Tim Benz: Some criticism of Steelers’ Mike Tomlin has been ridiculous

December 17, 2017 GMT

This space has often been used to take jabs at Mike Tomlin.

Yes, even during an 11-2 season.

Some of the commentary about the Steelers coach this week has been ridiculous, though. It’s tied to Patriots week and the belief that New England usually beats the Steelers because Tomlin isn’t in the same coaching class as Bill Belichick.

But as Tomlin himself noted last year: When it comes to professional sports coaching, who else is?

Tomlin suggested Gregg Popovich and no one else.

Sounds right.

Those comments a season ago were in response to Terry Bradshaw referring to Tomlin as just a “cheerleader guy” on the sidelines. Bradshaw reiterated those comments this week during an appearance on CBS Sports Radio.

“I started asking around ... what does this guy do? Nobody could really tell me,” Bradshaw told Tiki and Tierney. “I see him as the head coach, and I give him no thought. I have absolutely no opinion of him. I probably shouldn’t have said cheerleader, but I did, so I stand by it.”

Also this week, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted out a link to Headcoachranking.com. The site attempts to use a statistical formula that ranks head coaches.

Of course, Belichick is first. Yet somehow — for results strictly based on this season — an 11-2 Tomlin is in a five-way tie for 10-15th. That’s behind the likes of Jay Gruden and Jim Caldwell. He’s tied with Kyle Shanahan and Anthony Lynn.

Gimme a break. I might even accuse myself of being overly critical of Tomlin. But that is ludicrous.

There was also quite a bit of commentary emanating from New England this week belittling Tomlin’s approach.

I asked some of Tomlin’s players if these critiques of their coach angered them.

“Hell yeah,” exclaimed center Maurkice Pouncey. “He’s a winner. He knows how to lead a team. He’s the type of coach who cares about everything: defense, offense and special teams. (Expletive), he’s in the meeting talking special teams like the dang special teams coach.”

The way-too-simplified narrative on Tomlin is that he’s good at relating to the players, but he has shortcomings when it comes to game management and tactics.

While it’s understandable that Pouncey — who has known no other pro coach besides Tomlin — would vehemently defend his boss against such claims, what about Steelers veterans who have played other places?

“It’s funny,” said Arthur Moats. “People always say Belichick is just this master technical guy. But just because he’s not emotional on the sidelines, no one talks about emotion with his team. But have you ever seen how fired up Gronk plays? You ever seen Brady on the sidelines? So who’s getting those guys fired up? And I think it’s the same way in the other direction with coach Tomlin. You see him getting all fired up on the sidelines. So no one talks about what he may be doing with the preparation side of things.”

Moats, who played for two other coaches in Buffalo, then launched into expansive detail of Tomlin’s precision when it comes to leaning on defensive players’ study of their pre-snap alignments and reads in meeting rooms.

“There’s nobody more concerned with the details than coach Tomlin,” said offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who coached under Belichick for three years.

“Everybody does it a different way. But the fundamentals are still the same.”

Tomlin is the fifth head coach for Darrius Heyward-Bey.

“He has his hands in everything. He touches everything,” the veteran receiver said. “He’s not just going to tell the offensive coordinator, ‘You have that.’ Because he knows what defenses do to stop us. He knows defense because that’s what he does. He does special teams. Other coaches don’t do that.”

The negative points against Tomlin are obvious. Frequent losses against significantly inferior teams. A four-year stretch without a playoff victory during Ben Roethlisberger’s prime. A 2-6 record against New England. Occasional questions about clock management.

Yet piloting this soap opera cast of a roster to 11-2 in 2017, getting to the AFC title game a year ago, and helping will that injury-tattered bunch to a near-upset of Denver in the postseason of 2015 deserves more credit than what some want to hand out.

Oh yeah, plus two Super Bowl trips and one trophy.

Sure, the gap between Tomlin and Belichick is wider than anyone in Pittsburgh wants to see. But there’s more of a gap between Tomlin and most other NFL coaches than many nationally appear willing to discuss.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.