By Jeremy Hritz
There are several coaches that are on the hot seat heading into the fresh 2013 NFL season. From Rex Ryan in New York to Jason Garrett in Dallas, if their respective teams do not improve on their records from last season, they will find themselves in the market for new jobs.
In Pittsburgh, coming off of a disappointing 8-8 season, the expectations are high, despite many considering it a “transition” year. As head coach, Mike Tomlin is expected to prepare the Steelers to return to the postseason. If, however, the Steelers finish 8-8 or worse, what would be the impact on the job security of Tomlin, a coach entering his seventh season with the team?
Looking at the coaching history of the Steelers, the impact wouldn’t be that much at all.
When Bill Cowher was the head coach in Pittsburgh, after stringing together six straight playoff appearances, his teams faltered in the following three seasons, finishing 7-9 in 1998, 6-10 in 1999, and a non-playoff qualifying 9-7 in 2000. Then, after two successful seasons in which the Steelers won 23 regular season games, his 2003 squad finished 6-10, a record that made the drafting of Ben Roethlisberger possible.
Before Cowher, Chuck Noll started his career with the Steelers with three consecutive losing seasons before his teams began to surge and collect Super Bowl trophies in bunches. It wasn’t until after Noll’s 1984 season when the Steelers play declined, as they failed to make the playoffs the next four seasons.
The key with both Noll and Cowher is that their history of winning and postseason appearances afforded them patience from the Steelers organization, which ultimately paid enormous dividends in terms of championship hardware. Imagine if the Steelers would have reacted to Cowher’s 1998 through 2000 stretch by letting him go? No Troy Polamalu, no Roethlisberger, and most importantly, no Lombardi trophy in 2005 (probably not in 2008 either).
Tomlin’s success in his first six seasons cannot be disputed, with four postseason appearances, one Super Bowl victory in two appearances, and a winning percentage of .656. Though his 2012 team did not meet Pittsburgh expectations, there is no reason to believe that this year’s team won’t improve. And even if they don’t, Tomlin’s job security is in excellent condition.
Only 41 years old, Tomlin has the opportunity to put together a career that can hold its own alongside those of Noll and Cowher. And unless losing becomes the new “standard” of Tomlin’s tenure, there is no reason to believe that he is going anywhere anytime soon.
Will Tomlin match the success of Noll’s seventh season and win his second Super Bowl trophy? Or will he go the way of Cowher and miss the playoffs with a record below .500? Whatever the outcome, fans will be watching Tomlin’s seventh year closely to see if 2012 was simply an aberration to the success his teams have achieved.