Houston Chronicle reporter John McClain has covered the NFL for 45 years.
McClain has seen it all during his career, covering the Houston Texans and the now-defunct Houston Oilers since the mid-1970s.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak with McClain on an episode of the “Bleav in Steelers” podcast.
Before the show started, McClain said something that stuck with me.
McClain said if the Pittsburgh Steelers ever decided to get rid of Mike Tomlin, the coach could find a new job by sundown on the same day if he wanted.
What Has Happened With The Steelers Since 2020?
While the Steelers’ playoffs chances are hanging on by a thread with a 5-5-1 record entering Week 13 of the 2021 season, they’d be foolish to even consider firing Tomlin.
No doubt, the Steelers’ defensive performance is concerning in recent weeks.
Pittsburgh has allowed 82 total points in its last two games, which is the most during Tomlin’s tenure.
Tomlin-coached teams set the old record during the 2013 season, allowing 74 total points in a two-game stretch.
Plus, the Steelers have struggled to stop the run in their last four games allowing rushing totals of 136 by the Chicago Bears, 229 by the Detroit Lions, 159 by the Los Angeles Chargers and 198 by the Cincinnati Bengals.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers still struggle to run the ball despite drafting running back Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Harris has played well when given opportunities and space, but the Steelers’ 87.1 rushing yards per game ranks 28th in the NFL.
In the 2021 season, the Steelers are averaging 112.2 rushing yards per game in their five wins and about 66.17 rushing yards per game in their six non-wins.
It’s worth noting the Steelers are due to spend about $12.59 million on their offensive line this season, which ranks 29th in the league.
In life, you get what you pay for.
Perhaps the team was surprised that center Maurkice Pouncey retired in the offseason.
In June, the Steelers released six-time Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro.
The Steelers’ scoring average of 20.4 points per game ranks 22nd in the NFL.
Last season’s offensive struggles prompted the Steelers not to renew offensive coordinator Randy Fitchner’s contract after the playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns.
In the 2020 regular season, the Steelers averaged 26 points per game and had a league-worst 84.4 rushing yards per game.
It’s clear Matt Canada hasn’t fared much better, regardless of where the blame should fall.
Steelers owner Art Rooney II usually leaves football operations to general manager Kevin Colbert.
However, Rooney explained his rationale for the eventual selection of Harris even before April’s draft.
In March, Rooney told media members he doesn’t want to see the Steelers finish last in the NFL in rushing ever again.
Mike Tomlin’s Tenure
Tomlin has a career 150-83-2 regular-season record.
Tomlin, 49, is in his 15th year as the Steelers head coach and has yet to have a sub-.500 season.
Think about the NFL fanbases that would love to make the same claim about their favorite team.
Still, Pittsburgh measures its success by Lombardi trophies: Tomlin won Super Bowl 43, but lost Super Bowl 45.
Since the establishment of the Steelers on July 8, 1933, the franchise has won six Super Bowl titles and made eight appearances in the big game.
It’s hard to believe it has been more than a decade since the Steelers’ last Super Bowl appearance.
Tomlin’s critics point to his 8-8 playoff record.
Also, the Steelers haven’t won a playoff game since January 15, 2017.
The team missed the playoffs in 2018 and 2019.
A season-ending elbow injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger derailed the 2019 campaign.
However, the Steelers won the AFC North last season by starting the year with an 11-0 record before losing five of their last six games.
On December 7, 2020, Tomlin had an on-field conversation with Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young that really put his coaching success into perspective.
Young was in the middle of his first NFL season when he won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“I don’t ever want to lose enough games to get a guy like you,” Tomlin said to Young. “I play against you all the time because you got to lose 14 (or) 15 games to get a guy that look like you.”
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) December 8, 2020
The Steelers’ highest draft pick during the Tomlin era was when the team traded up with the Denver Broncos to select linebacker Devin Bush with the 10th pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.
While tanking to get a better draft pick in the NFL isn’t the same as the NBA, teams in both sports have to restock their rosters with talent at some point.
Regardless of how the 2021 season unfolds for the Steelers, the true evaluation of Tomlin begins when the front office decides how to replace Roethlisberger, who is in the final year of his contract.
The end is near for the 39-year-old quarterback, who has spent all 18 years of his NFL career with the Steelers.
Whatever shortcomings the Steelers have this season, it’s because Tomlin and the franchise are victims of their own success.