“Give it to Mikey. Hey Mikey, he likes it.”
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has probably never had to swallow any loss harder than the 17-14 loss against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday since he has been sitting in the head coaches “chair” over at the Steelers “court.” Okay, I hear your tongues wagging so I will present to you enough proof in order to stop the ranting and raving. When Tomlin, a young and brash defensive coordinator, was hired away from the Minnesota Vikings, I was under the distinct impression he would come riding into Pittsburgh on the back of “Steely McBeam” wearing a Viking hat turned sideways and transform the Steelers into his team.
For example, the Steelers ran a 3-4 defensive front; Tomlin coached a 4-3. That is just one instance of how his basic philosophy differed from the man who coached the Steelers before him, Bill Cowher. So I, being one of the “chosen few” who thought that he might have hired “his” own choices for defensive and offensive coordinator, was surprised when he opted, or was forced, to stick with the existing personnel already employed by the Steelers.
This next part even mystifies “Aubrey the Great.” Tomlin recently signed a new contract that will carry him through 2014. His previous contract, signed in ’07, had one year and an option left. The five-year deal was worth an average of $2.5 million annually. However, Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, who had two years left on his first deal, signed an entirely new five-year contract in February that reportedly will pay him an annual average of between $5.5 million and $6 million.
Mike Tomlin has won a Super Bowl and coached his team to two division championships. Oh, I neglected to remind that Tomlin beat Whisenhunt in Super Bowl XLIII. So if the reported salaries are true, how does Whisenhunt rate more than twice the loot that Tomlin is scheduled to receive? Don’t ask me, I have no idea.
I have been an occasional critic of Mike Tomlin but this has been one of his best coaching efforts to date. Tomlin has taken a team that was almost totally dysfunctional at least from a moral standpoint and has them poised to reach the post-season and beyond in spite of the “Big Ben” madness that has been going on.
My hat goes off to Tomlin. No one knows what he has had to face when the lights were off. How do you discipline one of your star athletes who at times seems a bit out of control but who has been dubbed as your “franchise” player? How do you question and overrule the decisions of your defensive coordinator who is an NFL Hall-of-Fame player and coach?
I was talking with a sportswriter friend of mine and we were both in agreement that when you go into the prevent defense mode when the clock is winding down and your squad is leading by less than seven points, the only thing that sort of play calling will prevent is your squad from being victorious. Steelers’ defensive back Bryant McFadden is not the main culprit in the loss to the Ravens. Not making Ravens QB Joe Flacco run for his life or throw to the “hot read” seems more like the reason for that last minute touchdown to me. If Flacco was in fear of decapitation he would not have had time to sit in the pocket and play “pitch and catch.” Please do not send in hate e-mails but the defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau cannot continue to muzzle the dogs when the burglar is sneaking in through the bedroom window. On offense, their future Hall-of-Fame receiver Hines Ward is now only feared as a blocker.
The Steelers received a great young coach in the person of Mike Tomlin for a fraction of the price. They did not become a “billion dollar” franchise by allowing everyone in on their “secrets.” I grant you that Tomlin being paid less than Whisenhunt may seem grossly unfair but as they say in macroeconomics; buy for less, sell for more. In laymen’s terms business is business. Also, when you rake in reportedly over $2.5 million per year like Coach Tomlin does, it is safe to assume that you do not qualify for food stamps.
Mike Tomlin is beginning to flourish as a head coach in the NFL. When the bobble heads tried to pin him down by asking in hushed tones when Roethlisberger would be back, I loved his response. He said, “We’ll see him tomorrow.” When he was badgered about it he repeated, “We’ll see him tomorrow.” Tomlin realizes that the word “team” means everyone contributes to victory and defeat.
Steeler DB Ryan Clark seemed to say it best. “The thing we learned through all of this is that every man is a part of the team, but no man has to be the team. Ward said, “Ben definitely makes us a better ball club. We’ll be better as an offense when he comes back.” Okay Hines, but as we all know only time will tell.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)