Mike Tomlin has owned the sidelines of Heinz Field for 14 years.  Under his leadership, the Pittsburgh Steelers have won a Super Bowl, seven division championships, participated in the postseason eight times, and have never had a losing season.  Tomlin is also the winningest African American coach in the history of the NFL.  That seems like a fan-pleasing resume for any franchise; yet some Steelers fans want Tomlin gone.  Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star replied to one fan’s question about Tomlin’s record on Twitter with the response of: “How many Super Bowls does he have to win to impress you?”

Good question.  How many Super Bowls does it take to keep a fan base happy?  The answer is: “Well, that depends on the fan base.”

Tomlin’s favorite quotation, and he does love a good quote, is “the standard is the standard.”  Translation:  the standard here is the Super Bowl.  That’s a true statement.  When asked about the rest of the storied franchise’s other trophies (Lamar Hunt, Divisional Championship trophies), Tomlin quipped: “I don’t know where they are, probably in a closet somewhere.”  The Rooney family only displays the six Vince Lombardi Trophies in the facility.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  There are no banners for the AFC Central Champions or AFC North Champions.  There are no placards listing the years in which the Steelers made the NFL Playoffs.  

Lombardi’s…that’s the standard.

Tomlin won the Super Bowl in his second year on the job (2008).  The Steelers beat an upstart Arizona Cardinals team in one of the more thrilling games in the history of the league.  Late touchdowns by Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh’s Santonio Holmes flipped the lead twice in the last two minutes of the game.

The Steelers would reach the Super Bowl again in 2010, losing to a red-hot Green Bay Packers team led by burgeoning superstar quarterback Aaron Rogers.  Since 2010, however, the Steelers have only reached the AFC Championship Game once, losing to the New England Patriots in 2016.

The troubling trend observed by fans is the Steelers’ inability to get past seemingly inferior teams in the playoffs, and a series of inexplicable losses in the regular season.  A thorough analysis of Tomlin’s record as the Steelers’ head coach reveals that he may have reached his ceiling as a coach and that getting Pittsburgh back to, and winning, Super Bowl titles is not going to be possible with him at the helm.

The NFL is built for parity; if you lose 10 games in a season, you’re a bad football team.    Mike Tomlin’s Steelers have dropped at least one game to a bad team in 10 of his 14 seasons.  In the four years where they did not, the Steelers went to two Super Bowls, one AFC Championship Game and once they were a Wild Card team (2011). 

In total, Tomlin’s teams have lost 19 inexplicable games.  Of these 19 games, four of them were home games.  This indicates that Tomlin’s teams, at least once a year, are not prepared to go on the road and beat a bad football team.  This includes a 2020 loss to the 4-11-1 Cincinnati Bengals who were playing a backup quarterback.  Three consecutive losses in 2009 to teams with a combined record of 14-34.  One of the home losses was in 2014 to the 2-14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  In 2015, the Steelers were swept by the 5-11 Baltimore Ravens.

Losing games in the NFL happens almost every year.  There have been only two teams in the history of the league to go undefeated in the regular season.  Consistently losing road games to bad teams is indicative of a larger, systemic issue.  It not only costs the Steelers playoff positioning, but it also costs money.  Forbes magazine estimates that the host franchise for playoff games will net between $500k – $2mm per game (Forbes, 2013).  Given those numbers, the franchise has “lost” somewhere between $5-20 million in revenue.

Dan Rooney in his book “My 75 Years in the NFL” stated that any time you change the head coach, you reset the franchise, which is why they prefer to not fire coaches.  Sage advice from the late Ambassador and elder statesman. 

The Rooney family is steadfast in its commitment to the head coach.  Since Chuck Noll’s hiring in 1969, only three men have worn the title of “Head Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers.”  Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin.  The Rooney’s simply do not like to fire coaches. 

Tomlin’s 14 years, however, may be enough evidence to show…this isn’t working.  He’s had Ben Roethlisberger, in his prime.  Steelers’ General Manager Kevin Colbert has reloaded the team with talent year after year.  He had Dick LeBeau, one of the most successful defensive coordinators of all time for eight years.  He’s had multiple pro bowl level players on both offense and defense.  What does Pittsburgh have to show for it?  One championship, 12 years ago.

Winning the Super Bowl in Pittsburgh is the standard, it doesn’t guarantee tenure.

Here’s the record in detail:


  • Result:  Lost Wild Card
  • Record:  10-6
  • Worst Loss:  @ New York Jets (4-12)
  • Playoff Seeding:  5 (Wild Card)
  • The skinny:  The Steelers finished 10-6 with bad losses to the New York Jets (4-12) and the Baltimore Ravens (5-11).  Without these losses, the Steelers end up 12-4 and the #3 seed in the playoffs.  That seeding would have changed their opponent in the Wild Card round to Tennessee (10-6) instead of Jacksonville (11-5).


  • Result:  Super Bowl Champions.  Division Champions.
  • Record:  12-4
  • Worst loss:  Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1). 
  • Playoff Seeding:  2
  • The skinny:  The Steelers won the Super Bowl behind dominant defensive play.  Although the Steelers were 5-0 vs teams with 10 wins or more, they were also 0-3 vs teams with 12 wins or more, turning the ball over 14 times in those three games.


  • Result:  Missed Playoffs
  • Record:  9-7
  • Worst Loss: @ Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)
  • Playoff Seeding: None
  • The skinny: The Steelers finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl the season prior.  Pittsburgh dropped three poor games late in the season: @Kansas City (4-12), Oakland Raiders (5-11), & @Cleveland Browns (5-11).  Without these three bad losses on their record, the Steelers finish at 12-4 and secure the #3 seed in the Playoffs with the Divisional Title.  This would have had Pittsburgh hosting a playoff game at Heinz Field.


  • Result:  Lost Super Bowl
  • Record:  12-4
  • Worst Loss:  vs. New York Jets (11-5)
  • Playoff Seeding:  2
  • The skinny:  No bad losses for the Steelers vs. the most difficult schedule in the Tomlin era.  The team secured a 12-4 season, ended up in the Super Bowl, but the loss of center Maurkice Pouncey and a date with the Red-hot Green Bay Packers in Dallas kept the Steelers from a championship.  Three turnovers didn’t help matters.


  • Result:  Lost Wild Card @ Denver
  • Record:  12-4
  • Worst Loss:  @ Houston Texans (10-6)
  • Playoff Seeding:  5
  • The skinny:  The Steelers finished 12-4 and in the playoffs as a wildcard.  They were 1-4 vs. teams with 10 wins or more.  Pittsburgh was swept by the Baltimore Ravens (division champs) …if Pittsburgh wins just one of those games, they are the Division champions and do not have to go on the road.  The Steelers faced the 8-8 Denver Broncos in the Wild Card round, losing in overtime on a Tim Tebow pass to Demaryius Thomas.  Because the Steelers were playing in Denver, Safety Ryan Clark was unable to play and HOF Safety Troy Polamalu was injured and not available.


  • Result:  Missed Playoffs
  • Record:  8-8
  • Worst Loss:  @ Oakland Raiders (4-12)
  • Playoff Seeding:  None
  • The skinny:  The Steelers finished the season 8-8 with bad losses to the Oakland Raiders (4-12), the Cleveland Browns (5-11) and the Tennessee Titans (6-10).  Without these losses, they finish 11-5 and Division Champions.  Pittsburgh would have hosted a home game vs. the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round. The Steelers were 5-4 vs. teams with a .500 record or worse.


  • Result:  Missed Playoffs
  • Record:  8-8
  • Worst Loss:  @ Oakland Raiders (4-12)
  • Playoff Seeding:  None
  • The skinny:  The Steelers finished 8-8 with losses to the Minnesota Vikings (5-10) and the Oakland Raiders (4-12).  Without these two losses, the Steelers finish 10-6 and get a playoff berth as the #6 seed.  The Steelers also went 3-3 vs. teams with a .500 record or worse and lost to the Miami Dolphins…at home…in the snow.


  • Result:  Lost Wild Card vs. Baltimore
  • Record:  11-5
  • Worst Loss:  vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14)
  • Playoff Seeding:  3
  • The skinny:  The Steelers finished at 11-5 with terrible losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14) and the New York Jets (4-12) and questionable losses to the Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints, both at 7-9.  Without the two terrible losses the Steelers are 13-3 and have the #1 seed.
    As it was, the Steelers entered the playoffs as the #3 seed and lost a home game to division rival Baltimore in the Wild Card Round.


  • Result:  Lost Divisional Game @ Denver
  • Record:  10-6
  • Worst Loss:  vs. Baltimore Ravens (5-11)
  • Playoff Seeding:  6
  • The skinny:  The Steelers finished 10-6 with losses to the 5-11 Baltimore Ravens (twice).  Winning those games sets the Steelers with the #5 seed and a date with the 9-7 Houston Texans instead of the 12-4 Cincinnati Bengals.


  • Result:  Lost AFC Championship Game @ New England
  • Record:  11-5
  • Worst Loss:  @ Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)
  • Playoff Seeding:  3
  • The skinny:  The Steelers finished with a record of 11-5 with the only “bad” loss to the 7-9 Philadelphia Eagles on the road.  Rookie Carson Wentz torched the Steelers.  With a win in Philadelphia, the Steelers jump the Kansas City Chiefs for the #2 seed, get a bye and play the divisional round game at home. As it was, the Steelers had to play in the Wild Card round vs. division rival Cincinnati and Kansas City on the road.


  • Result:  Lost Wild Card vs. Jacksonville
  • Record:  13-3
  • Worst Loss:  @ Chicago Bears (5-11)
  • Playoff Seeding:  2
  • The skinny:  The Steelers finished with a record of 13-3 with a terrible road loss to the 5-11 Chicago Bears.  This loss dropped the Steelers to the #2 seed in the playoffs.  With the #1 seed, the Steelers would have faced the 9-7 Tennessee Titans in the Divisional round instead of the 10-6 Jaguars…and could have hosted the Patriots in the AFCCG.  As it was, the Steelers lost to the Jaguars in a shootout, while Tennessee struggled to score in both of their playoff games.


  • Result:  Missed Playoffs
  • Record:  9-6
  • Worst Loss:  @ Oakland Raiders (4-12)
  • Playoff Seeding:  None
  • The skinny:  Pittsburgh finished with a record of 9-6-1 with a tie to the 7-9 Cleveland Browns (led by QB Tyrod Taylor) and losses to the Denver Broncos (6-10) and Oakland Raiders (4-12).  Without those losses and tie, the Steelers finish 13-3 and enter the playoffs with a first-round bye.


  • Result:  Missed Playoffs
  • Record:  8-8
  • Worst Loss:  @ Cleveland Browns (6-10)
  • Playoff Seeding:  None
  • The skinny:  Pittsburgh was down to its 3rd string QB most of the season.  Still managed an 8-8 record with a bad loss to Cleveland on the road.  A 9-7 record would have ensured a wildcard playoff berth.  In fairness, this was probably the greatest year of coaching in Mike Tomlin’s career.


  • Result:  Lost Wild Card vs. Cleveland Browns
  • Record:  12-4
  • Worst Loss:  @ Cincinnati Bengals (4-11)
  • Playoff Seeding:  3
  • The skinny:  Pittsburgh dropped a bad game to Cincinnati on the road, but it was the loss to the Cleveland Browns that cost them.  If Pittsburgh wins in week 17, the Browns do not make the playoffs and instead, the Steelers are playing the Dolphins at home.

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