Steelers players throw support behind Tomlin as early offseason begins
Black Monday hit the NFL coaching ranks hard as six head coaches were fired within 24 hours after the regular season ended Sunday night. With openings already existing in Cleveland and Green Bay, one-quarter of the league’s 32 teams have vacancies.
The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t fired a coach in 50 years and despite the team missing the playoffs for the first time in five years, Mike Tomlin’s tenure is expected to extend to a 13 th season.
That might not satisfy an angry fan base that watched the Steelers win two of their final six games to finish 9-6-1 and miss the playoffs by one-half game. But Tomlin continues to have support of the members of the Steelers locker room, and that was evident by their words Monday morning when players began cleaning out their lockers in preparation for a sooner-than-expected offseason.
“He’s the same man every single day that he walks into this building,” tight end Vance McDonald said. “To have that type of consistency, there’s no guessing and no what-ifs of who you are going to get. You are going to get Coach Tomlin for sure and throughout and true.
“It’s a big catalyst for how we handle a lot of things.”
Tomlin has compiled a 125-66-1 record in 12 seasons, plus one Super Bowl championship and another appearance. Under his watch, the Steelers’ worst finish was back-to-back 8-8 seasons in 2012-13. What followed was a run of four consecutive playoff appearances that included three division titles.
Critics, however, will point to Tomlin winning three postseason games since the Steelers’ trip to the Super Bowl after the 2010 season.
“Name me a coach that’s going to come in here and do better than he’s done in how many years he’s been here,” said cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who has played for three other organizations. “How many coaches have gotten fired so far? … Good coaches aren’t just lying around out there. It’s like quarterbacks. They aren’t just walking up and down the street.”
Tomlin has two more years remaining on his contract. He signed a two-year extension in the 2017 training camp, and if the Steelers follow protocol, Tomlin will be in line for another extension in 2019.
“I don’t even want to try to imagine what it’s like to coach an NFL team for a second,” McDonald said. “I tip my hat off to him. It’s such a big job.”
One that McDonald has come to appreciate in his two years with the Steelers.
“There has to be so much unbelievable pressure,” he said. “It’s one thing to categorize what the pressure of a player is. At the end of the day, I can go out and do my job and play and perform. He has so many moving parts. I just have to worry about myself and my job. He’s got to worry about so many guys all of the time.”
Tomlin could oversee some more changes to his staff after bringing in three new assistants and promoting quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner to offensive coordinator last winter.
With 14 players set to become unrestricted free agents, the roster could have a different makeup in 2017. That’s particularly true on the offensive line where the Steelers also must decide whether to bring back free agent Ramon Foster and right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who has one year left on his deal but played in just five games this season.
The offensive line core has remained intact for four years.
“We made a point to enjoy it,” guard David DeCastro said. “All these guys have been a lot of fun. No regrets from me. We have a lot of fun with this group. We knew it was a unique situation having all of these guys together, and we made the most of it.”
Sensabaugh is another starter among the unrestricted free agents. Like McDonald, he has spent two seasons playing for Tomlin and would like nothing more than to return for a third.
“It was awesome,” he said. “One of the best coaches I ever played for. He tells you the ‘why’ always. That was very beneficial for me because it helped me go out and execute better.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.