Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Tomlin's New Contract Ushers in Next Phase of Career

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 04:  Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches the players work out during their rookie minicamp at the Pittsburgh Steelers South Side training facility on May 4, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Mike Tomlin came to agreement on a contract extension for their head coach today. Tomlin's new deal ties him to the Steelers until the 2016 season, which is a three year extension over his current deal.

This is not unexpected news for Steelers fans. The Steelers don't give up on coaches very often, and there is no reason to give up on Tomlin.

Tomlin has done everything right throughout his career in Pittsburgh. Since being appointed the surprise successor to Bill Cowher in 2007, Tomlin has won a Super Bowl and appeared in another. Tomlin took over a talented roster with an impressive coaching staff without disrupting the continuity of the franchise.

When Tomlin took over, the Steelers were only two years withdrawn from their last Super Bowl victory. Not only was he inheriting one of the most talented defenses in the NFL, but he was also taking one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL under his wing.

It's not as easy as it would appear to sustain success when it is handed to you.Tomlin deserves, and often receives, a lot of praise and plaudits for his work. The Steelers are a franchise with high expectations entering every season, so he is working in one of the most scrutinized roles in the whole of the NFL.

His ability to earn the respect of the veterans on his football team, despite his relatively young age and lack of experience, while also distancing himself from the roster enough to be a disciplinary figure has allowed Tomlin to navigate the Steelers to more success than most teams have had during his tenure.

Tomlin has done enough that he was ranked as the second-best head coach in the NFL by the bloggers of ESPN.

In fact, it is quite difficult to find any Mike Tomlin detractors. He is a players coach who has a track record that can't be ignored. That combination means that both players and analysts will admire his resume.

Still, Tomlin is not perfect, and it still seems like a stretch to name him as the second-best coach in the NFL. The Steelers have had their problems under him, with one notable aspect of Tomlin's management of the team that stands out in a negative light.

During the coach's reign, the Steelers have developed a tendency to play down to the level of their competition. When the Steelers have played less talented teams, they have regularly approached those games with a relaxed attitude, leading to careless displays. When the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2008, it wasn't an issue as they racked up 12 wins against one of the most difficult schedules in the whole league.

The following season, however, the Steelers failed to "unleash hell" as the team suffered a five-game losing streak, including losses to the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. It may seem harsh to pick on Tomlin for that stretch, but the coach is responsible for his team's approach and preparation to football games.That year's stretch cost the Steelers a chance in the playoffs.

Last year the team had a similar problem in the playoffs when they fell to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. Even though the team had multiple injuries to endure and were without Ryan Clark, they still had a significant talent advantage on the field but didn't appear completely committed on the day.

That may seem like nitpicking in order to prove a point, but when you are considered amongst the elite in your role, the gaps between each competitor tighten, and the scrutiny intensifies. As Tomlin says himself, "The standard remains the standard." You have to hold yourself to the standard of perfection if you are to come close to achieving it.

Right now it is not fair to call Mike Tomlin the second-best coach in the NFL, but this season begins the second phase of his career as a head coach and offers him the opportunity to eventually establish himself as the best coach in the NFL.

Unlike a Tom Coughlin, Bill Belichick or Sean Payton, Tomlin is yet to build a championship-caliber team.

He simply hasn't had the chance.

Building a Super Bowl-level team from nothing is excruciatingly more difficult than sustaining the success of a team already contending. Tomlin hasn't had to overcome the handcuffs that come with not having a franchise quarterback for a whole season, nor has he had to endure significant roster/coaching staff turnover.

Since taking over in 2007, he hasn't really even lost a major part of his team or had to replace an important leader in the locker room. At least, not until this season.

He still has his franchise quarterback, but Tomlin must navigate his roster through a substantial rebuilding process if the Steelers are to even make the playoffs this year. The Steelers are losing a large quantity of quality players this year, some of whom have been there for quite a while.

Tomlin is entering this season trying to sustain success with a rebuilding roster, while developing a group who can compete over the coming years and into the future.

The instillation of a new offensive scheme with a new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, will be high on the head coach's priority list. Haley is a fiery character who will be crucial to the team's success as he tries to develop a relationship with Ben Roethlisberger. Because Roethlisberger and Haley have differing ideals and are both passionate people, Tomlin will likely have to act as arbitrator between the two at times.

Installing a new scheme is made an even more difficult task when you are adding a lot of new personnel. The Steelers are trying to develop a lot of young players, such as Isaac Redman, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, David DeCastro and Mike Adams, while incorporating a significant number of role players who haven't been prominent with the team on the field in recent times.

On defense, Tomlin has to deal with a group losing James Farrior, Aaron Smith and William Gay. Question marks are over how involved Casey Hampton will be this season, while Brett Keisel, Hampton, James Harrison and Ryan Clark could all be entering their final season or two with the team.

Tomlin has to incorporate new faces, such as Steve McLendon, Cameron Heyward, Sean Spence, Jason Worilds, Cortez Allen, Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown and Ryan Mundy, into greater roles over the coming seasons.

Not only is Mike Tomlin entering this season with a new contract but also a new challenge. That challenge could see him become the best coach in the whole of the NFL. Whatever happens from here on out, nobody will argue that Tomlin doesn't deserve his new contract extension.


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