Thursday, Jason Whitlock made some serious comments toward the Pittsburgh Steelers' Head Coach, Mike Tomlin. You can watch the full video with his comments here, but below are the main comments he made against Tomlin on Colin Cowherd's show.
[Whitlock]: Mike Tomlin is the most coddled coach, perhaps in the history of professional sports. He is untouchable and it's inappropriate. I think the guy is talented, I think he's done a good job, but he's not above reproach. His team, his assistant coaches, [were] completely out of control during that game. He has a history of this; they fined him $100,000 for interfering with a referee on a kickoff return, he gets into it with opposing players, he carries himself like he's a player and now he's got Mike Munchak, one of his assistant coaches grabbing the hair of a player on the sidelines; Joey Porter out in the middle of the field at the end of the game causing controversy, baiting the Bengals into it ...
If Bill Belichick did these things we would be shredding him, if Sean Payton did these things, we would be shredding him.
[Cowherd]: So why aren't we shredding Tomlin?
[Whitlock]: Because he's black and people are afraid to be criticized ... Mike Tomlin is doing stupid things, he needs to be reined in and criticized and treated like every other coach in the National Football League. He is not above reproach, and his team and assistant coaches, out of control on Saturday, and then comes out after the game and says, "I thought we represented what AFC North Football was all about," that's a joke. He's clueless and that's why his assistant coaches and players are clueless.
Whitlock's monologue on Cowherd's show brought a load of notions and theories which call into question the Steelers organization, Mike Tomlin, and how he is perceived in the general public and sports media. Much of his statement are simply his opinions as a sports analyst for Fox Sports, but a lot of his statement are his opinions being passed off as if they are facts.
I will be honest, I have never been a fan of Jason Whitlock as a sports analyst. His ridiculous statements range from him accusing Sean Taylor for being responsible for his own death because of his "troubled past", instead of it just being the robbery that it was, to him making bigoted jokes about the size of Jeremy Lin's genitals. Deadspin has a series of articles that cover Whitlock's many questionable-at-best moments, so if you want to check out his history, click here. His take on Tomlin and the Steelers should fall into another long line of opinions with which I will disagree.
A breakdown on the many parts of his take on Tomlin and the Steelers with the game in Cincinnati last Saturday reveals that Whitlock's entire base is poorly founded, at best, and misses the mark on many points. We take the time to go through his points with some legitimate counterpoints.
Whitlock: Tomlin does not get "shredded" as an NFL coach because he is black.
Counterpoint: Being black does not protect NFL head coaches from being criticized in the media, nor general public. If you do not win, you are put on the hot seat.
The idea that Mike Tomlin gets an invisible layer of protection from criticism as a head coach in the NFL because he is a black man is a lazy idea that takes but a few simple thoughts to debunk.
For one, Mike Tomlin is not the only black head coach in the NFL, he is currently joined by Todd Bowles of the New York Jets, Jim Caldwell of the Detroit Lions, the recently hired Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns, and the coach whose team was just defeated by Tomlin's Steelers, Marvin Lewis. He would have also been joined by Lovie Smith, but he was just fired for the second time in the past four years, this time by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after only two seasons of having control over a team which was completely destroyed by Greg Schiano.
If being black is what protects Mike Tomlin, then it would magically also have protected every other African-American head coach in the NFL. History has taught us that nothing could be farther from the truth. Caldwell had already lost his job as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts prior to his stint with the Lions, and speculation has it that he could soon be out the door in Detroit as well.
Lovie Smith's first experience as head coach came when he took the lead with the Chicago Bears in 2004 when he took a losing team to be NFC North Champions three times and Chicago's only other Super Bowl appearance since 1985, but was ultimately released in 2012 after a 10-6 season (In the three years since, the Bears have yet to attain a winning record.)
Smith's short tenure with Tampa Bay took on a mess of a team that's most recent playoff win was its Super Bowl victory in the 2002-2003 NFL season. He went 2-14 and 6-10, but was building a new young group of talented stars with Mike Evans at wide receiver, Doug Martin at running back and Jameis Winston at quarterback. Whitlock's imaginative cloak that shields black coaches did not save Smith, nor did Smith's history of making the Super Bowl once and the fact that the Buccaneers were going to need more than one or two seasons to rebuild from their problems.
Meanwhile, Jeff Fisher prepares to enter his fifth season with the Rams without a single winning season with the team, but also has a conference championship to boast. This alone would break Whitlock's notion of a mighty shield for black coaches does not exist, but let us look at a coach who faces Tomlin regularly.
Marvin Lewis' leadership was immediately questioned after the team's implosion and loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. Boomer Esiason, former NFL quarterback for the Bengals and current CBS NFL analyst, pointed at Lewis for a lack of control of his team and suggested that maybe he should not be coaching the Bengals. While Lewis still has his job, he has been at the center of a ton of criticism in his time with Cincinnati with every losing season and playoff loss.
We could go on forever about other black head coaches who were not protected by Whitlock's mighty shield of the media loving them, like Tony Dungy being criticized for not being able the "win the big one" until 2006, but just looking back in the past five years disproves Whitlock's implication. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to NFL coaching, winning keeps you around and losing makes it all that much easier to send you packing.
Whitlock: The Steelers' players and coaches "were completely out of control" against the Cincinnati Bengals, and that is all Mike Tomlin's fault.
Counterpoint: The Steelers were not out of control against the Bengals.
This counterpoint also encompasses the many takes from various Bengals fans and random analysts that continue to accuse the Steelers of being the more egregious of the two teams during the game. It seems as if people want to overlook the several easy observations that can be made about the game and manufacture narratives that paint the Steelers as instigators at all points of conflict and were not the better team during the game.
To dissect the different points of conflict between these two teams that stemmed outside of the actual play in the game, we take a closer look at the moments which Whitlock and others may allude to when thinking the Steelers were loose cannons.
Much has been made of Mike Munchak's pulling Reggie Nelson's hand and hair, but I have yet to see anyone mention the fact that it was reactionary to Nelson's initial push of the Steelers' offensive line coach. Munchak is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame whom is well respected across the league for his history as a player and coach for decades. The idea that all of a sudden he's an uncontrollable rogue of a coach which Mike Tomlin must talk to about keeping his cool every week is poorly founded. Munchak's history is not one of turmoil and conflict with opposing players in his time as an NFL coach over the past 22 years.
All evidence to this situation is that Munchak's incident with Reggie Nelson was an isolated incident and not evidence that Mike Tomlin has a problem keeping him out of trouble. While Munchak could have reacted better to being shoved by Nelson, he was not the instigator in this situation. This occurred just after Jordan Todman ran for a large gain against the Bengals defense which continued Pittsburgh's strong ground attack early in the game, something that had every reason to please Munchak and frustrate Nelson. It is perfectly reasonable to expect a coach to be contacted, bumped or even ran into, but being shoved requires an extra act that is unnecessary in this situation. While the league fined Munchak $10, 000 dollars Friday, it should also take a good look at Nelson.
Now for the more talked about of the incidents that involved Steelers' coaches from the game:
Joey Porter does not have the pedigree of Mike Munchak, but he also was not the instigator of his incident. Vontaze Burfict obstructed one of the trainers who was helping Antonio Brown leave the field, causing an altercation which Porter then simply responded to by talking with Burfict. This then leads to Wallace Gilberry sneaking up behind Porter to bump and move him into the group of Bengals converged on the field. As soon as Gilberry does this, Burfict grabs Porter, who has the ultimate look of "I cannot believe these morons," on his face, as the Steelers and NFL offiicials try to separate the group from Porter. Porter is even hit by Adam "Pacman" Jones in the process, but none of this is what the caused the Bengals to be penalized.
It was Jones' mistake of being out of control and hitting an official in his rage against Porter that caused him to contact an official and draw the final flag of the game. At no point in any of this altercation does Porter initiate contact or even raise his hands against the Bengals' players. Porter may have baited the Bengals into acting like complete morons, but in there is no evidence from the CBS broadcast he did nothing egregiously wrong in doing so and he still got the Bengals to fall for it.
From the way Whitlock tells the narrative of how the incident played out, Porter ran to the middle of the field and shoved the Bengals enough to start a brawl in which the Bengals got made out to be bad guys. Porter's reputation as a player in the NFL was as a player that never backed down and oft enjoyed to play the role of a villain. In the eyes of the Bengals, he still is that villain because his interactions at midfield with Bengals players. However at no point was Porter "out of control," to the point that Tomlin needed to sit him down and talk to him before he actually hurt someone on the field or cost the Steelers a significant penalty. That description only identifies with Marvin Lewis' side, whose team imploded when they were gifted an interception from a fourth string quarterback, several questionable calls that got them in scoring range, and still found a way to be beaten by their big brother, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And for anyone who wants to argue that Porter should never have been on the field, that argument overlooks the fact that throughout the game, let alone normal NFL games, assistant coaches are sometimes on the field; especially when a significant player on their team has been injured. Porter was not so out of line that he needed to be penalized or removed from the game. If he had been penalized, the NFL officials would have also had to penalize this:
Bengals are right. Coaches shouldn't be out on the field. pic.twitter.com/nJs8rkkw5O— jtkola™ (@jtkola) January 10, 2016
That's more than ten assistants for Cincinnati on the field. If we were to penalize and remove coaches for being on the field when they should not be, this means that Cincinnati would not have any staff left to help Marvin Lewis finish the game, and Pittsburgh would be able to start their drive inside the one-yard line with all the penalties that would accrue in their favor. The NFL obviously did not see a problem with assistant coaches being on the field during this game, the Bengals were just looking for every which way to be angry about something, as Jason Whitlock is now.
If anything, Mike Tomlin has had a good hold over how the Steelers have performed in his tenure as head coach. When he arrived to Pittsburgh, veteran leadership like Troy Polamalu, James Farrior and Ben Roethlisberger quickly noticed the increase of intensity at practices. Throughout Bill Cowher's 15 years as head coach for the Steelers, he was never a coach to suspend a player for missing practice or penalize them for their poor decisions off the field. Plaxico Burress would miss practice and it would never be an issue under Cowher. Tomlin however had no problem sitting down Rashard Mendenhall, his first round draft pick that was supposed to take over the running back position from Willie Parker, when he missed practice.
Tomlin is a no nonsense kind of coach. When he speaks to his players, they hear and respect him, but most of all they shut up when he tells them to do so. You do not hear about Steelers players running around on the sideline being out of control and not listening to anything Tomlin has to say. Whitlock may want it to appear that way to fit his narrative of a Steelers team that is busting at the seams with loose cannon players that cannot be restrained, but maybe he did not watch Saturday's playoff game closely enough.
While Tomlin was keeping his players focused enough to try to win a playoff game, CBS sideline reporter, Tracy Wolfson, observed exactly what Whitlock was describing of Mike Tomlin's team, but on the other side of the field:
"Jim, you talked about this crowd being in a frenzy? Well, this Cincinnati Bengals sideline was in a frenzy, specifically Vontaze Burfict. He is out of control right now. The coaches, Marvin Lewis coming over trying to hold him back, he just went back on the field. But he got in the officials' faces twice so far during this game. I watched him pre-game, he was all fired up and right now they just have to keep a watch on Vontaze Burfict and make sure he doesn't do anything silly and get himself, or his team, in trouble, Jim."
- Tracy Wolfson during the third quarter of the Cincinnati vs. Steelers playoff game.
Burfict would later do just what Wolfson warned that he might, and it was in the worst possible situation for the Bengals. His penalty on Antonio Brown created the penalty that ultimately put the Steelers in field goal range for Chris Boswell to continue to be the consistent kicker that he had been all season for the Steelers. The added penalty from Adam Jones was just further icing on the cake to make it an easier kick. Outside of DeAngelo Williams, Boswell might have been Pittsburgh's most dependable free agency acquisition for this NFL season.
This was another penalty point in the game, but on the Steelers. Foster is penalized for finishing his block and pushing Burfict away from him. Burfict then immediately looks down at Foster's feet and tries to sneakily step on Foster's foot. When Foster moves his foot out of the way, Burfict looks for an NFL official to try to say as if Foster was the one who was trying to injure a player once the play was finished. While Burfict got the flag, this is more of an example of a player being out of control than what can be said for Pittsburgh's players.
Pittsburgh was in control of their own fate during this game. Even when their fourth string quarterback came into the game and threw an interception that seemingly ended their hopes of making the divisional round of the playoffs, the team was still focused and locked in as we saw Jarvis Jones hold up Jeremy Hill and Ryan Shazier rip the football from his hands. We then saw the Steelers' offense convert on third and fourth downs to make their way into Bengals' territory prior to the Cincinnati penalties. Pittsburgh knew not to do anything stupid on those drives, and they did not. They let the Bengals be the village idiots. If Jason Whitlock thinks that the Steelers are clueless, I would love to hear how he describes the Bengals.
Whitlock: Mike Tomlin is the most-coddled coach in the history of professional sports.
Counterpoint: You're joking, right?
This could be clumped in with the first countepoint, which deals with his statement about how race protects black coaches from any criticism, but I wanted to separate Tomlin from the rest of black head coaches because we can point to just how "not-coddled" Tomlin is these days.
This is my third season covering the Steelers with BTSC. I have been an invested and devoted Steelers fan since I was 6 years old that would make every effort as a kid to not miss the Steelers' games. Since Mike Tomlin's arrival in 2007, he has been under fire. When Whitlock made this statement, he is either willfully ignorant or flat-out lying about a lack of criticism of Tomlin.
As soon as Tomlin was hired, tens of thousands of Steelers fans went on social media saying they did not want Tomlin, did not know who he was, or preferred Russ Grimm, the Steelers' offensive line coach at that time, to be chosen. We can talk about how Tomlin was criticized during his first season when he won the division, or even how he is often not even credited for winning the Super Bowl because he "did it with Cowher's team." We could speak about how people claim his draft picks have been horrible, despite managing to draft five All-Pro players that are still with the team in Lawrence Timmons, Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey, Le'Veon Bell and now David DeCastro (not to mention Lamarr Woodley who was an All-Pro in 2009, making for six Tomlin draft picks to earn the honor.)
But instead, let's just focus on things said in the past few years about Tomlin. That will be enough to disprove Whitlock's insane notion that Tomlin has never faced any criticism and is a coddled coach whose decisions are never questioned.
The bottom line is that Tomlin is questioned and criticized at every turn, whether it is national media, local media or fans crying over social media. People are not afraid to call him on it and even emboldened to do so as soon as there is a questionable moment for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Whitlock cites Tomlin's Super Bowl victory as if Tomlin just hit the power ball and is throwing away his winnings without accomplishing anything, and that nobody in the media is saying the slightest about it.
For one, Tomlin has done a lot since winning the Super Bowl. He even got the team to return to the Super Bowl two years after, lead the team to go 12-4 the season after, then re-build them for two seasons to have them back as division champions last season and competing in the divisional round of the playoffs this season, despite the team missing three of its All-Pro players in Maurkice Pouncey, Le'veon Bell and Antonio Brown, all of which are the best at the their positions in the NFL when healthy.
But according to Jason Whitlock, throughout all that time nobody ever questions Mike Tomlin. Except NFL Expert, Tim McDonald, who two seasons ago decided to make his commentary after the Steelers beat the New York Jets about the Steelers' problem being about coaching, specifically Mike Tomlin.
Anyone remember when Tomlin was ranked as the 16th best head coach in the NFL? That put him behind Marc Trestman, Chip Kelly and Rex Ryan and Mike McCoy, all of which, outside of McCoy have since been fired by their teams they coached when the list was made. Sixteenth out of thirty-two teams is dead center in the middle of the pack, an odd spot for a Super Bowl champion coach that never is criticized.
There's also our own John Phillips of local Pittsburgh radio who blamed Tomlin during the preseason for Shaun Suisham's freak accident of an injury that ended his season and sent Pittsburgh into a search for a new kicker.
Don't forget when the Steelers lost to the Baltimore Ravens the first time this season when they had their recently acquired third string quarterback, Michael Vick, make his first start in a Steelers' uniform. Our own PaVaSteeler blamed Mike Tomlin for the loss, despite Josh Scobee missing two field goals when either one of them would have won the game, Antonio Brown dropping a touchdown pass, and Michael Vick missing a standard throw on fourth down.
Heck, Mike Tomlin gets blamed for winning when he's in Pittsburgh. The Steelers faced another game with Vick in at quarterback, but somehow managed to put themselves inside the five yard line for the last play of the game. Tomlin put the ball in the hands of Le'Veon Bell out of the wildcat and it was a walk-off touchdown that won the Steelers the game. But instead of praise, Tomlin was called a "moron" and an "idiot" for his play call by Matt Dolloff on CBSBostonsports.com.
Tomlin was also blamed for the loss against the Seattle Seahawks earlier this season by Brian Burke on ESPN.com.
You can also read about how some writers believe that Mike Tomlin should be on the hot seat this very moment, despite Whitlock's claim that he is beyond reproach.
We can even look to when, just a few weeks ago, Whitlock criticized Tomlin for a "misuse of Ben Roethlisberger,"saying that there was no reason for the Steelers to miss the playoffs in three of four seasons (which also never happened.) Whitlock is convinced that Tomlin consistently makes poor decisions and does not know how to run an NFL team because nobody will ever second guess his decisions.
Except we just tested Whitlock's theory that everyone is scared to question Tomlin, and it proved that he could not be more incorrect if he had said that St. Louis absolutely loves Stan Kroenke, owner of the Rams, right now.
Tomlin cannot even escape when he takes responsibility for his mistakes. We are still hearing about what happened on Thanksgiving evening years ago, when Mike Tomlin's toe was on the field and he jumped out of the way of Jacoby Jones on a kick return. Adam Rank, host of Showtime's Inside the NFL, went on this week to bring up that moment in history to also suggest that Tomlin is out of control when he said that Tomlin "tripped" Jones on the play. This would not be the first time someone incorrectly described that moment.
Go to YouTube right now, type in "Mike Tomlin" and the first response you will get is, "Mike Tomlin trips Jacoby Jones." If you watch that play, Tomlin never touched Jones. He was too close to the field and realized it at the last moment and jumped out of the way. But from how many in the media want to remember that play, Tomlin intentionally tripped a player. Tomlin was fined for it and never appealed nor complained about it. He accepted responsibility and moved forward, despite being dragged through the mud for weeks over his mistakes by local and national media, to the point that we still have to talk about this today.
Jason Whitlock's opinions on Mike Tomlin are based on notions that are easy to breakdown and discredit. Are there those that defend Tomlin's decisions when they are called into question? Yes, of course, because he is a Super Bowl champion coach with a winning record.
In fact, Tomlin is on a very short list of NFL head coaches with more than a year of experience who have yet to lead a team to a losing record, a list that excludes the likes of Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, Gary Kubiak, Ron Rivera, Andy Reid, Mike McCarthy, John Harbaugh, and yes, Bill Belichick.
Tomlin inherited a team with talented players that had just went 8-8 and made them champions again, making Pittsburgh the kings of the NFL's Super Bowl era with their sixth Lombardi Trophy. But you would think from the way Whitlock speaks of Tomlin that he did nothing but sit back and watch his team play football all season without making adjustments or doing anything to help his team win.
If you were to buy into Whitlock's narrative, you would also believe that Tomlin has not done anything to replenish Pittsburgh's ranks as its stars got old and the franchise needed to re-tool with new players that could lead the team. While we know that is not true simply from the six players which Tomlin has drafted that have made All-Pro teams while with the Steelers, we also do not want to miss out on the several key role players and even leaders that have yet to be awarded during their stay in Pittsburgh.
Cameron Heyward is the leader of the Steelers' defense, whom led the team with seven sacks this season, and has rejuvenated a defense that recorded third most sacks of any NFL defense in 2015, as well as the third most turnovers. Marcus Gilbert has become a reliable right tackle for Pittsburgh and one of the best in the league, as he gave up so few sacks that you could count them on your hand without using your thumb. Ryan Shazier just saved Pittsburgh's season with two of the biggest postseason takeaways for Pittsburgh since Polamalu's interception returned for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2009 AFC Championship game. William Gay tied an NFL record for most consecutive interceptions returned for touchdowns with five over the past few seasons.
We could say a lot more about the house that Tomlin has built, but enough has been said to prove the point that he has a winner here in Pittsburgh. That warrants respect from fans, players, coaches and analysts when speaking about Tomlin's career. It does not protect him from being questioned or called on mistakes either, but it's like when a successful player makes a mistake in a key situation. Ben Roethlisberger's won two Super Bowls, but Pittsburgh needing the Buffalo Bills to beat the New York Jets in week 17 was as much his fault as it was anyone else's. When Jerome Bettis fumbled the ball in key situations of divisional playoff games two years in a row, you did not hear people calling for him to be released or saying that what he was doing was inexcusable. Why? Because their track record speaks louder than a few isolated mistakes, and mistakes happen in any profession.
When it comes to Jason Whitlock, Mike Tomlin probably will not even care about his opinion; "elevator music" he would probably call it. And that is how he should take Whitlock's opinion. The only opinions which should matter to Tomlin are that of his colleagues on his coaching staff, the players on his roster, the Rooney family that has run the Steelers organization since its inception and the people he respects the most within his circles.
However that still does not mean that Whitlock is beyond reproach for his half-baked opinions on Mike Tomlin. His attempts to smear Tomlin's reputation to appear as a coach whose team is spiraling out of control miss the mark about as much as Adam Jones' opinion that Antonio Brown was "faking" an injury. As you can clearly see: there is no magical shield that protects black coaches, let alone Mike Tomlin; the Steelers did not lose control during the game against the Bengals and maintained their focus to gut out a win despite missing several key players; and Tomlin has consistently been under fire in the media for coaching decisions all throughout his tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers. These three points were the foundation of his statement and each of them could not be further from the truth.
The Steelers are still in the playoffs despite using a fourth string quarterback, fourth and fifth string running backs, missing their All-Pro center all season, missing their starting left tackle in Kelvin Beachum, and a slew of other injuries that have ended players' seasons or sidelined key players in big games. In spite of all these obstacles, Tomlin led the Steelers to a 10-6 record in what was the leagues' most difficult schedule and now a huge playoff victory.
Tomlin has never been above reproach, but any reasonable observer who closely follows criticism of the Steelers already knew that because they have heard the reproach on Tomlin for almost a decade now. Whitlock;s accusation of the Steelers being "clueless" is a childish reaction to him not seeing what he wanted to see this weekend. He claims he roots for Ben Roethisberger, but he already wrote Tomlin's obituary when he doomed the team to miss the playoffs before the last week of the season and now he's here again to try to take another crack at the organization.
His most recent takes on the Steelers come off more of the blatherings of a disgruntled reporter that did not get his way than an objective reporter in the national sports media scene.