The Pittsburgh Steelers have a knack for choosing great head coaches. Chuck Noll. Bill Cowher. When current coach Mike Tomlin burst onto the scene as a relatively unknown name, Steeler Nation embraced him with all the enthusiasm befitting the man who would continue this team down the Lombardi path. He was touted as a great defensive coach who would keep the tradition of tough nose football alive in the 'Burgh.
In his first year, he led the team to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance. We all know the results of his second year - a sixth Lombardi trophy, making the Steelers the only NFL team that needed two hands to wear all of its Super Bowl rings. Many would be happy to forget Tomlin's third and most recent year: a 9-7 record, a five game losing streak against some of the worst teams in the NFL, and the chance to watch the playoffs from the comfort of his easy chair.
Tomlin's bandwagon has become a little lighter recently. Most Steeler fans are hanging on, but are poised on the edge, ready to jump off. Some of the blame has been given to his coaches, particularly offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and the now former special teams coach Bob Ligashesky. Everyone understands how much of a blow it was to the defense to lose perennial Pro-Bowl safety Troy Polamalu and key defensive back Aaron Smith to injuries. It was his handling of these situations that left many puzzled.
Logically, anyone can understand how this past year was a difficult one for the team. What worries many, however, is how Tomlin handled the adversity the team faced. He had no fire - no emotion at all. Neither did his players. Coincidence? He promised changes when players weren't performing. He delivered more of the same. Steeler football, the tough-nosed in-your-face style that Pittsburgh built a franchise on, seemed to change.
Shortly after being hired in 2007, Tomlin said, "You win by stopping the run and being able to run the ball effectively -- and doing the things winners do --being a detailed-oriented football team, playing with great passion and executing." Passion and execution, two things Tomlin swears by and two things missing from the coaches and players this year.
Tomlin must now pick up the pieces of 2009 and reassemble them. He must bring back the passion, he must demand execution. How Tomlin does this will define his legacy. I only hope his bandwagon doesn't break down on the path to the next Lombardi trophy.