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Steelers shouldn’t fire Mike Tomlin, at least not this year

It’s one thing for basement bloggers to call for the firing of Mike Tomlin, but it’s quite another when accomplished businessmen who own a piece of the Steelers say that.

According to Pro Football Talk, some of the Steelers’ minority owners plan to petition owner Art Rooney II to give Tomlin the pink slip in the aftermath of the Steelers’ 45-42 divisional-round loss to the Jaguars Sunday at Heinz Field.

Ultimately, it’s up to Rooney. And no, he should not fire Tomlin.

Where was the outcry to fire Tomlin after two straight 8-8 seasons in 2012 and 2013? You’d probably need more than two hands to count the number of teams that would have fired their head coach in that situation.

At least until Feb. 4, the Steelers are the only franchise that has won six Super Bowls, and there are a lot of franchises that can learn from the Steelers’ patience with head coaches.

Let’s just rattle off a few points that have been mentioned time and again, but apparently need to be reiterated for a few people who happen to have enough money to own a piece of the Steelers:

  • Tomlin has won one Super Bowl and coached in another one.
  • The Steelers have had only three head coaches since 1969. Stability at the position is just part of a very successful business model.
  • Tomlin has never had a losing season.
  • Tomlin has more wins in his first 11 seasons than any coach except Don Shula.

Tomlin had to deal with a lot this year, but one thing he didn’t have to deal with was an early-season or midseason slump like he did in each of the last four seasons.

The 2013 Steelers recovered from an 0-4 start to finish 8-8.

The 2014 Steelers started 3-3 and finished 11-5.

The 2015 Steelers, who were without Ben Roethlisberger for four games and Le’Veon Bell for 10 games and Maurkice Pouncey for the entire season, won four of their last five, finished 10-6 and reached the divisional round of the playoffs.

The 2016 Steelers bounced back from a four-game losing streak and won nine games in a row, including playoffs, without Cameron Heyward.

Over the last five seasons, Tomlin’s teams are 20-3 in regular-season games in December and January.

Yeah, the 2017 Steelers went 13-3 and had the talent to at least give the Patriots a run for their money in the AFC championship game. It’s fair to say that Tomlin didn’t get enough out of this team. On the other hand, he’s matched Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher in leading the Steelers to four straight double-digit win seasons.

Tomlin hasn’t won a championship during this span, but neither did Cowher from 1994-1997. Was his job in jeopardy? Cowher really didn’t have a quarterback, but Tomlin really hasn’t had a defense for the last five years.

That gets us briefly to Tomlin’s coordinators. If Todd Haley goes, then Keith Butler should go, too. How ridiculous would it look to fire Haley after the Steelers scored 42 points on the second-ranked defense in the NFL, and not Butler after the Steelers allowed 45 points (38 defensively) to a Blake Bortles-led offense?

Now, back to Cowher, who also couldn’t get 13-3 and 15-1 teams past the Patriots in AFC title games at Pittsburgh and before that had two straight losing seasons and three straight non-playoff seasons.

Most coaches would have been gone after going 7-9 and 6-10, which Cowher did in 1998 and 1999. But that’s not how the Steelers do things, and it shouldn’t be how they do it now.

So while Rooney shouldn’t fire Tomlin, what he should do is give him a stern lecture.

The 4th-and-1 decisions against the Jaguars, and to a certain extent the failure to have a play ready during the review of Jesse James‘ apparent touchdown against the Patriots, will fall on Haley. But Roethlisberger, in his final radio show of the season Tuesday, didn’t throw Haley under the bus. It sounded like he wouldn’t mind if Haley stayed, and for however many years Roethlisberger has left, he should have some say regarding the offensive coordinator. Roethlisberger is running out of time to win a third championship, and he doesn’t have time to learn a new system and new terminology.

The decision to go with the onside kick with 2:18 left and two timeouts on Sunday could be spun into a reason to can Butler. Tomlin didn’t trust the defense.

But the coordinators can’t be blamed for players holding court unchecked on social media and in the traditional media.

When the head coach tells Tony Dungy in November that “We should win it all,” who can blame players for guaranteeing a win in a game the Steelers haven’t yet qualified for?

Sure, Cowher’s players provided bulletin board material for playoff opponents, but Cowher never set the Steelers up for such an epic shortfall like Tomlin did by saying that they should win Super Bowl LII.

As much as Tomlin has been defended here, he’s not the best coach in the NFL right now. A better coach would have had his team better prepared for Sunday’s playoff game and for the Steelers’ Week 3 game in Chicago. That loss to the Bears ultimately cost the Steelers the top seed in the playoffs and a chance to avoid the buzzsaw that the Jaguars turned out to be. For five straight years, the Steelers have lost to at least one team that finished with a losing record.

Under a better coach, Bell wouldn’t be tweeting a threat to sit out next season three days before a playoff game. Yes, Bell was asked the question and he answered it, but after 11 years on the job Tomlin should have his players programmed to talk around such questions.

In his final press conference of the season on Tuesday, Tomlin was asked about all the social media distractions and motivational kindling for opponents that his players created this season. The Steelers coach basically said that social media is a fact of life and while he did hint that he’d like to see his players use it more positively, he generally came across as arrogant throughout the press conference. In a setting where some answers for the Steelers’ truncated playoff run would have been nice, Tomlin’s responses were typically long-winded and bland.

He better have more to say if a sit-down with Rooney ever takes place.

If Tomlin’s smugness is borne of a feeling that he’s guaranteed a job for as long as he wants, then Rooney has to make clear to him that he can’t allow some of what happened in 2017 to happen again. If the Steelers lose a playoff game because their players were openly looking ahead to the next potential opponent, or if another loss to an inferior opponent costs the Steelers a first-round bye or a home playoff game, firing Tomlin would merit more consideration.

For now, Tomlin has earned a chance to make sure none of that happens in 2018.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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