Okay, so it wasn’t Mike Tomlin’s finest hour.
There was plenty to criticize in the performance of the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in a truly awful, un-Steelers-like 45-42 playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. But, really, is that any reason to fire him?
And yet people, some of whom wield a marginal degree of influence, actually were using the f-word on Tuesday. “Some of the team’s limited partners intend to lobby owner Art Rooney to fire Tomlin and to hire a new coach,” is how Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio put it. These people (named by Florio as Rob Citrone, Paul Evanson, Larry Paul, Stephen Paul, Bruce Rauner, Paul Sams, John Stallworth, Benjamin Statler, Scott Swank, David Tepper, Thomas Tull, Peter Varischetti, and Mike Wilkins) have no authority to fire Tomlin, but they are making their displeasure known, especially their unhappiness over how the last 47 seconds of the loss went down.
The Jaguars had kicked a field goal for a 10-point lead, and the Steelers had the ball in the red zone. What happened then was very un-Steelers-like. Needing two scores, the team moved with no urgency and scored a touchdown that meant nothing with just one second left. There was lethargy. There was uncertainty. It might as well have been the fourth quarter of a preseason game.
There are plenty of worthy scapegoats, including offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The Steelers handled that tidily by allowing his contract to quietly expire Wednesday. It mattered not that Ben Roethlisberger had been successful with Haley or that the Steelers put up 42 points on the Jaguars’ elite defense. There were too many moments of visible disconnect on the field for Haley to be allowed to remain.
This is Tomlin’s team and there’s more than a little uneasiness over the fact that it hasn’t been to a Super Bowl since 2010, going 3-5 in the playoffs since then. Never mind that his teams have won 45 games over the past four years. Super Bowls matter in Pittsburgh.
Tomlin also came under fire for deciding to try an onside kick with a little more than two minutes left in the game rather than kick it deep and try to pin the Jaguars in their own territory. The Steelers, with two timeouts and the two-minute warning remaining, ineptly and unsuccessfully executed the kick. The Jaguars ended up with a field goal that iced the game.
“I know analytically they probably fall in the lower percentages and things of that nature,” said Tomlin, per a report by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. “If I err, I’m always going to err on the side of action in an effort to win. My guys know that about me. I think more importantly [than] them knowing that about me, they expect that from me. I don’t fear failure. I’m going to do what’s required to pursue victory, even if it comes across as unconventional.
“I’m certainly not going to steer away from decision-making for fear of ridicule. Those guys put a lot on the line when we step into stadiums to play. I, in turn, am responsible for putting a lot on the line and embrace doing so. I understand when things don’t work out and the criticism that’s associated with it. I embrace that. But I go to work with men every day that lay a lot on the line when they step in stadiums as well. I’m just going to provide the same efforts that they provide me.”
Change comes slowly in Pittsburgh, so there’s no hint that the limited owners will have their way. Winning four Super Bowls allowed Chuck Noll to miss the playoffs eight times over the next 12 years. Bill Cowher took the Steelers to one Super Bowl and six playoff appearances in his first six seasons, but then missed the playoffs with 7-9, 6-10 and 9-7 teams before another run of success.
Besides, the Steelers’ regular season was their best since 2004 and they have gotten to the playoffs the past four years. And if Tomlin, 116-60 since 2007, was feeling the heat or embarrassed about saying in a TV interview in November that the Steelers “should win it all,” he didn’t mention it Tuesday. He was in full-blown coach mode.
“Very disappointing end to an outstanding season,” Tomlin said.
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