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Winning is critical in 2014 for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin

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Mike Tomlin begins his eighth season as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers under a small spotlight. If he ends 2014 with a third non-playoff appearance, the lights will turn much brighter.

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Originally run July 24 as part of The 2014 Renegade, BTSC's season preview issue

Being a head coach is never easy.  There is only one measuring stick fans and owners use to gauge success and that's wins and losses.

Mike Tomlin is no stranger to this.

Being the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers is not an easy job.  Prior to Chuck Noll, there were 13 men (Walt Keisling coached the team on three separate occasions and Joe Bach did it twice) who took the reigns as the top man. The only coach to last more than three seasons was Buddy Parker. (1957-64)  Only two had winning records worth noting. (Parker and Jock Sutherland)

Since Noll in 1969, you've had three.  The common denominator is simple.  Winning.

Mike Tomlin needs to start doing more of that and fast.

Now I'm not here to tell you he's in trouble of losing his job.  Tomlin is secure for sure, but when you go back-to-back with 8-8 seasons and miss the playoffs in both, people start to wonder if you can still coach.

Mike Tomlin can.

But can he win?  Can he motivate and get the players he has been handed to prepare and win on a consistent basis?  

That folks is the $64,000 dollar question.

It's easy to say Tomlin took the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XLIII with a team mostly comprised of players left over from the Bill Cowher era.  It's another to say he was able to guide the team back to the big game two years later in a loss to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV with a club that was more his than the Chin's.

He followed up that loss to the Packers with another 12-4 season before getting Tebowed by the Broncos in Denver.

Since then, it's been a bumpy ride.

Some think the Rooney's will let another season go by of not making the playoffs with little change to their coaching staff. Bill Cowher had three non-playoff seasons between 1998-2000.  It was also the Kordell Stewart and Kent Graham QB era.

Lombardi would have gone 22-26 with those two.

Can Tomlin afford to keep missing the playoffs with a guy like Ben Roethlisberger as his leader?  The simple answer is no.

It's also the correct one.

I'm not saying that Tomlin has lost the room regarding his players and should be fired if they miss the playoffs in 2014.  If you look at it, he's had a run of bad luck regarding injuries to key players.  It's hard to win when your offensive line changes from week to week due to injury. Developing consistency up front helps to give the offense stability to work around.

You can't blame injuries on Tomlin.

But losing you can, and for MT, he can't afford another year of .500 football and missing the playoffs before you have to start thinking of a possible change.

He's coming into the year with a contract that is set to expire after 2016. The Steelers are a franchise that prides itself on stability both on the field of play and on it's staff.  Noll spent 23 years piloting the club. Cowher had 15 good seasons at the helm.  The Steelers run their ship better than most NFL franchises.  For Tomlin to get past 2016, I think he needs to win this year.

Remember, winning in the NFL is what matters.  If your head coach isn't getting it done, it's curtains for those who fall short.  Remember Tom Landry?   Jerry Jones didn't hesitate to drop the hammer on him after a 3rd losing season.  All Landry did was win 250 games in 29 years while guiding the Cowboys to 2 Super Bowl wins.

I think it's fair to say Mike Tomlin isn't Tom Landry, nor is he in his category.

Tomlin needs to win and he needs to do it now.  Granted, this team has only had three head coaches in 44 years and just two since 1991.  In fact since 2000, 20 of the 32 NFL teams have had at least 4 coaches or more with Oakland (no shock here) leading that list with eight.  Perhaps he can miss the playoffs again knowing he has two years left on his deal.

I don't think he can.

And for Tomlin, winning now is what he must do to keep his hold on the head coaching job he's commanded since 2007. If he doesn't make the playoffs this year, it may be time for Steelers brass to start thinking about a new man in charge.

John Phillips is a radio personality for 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh and a columnist for Behind The Steel Curtain. His articles will be posted twice weekly beginning with live reporting in Training Camp July 25. Check him out on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.