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Pittsburgh Steelers: Tomlin’s Job Is Safe, But He Faces Toughest Test

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is not on the hot seat.

Let’s clear that up right now.

If the Steelers lose Monday night in Cincinnati, Mike Tomlin still will not be on the hot seat.

If the Steelers miss the playoffs for the second straight season, Mike Tomlin will not be fired.

If the Steelers go 2-14 in 2013, Mike Tomlin will not be fired.

A 2-14 season followed by, say, a 4-12 season in 2014 might put the heat on Tomlin’s seat. But no matter the Steelers’ record in 2013, Tomlin still will have a whistle around his neck in Latrobe come training camp in 2014.

Organizational stability and coaching continuity are among the reasons the Steelers are the only franchise to win six Super Bowls. They’ve had just three coaches since 1969.

Unlike most teams, the Steelers don’t fire coaches after one or two bad seasons. Even Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher had some seasons that would get coaches on other teams canned.

Like Noll and Cowher before him, Tomlin has won a Super Bowl. That’s going to buy him plenty of time.

Having said all that, Tomlin faces the sternest test of his tenure as Steelers coach.

There were years when Noll and Cowher coached the Steelers out of a crisis.

Tomlin has yet to do that, and he’ll need to this season.

The Steelers already entered the season without Heath Miller, their leading pass-catcher and most valuable player in 2012. They’re still waiting for rookie Le’Veon Bell to rescue their moribund running game. He’s out for another month or so with a foot injury, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

In their season opener, a 16-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field, Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Larry Foote, a veteran inside linebacker and one of the leaders of the Steelers’ defense, tore his biceps and is gone for the year. Third-down back LaRod Stephens-Howling is also out for the season with a torn ACL.

The Steelers will get Miller back at some point, but it won’t be Monday night in Cincinnati, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. They’ll also be without starting cornerback Cortez Allen, who sprained his ankle Sunday.

Tomlin must get more out of the players who are on the field to prevent the first 0-2 start of his head coaching career and get this team headed in the right direction.

Noll built the Steelers dynasty of the 1970s from the ground up. The Steelers didn’t have more than five wins in any of the five seasons before he arrived.

The Steel Curtain was a distant memory in 1989, but Noll put one last feather in his coaching cap. The Steelers opened the season with a 51-0 loss to the Cleveland Browns at home and a 41-10 loss at Cincinnati.

Somehow the Steelers finished 9-7 and made the playoffs. They upset the Oilers at Houston in the wild-card round then went to Denver and lost by a point to John Elway and the Broncos in the divisional round.

And Noll had Bubby Brister as his quarterback. Tomlin has Ben Roethlisberger.

Cowher was still two years away from drafting Roethlisberger in 2002, when after an 0-2 start he replaced Kordell Stewart with Tommy Maddox at quarterback. The Steelers rode Maddox’s arm to a 10-5-1 season and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs.

In 2005, Roethlisberger’s second season, the Steelers lost three straight to drop to 7-5. They needed to win the rest of their games to make the playoffs. So Cowher turned the ship around with his Christopher Columbus speech, saying the Steelers could sail to territory that no one else had.

The Steelers not only made the playoffs, but won three road playoff games and Super Bowl XL. They became the first No. 6 playoff seed to win the Super Bowl.

Tomlin’s Super Bowl record is identical to Cowher’s. They’ve both won a Super Bowl and reached another one. But unlike Cowher, Tomlin never had to win a road playoff game to get to the Super Bowl. Tomlin lost the only road playoff game he’s coached.

The Steelers had the No. 2 playoff seed in 2008 and 2010. Both times, another team knocked off the top seed for them before coming to Pittsburgh and losing to the Steelers in the AFC championship game.

The Baltimore Ravens upset the Tennessee Titans in 2008, then lost at Pittsburgh. The Steelers went on win Super Bowl XLIII. The New York Jets stunned the New England Patriots in 2010, then lost at Pittsburgh in the AFC title game. The Steelers lost Super Bowl XLV to the Green Bay Packers.

The Titans in 2008 and the Patriots in 2010 defeated the Steelers handily in the regular season, and the Steelers would have had to hit the road had they faced either team in the playoffs. Instead, the Steelers defeated the teams that did their dirty work.

Tomlin’s playoff record should be the furthest thing from his mind right now. He also need not worry about his job security.

But in 2013, we’ll find out just how good of a coach he is.

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