If Mike Tomlin were white, he’d be on the Mount Rushmore of NFL coaches and it wouldn’t be debatable.
For close to two decades, he’s survived in a league that’s constantly proven that they don’t want men like him around in positions of power, been to two Super Bowls, and is the youngest coach in NFL history to raise the Lombardi Trophy.
However, the thing that sets Tomlin apart from his peers is his consistency. Despite free agency, rising salary caps, and playing in a league that’s designed to create parity, the Steelers have never been a bad football team during Tomlin’s tenure. Due to Monday night’s 26-14 win over the Browns, it guaranteed that for the 15th straight year Tomlin will end the season with at least a .500 record, something no other coach in NFL history has done to start their careers.
“Not as I sit here today, and I say that humbly,” Tomlin said on Tuesday when asked about the meaning of reaching the mark. “Our agenda, this year, is to get into [the] single-elimination tournament and then pit our skills against others in that single-elimination tournament in an effort to win the world championship. That’s our mentality every year.
“And so with that mentality, it’s just certain hardware that you expect to pick up along the way. And if you don’t, you’d be seriously disappointed. That’s just an expectation that we have here in Pittsburgh.”
To make the playoffs, the Steelers need a few things to go their way, including a win over the Ravens on Sunday, along with a Jaguars victory over the Colts, and for the Chargers/Raiders game not to end in a tie. Depending on Jacksonville is what will likely keep Tomlin from his 10th postseason appearance in 15 years. But yet, despite all he’s accomplished, Tomlin is constantly disrespected, like when he was asked about the USC job last fall. Only Black people are expected to be excited about potential jobs that will turn out to be a lateral move or a demotion.
“Anybody asking Sean Payton about that, ya know? Anybody asking Andy Reid about stuff like that?” asked Tomlin.
The reason Tomlin mentioned those white Super Bowl-winning coaches is because he’s better than them, yet they don’t have to deal with trivial questions and speculations about college jobs that are beneath them like he does. In total, Tomlin is 153-85-2 for a winning percentage of .642. By comparison, Payton’s winning pct. is .629, while Reid’s is .632. And in case you were wondering, Reid has three losing seasons on his resume and Payton has four. Tomlin? None. And unlike Reid and Payton, Tomlin doesn’t get as much media attention as other coaches in the league despite having a better resume. You won’t find him in too many national commercials as a pitch man.
And then there are the unnecessary shots that Tomlin has taken over the years from people like former Steeler Terry Bradshaw, who once said that Tomlin “was not his kind of coach” and referred to him as a cheerleader.
“I think he’s not just a great Black head coach, he’s a great head coach,” Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said in 2020. “It’s one thing to be the all-time winningest Black head coach, but this dude deserves more than enough credit. To never have a losing season, to get the most out of his players. It’s not just first-rounders that wound up playing great here. He’s had fifth [round], sixth, undrafted guys who’ve done well.
“I know a lot of people like to say he inherited a great team, but think about other people who have inherited great teams. Think about the basketball teams that Phil Jackson would take over. That’s not a shot at him, but when you are able to lead a group of men and lead them the right way, that says a lot about the type of coach you are.”
When Michigan State signed Mel Tucker to a 10-year, $95 million deal in November, it made him the highest-paid Black coach in American sports – which is a gamechanger. And while Tomlin is the highest-paid Black coach in the NFL making $8 million a year, it’s laughable that anybody outside of Bill Belichick – $12.5 million – makes more than him annually, as Pete Carroll brings home $11 million while Payton is at $9.8 million.
(whispers) Pete Carroll has four losing seasons in his career. It’s time for Pittsburgh to cut the check and start paying Mike Tomlin like he’s a white man.