailey. Tomlin took a pretty weak special teams from a year ago, and made it the best coverage unit in the league. It's a strong weapon, whereas last season, it cost them games.
And he did all of this with the worst punters in the league. Just think about how good this unit would be if Dan Sepulveda was healthy. Coaching isn't reaching top statistical positions with elite punters - it's doing it with Paul Ernster and Mitch Berger.
Offensively, the Steelers have been without Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons for most of the season. While the offensive line hasn't been one of the better groups in the NFL, he's gotten more out of them than any reasonably minded follower of the game could have expected. What's more impressive, taking a group of perennial Pro Bowlers and keeping them at that level, or making a ragtag group a step or two better than what they are? The only true meltdown the line had was against Philadelphia, but judging by how well they played as a group against Baltimore, Washington and San Diego, it's pretty impressive.
Tomlin's offense was without a healthy Willie Parker for most of the year, as well as losing first round pick Rashard Mendenhall for 75 percent of the season, requiring him to use Mewelde Moore far more than they planned. Moore is another great example of an off-season acquisition who paid huge dividends. Considering they basically got nothing from their 2008 draft class in terms of on-the-field production, Moore, Bailey and Fox bought into Tomlin's way of the game, and the Steelers are, at worst, one game better than they were last year, and Tomlin will play in his first AFC Divisional game next week.
If you want to look at Coach of the Year as a cumulative effort, too, Tomlin has yet to lose a meaningful AFC North game. Pittsburgh went 5-0 in the North last season until losing a throwaway Week 17 game at Baltimore. Their playoff ticket was already punched, and most of their starters didn't play in the second half. Tomlin's 2008 Steelers became the first team since Cowher's 2002 Steelers to go 6-0 in the division. He's now 11-1 in the division in his career, with his one loss coming in a meaningless game.
With all that being said, he's not the likely choice. He did enough to win the award in most seasons, but whether Tomlin wins the award has nothing to do with the tremendous job he's done in the regular season. Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher never won it, but he's got a ring and likely a spot in Canton. After 2008, Steelers fans - and the rest of the league - should have the feeling it won't be long until Tomlin is mentioned on the same level.
His next goal, though, should be to win a playoff game.