In other NFL cities, this would be big news. Not here. Not in Pittsburgh, where the resident NFL team has taken the concept and turned it into an art form. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the announcement of a contract extension for Coach Mike Tomlin is good news. Surprising, stunning, it’s not.
The Steelers and Tomlin now have an agreement that keeps them working together through the 2016 NFL season. For bookkeeping purposes, this deal is a three-year extension on his existing one, and the press release announcing it describes it as a “new five-year contract.” Tomlin has signed two extensions now since being hired in 2007.
In a business where a pair of socks can outlast a head coach’s tenure with a particular team, the Steelers are continuing an extraordinary run of success with the men they hire for that job. Starting with the decision to hire Chuck Noll in 1969, the Steelers have had three men coach the team, and each one has won a championship. For example, by contrast, the Miami Dolphins have had three OWNERS over that same period, yet without the similar success.
“(Stability) is certainly the hope, yes,” said Steelers President Art Rooney II. “That’s part of the thinking, that you’re hiring someone who can be here a long time. Those things are hard to predict, because coaches can have different appetites for how long they want to coach. Our goal in hiring Mike, and our belief, was that he was the kind of person we would be comfortable having be our coach for the long term.”
The Steelers accomplished that goal, but Tomlin deserves much of the credit for it. Beyond the wins – and one of those turned him into the youngest head coach to win a Lombardi Trophy – Mike Tomlin fits in, and that’s a special quality.
The ability to fit in requires a willingness to sublimate one’s ego for the good of the group, and Tomlin announced his presence in this regard back in 2007 by keeping Dick LeBeau and his 3-4 zone-blitz defense rather than change to the scheme he had coached as an assistant in Minnesota and Tampa Bay.
Another aspect of fitting in with the Pittsburgh Steelers requires an acceptance of the team’s legacy of success, and Tomlin publicly spoke of “walking past the five Lombardis” as he was in the process of leading the franchise to a sixth. Still another demands that the coach embrace the expectation where success is achieved only by winning the Super Bowl.
“Mike sure is someone who works well with us,” said Rooney. “He has been a good fit for this organization since the day he got here, but as time goes on the comfort level among all of us is very high. It’s a good working environment. Mike is one of those people who loves to come to work and can’t wait for training camp to get started, and his enthusiasm for everything we do just makes it a pleasure to work with him.”
During his five seasons with the team, Tomlin has posted a 55-25 record in the regular season, to go along with three division titles, and a 2-0 record in conference championship games at Heinz Field. His .688 winning percentage is best among all active NFL coaches heading into the 2012 season, and under Tomlin the Steelers are the only team in the league to win at least 12 games in three of the last four seasons. His teams are 31-9 at home, his teams have sent 36 selections to the Pro Bowl, his teams have fielded the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL three times. He is one of seven coaches in NFL history to win a Super Bowl within his first two years as an NFL head coach.
But by the standards that are a way of life for the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin truly has been successful in one of those five seasons, which is exactly how he sees it as well.
“There’s no question that wins and losses are No. 1,” said Rooney, “but in our organization in particular, there is a lot that goes into how we do things, the way we deal with our players, the culture and atmosphere we want to have here. All those things are important for us to continue to have the kind of success we’ve had, so we can build on the past and continue to have a successful future.”
Already Mike Tomlin has built on the franchise’s storied past, and since a 40-year-old NFL coach can be considered in the infancy of his career, there would seem to be a good chance he’ll be instrumental in the Steelers enjoying more successes in their immediate future.
“Mike is the kind of person who can get up in front of a room and get the attention of that room real quick. That’s what you need,” said Rooney. “You have to be someone the players are going to be tuned into day in and day out, because it’s a long season. Hearing the coach talk every day, certain guys can turn him off if you don’t have the right person delivering the message. Mike’s strength is as a communicator and as a person who understands people, in addition to everything he knows about football.”
In other words, Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers are a good fit, which led to this agreement on a contract extension.
“It certainly was a priority to have his contract extended before the start of the season,” said Rooney. “It’s the right time to do it, and it gives us another five years as a window, and hopefully this isn’t the last extension we do with him.”
If history is any indication – both Mike Tomlin’s and the Steelers’ – it won’t be.