Steelers should give Tomlin new deal
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Peter Diana/Post-GazetteSteelers coach Mike Tomlin has two years left on his current contract.

View all related imagesIt's probably just as well that Steelers president Art Rooney II and coach Mike Tomlin have not taken questions from inquiring minds about Tomlin's contract status. It's better that they save their breath for their internal discussions on the subject. They are going to need it in the next few months.


"Art, did you see what the Arizona Cardinals did for Ken Whisenhunt?"

(Long pause)

"Yes, Mike, I saw."

"Do you realize they are going to pay him almost $6 million a year for the next five seasons?"

(Another long pause)

"I know, Mike."

"I gotta be honest with you here, Art. You picked me to be your coach over Whisenhunt. I have won more games than he has. I beat him in the Super Bowl. You're a fair man, Art. What am I worth if Whisenhunt is worth $6 million a year?"

(Really long pause)

"We have a lot to talk about, Mike."


I've been taking for granted that the Steelers are going to give Tomlin a contract extension before the start of the 2010 season. It has always been their way to extend the contract of their coach when he has two years left on his current deal, which Tomlin does. Tomlin deserves it. A big raise, too. He has done fine work here despite the Steelers missing the playoffs last season. In three seasons, he has led the team to two AFC North Division titles and that win against Whisenhunt's Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII after the '08 season.

But now, I'm not so sure that extension for Tomlin is so automatic.

Whisenhunt's new deal late last week sent the price for a good young coach soaring. The Cardinals tore up his old contract with two years remaining and more than doubled his salary. It's hard to argue that he isn't worth every penny. He took over a team that was the NFL's version of the Pirates and built it into a winner. You have to reward that kind of miracle worker.

The problem for the Steelers is the impact Whisenhunt's contract will have on their negotiations with Tomlin. It's fair to think $6 million a year is a lot higher than they were planning to go for Tomlin. There's at least a chance they won't go that high to keep him.

We're talking about a franchise that likes to determine fair market value and not have it set by another team. The Steelers long have conducted business with one overriding principle: Just because someone else in the NFL does something stupid -- Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis signing kicker Sebastian Janikowski to a four-year, $16 million deal, for instance -- doesn't mean they have to be stupid, too. They simply do not overpay to keep anyone. Yes, they gave a $102 million contract to Ben Roethlisberger after the '07 season, but he's a franchise quarterback and those just don't come around often. But they didn't overpay to keep Alan Faneca, the best guard in team history. And they didn't overpay to keep coach Bill Cowher, who was well on his way to the Hall of Fame during his 15 seasons here. I'm convinced Cowher still would be coaching if the Rooneys had met his price after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL after the '05 season.

Which brings us back to Tomlin.

Maybe he'll be willing to take less than Whisenhunt to stay. Coaching the Steelers is a fabulous job, unlike any in sports because of the Rooneys' patience and support. It's why they have had just three coaches in the past 41 years. It's also a big reason for their enduring success. Tomlin knows he won't be fired if the team misses the playoffs again next season or even for a third consecutive year in 2011. Cowher was given a three-year extension after the '00 season despite the Steelers sitting out the playoffs in the three previous seasons.

That has to be worth something to Tomlin, right?

Or maybe not.

It will be a big story to watch throughout the spring and summer. Don't expect Rooney II and Tomlin to comment about their negotiations. Saving their breath, remember? But if they don't announce an extension before the start of the season, it will be a pretty good indication that Tomlin's time here won't be long, perhaps no longer than the '10 season. Neither side will be happy then. Tomlin will want long-term security. The Steelers won't want a coach who's headed into the final year of his contract in '11 and will be that close to becoming a much-in-demand free agent and selling himself to the highest bidder.

A guess?

The Rooneys will step up and pay Tomlin because they believe in him and because they put great value in coaching continuity.

It's the right thing to do.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author
First published on March 2, 2010 at 12:00 am

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--- Added 3/2/2010 at 11:46 AM ---

I have to admit. I want Tomlin to stay with the Steelers. Some of the Cowher era players are leaving due to age, trades etc. Tomlin can now build "his team" and put that talk to rest with some serious football in 2010.