It was about six or seven weeks ago when Mark Madden, a Pittsburgh radio sports shock jock, began his Chris Jericho-inspired countdown to the inevitable end of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s streak of non-losing seasons.
The Steelers were either 4-7 or 5-8 at the time, and it just seemed like a foregone conclusion that Tomlin would finally suffer a losing season for the first time since the Rooneys hired him to replace Bill Cowher in 2007.
This streak, something that only true contrarians and trollish types could turn into a negative, has actually become just that in the ongoing debate about Tomlin’s attributes as a head coach in the NFL.
Some people have grown exhausted with this streak (whatever the heck it means to be exhausted by something you’re not actually doing), while others have used the streak against fellow Steelers fans and have accused them of “accepting mediocrity.”
First of all, unless you have an actual financial stake in the team (and I don’t mean season tickets), you’re literally not accepting anything from a franchise. All you can do is watch. You can complain, boycott or give up your season tickets, but it’s probably not going to change the outcome. Fans, both local and international, the ones who watch in stadiums and on televisions, are spectators; all they can do is witness things.
Nobody can control what happens on the field. Therefore, “acceptance” is basically impossible. We can cheer for what we see or boo it, but it’s out of our control.
Second of all, to paraphrase the legendary Chuck Noll, before you can have a winning season, you must first not have a losing one.
Tomlin pulled that off for the first 15 years as head coach of the Steelers. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s an awesome baseline for success.
It’s actually quite hard to win a championship or even make the playoffs (the 2022 Buccaneers notwithstanding) with a losing record.
So why has Tomlin’s ability to keep a team together during a challenging season suddenly become a fault on the same level as his inability to utilize instant replay during a game?
You think an NFL head coach can just make it his goal to have a non-losing season and go out and will it into existence—like washing his car or losing some weight?
Anyway, unlike the fans who, again, can’t accept anything from a team (except free tickets or a t-shirt), the Steelers actually have to accept results, and I’m going to assume they have about as much use for a non-losing season as they do a t-shirt that’s way too small.
I know what Tomlin’s goal has always been: To win a Super Bowl.
Have the results been there lately? No, they haven’t. They have not been for the last 14 years. But I’m guessing Tomlin’s and the organization’s goal isn’t mediocrity, and I can boldly assume that the current streak of seasons without winning a playoff game—it’s now up to six—is not something the coach, the players and the big bosses are content with.
But, man, the Steelers should have had at least one losing season by now. They should have had one in 2013 when the roster was below average because the team had to endure an offseason with almost zero cap space, a slew of injuries to start the regular season, and records of 0-4, 2-6 and 5-8. Those Steelers didn’t blink, however. Instead, they came within a missed field goal of making the playoffs.
The Steelers certainly should have had a losing record in 2019 when Ben Roethlisberger missed all but six quarters with a serious elbow injury. Yet, Pittsburgh rebounded from a 1-4 start and actually remained in the playoff hunt until the very end, finishing the season with an 8-8 record.
I don’t have to review what happened in 2022. You know the deal. The Steelers put a bow on their latest campaign by clinching yet another non-losing season—a winning one, in fact—thanks to a 28-14 win over the Browns at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday.
Impressed? Many are, but it seems like many more are not. In fact, a lot of Steelers fans are actually embarrassed by this streak that is now at 16 seasons. Why? After all, this was supposed to be the year—the first one in 18 seasons that didn’t include Roethlisberger as the king of the castle—that we were finally going to see what kind of coach Tomlin was.
The expectations were low, and if I were a betting man, I’d put money on Mr. Madden coming up with the countdown clock idea way back in the summer.
The clock may have been a “fun” way to mock the diehard fans, but that sucker never did reach zero.
Even though Tomlin has never openly embraced his streak of non-losing seasons, the players that made up his 2022 roster sure seemed pretty passionate about preserving it. While social media went to war over this streak, Tomlin’s players rallied around it. They wanted to do it for their coach.
This is a very young team, mind you, one that doesn’t have to give a damn about the coach’s streak. Yet, after all these years, that coach’s message is still getting through to a new generation.
To me, that speaks volumes about the kind of head coach Mike Tomlin is.
More importantly, I believe it bodes well for the future of the franchise.
Like it or not, the right head coach is leading these young and impressionable Pittsburgh Steelers into 2023 and beyond.