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Ziperski: Mike Tomlin’s time is up

The Pittsburgh Steelers just wrapped up a 13-win season in which they won the AFC North and secured a first-round bye in the playoffs. Over the last four seasons, they’ve been a perennial contender, racking up 45 wins. In the last decade, they’ve won a Super Bowl and been the runner-up in another. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continues to play at a high level, and they’ve drafted incredibly well: the successes of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, two of the most dominant position players in the league, are a testament to that fact.

Having said all that, despite the successes, the ownership needs to pull the trigger and fire head coach Mike Tomlin.

To many, that would seem insane. As the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And things don’t necessarily seem broken right now. Still, just because things are good today doesn’t mean that they will be tomorrow or that there isn’t room for growth. The Steelers have enough talent to win a Super Bowl. Yet they’ve come up short every year since 2009, and since their runner-up finish to Green Bay in 2011, they’ve been 3-5 in the playoffs. Of course, Tomlin isn’t entirely to blame. The players must ultimately execute on the field. But in the wake of the Steelers’ loss to the Jaguars this past weekend — a game in which Tomlin was certainly outcoached — it’s worth questioning whether his time in Steel City ought to be over.

If the lack of deep playoff runs over the last few seasons wasn’t enough to engender calls for a change at the head coach position, Tomlin’s bone-headed coaching in the final minutes of Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville should be. I won’t rehash the entire thing here, but in short, Tomlin made an inexplicable onside-kick decision and then channeled his inner Mike McCarthy by butchering the late-game clock management situation. I won’t say that he cost the Steelers the game — things were already pretty dire prior to his brain fart — but he certainly made sure they had no shot at a comeback. With the Steelers playing at home in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was an unacceptable mistake: a mistake that Tomlin needs to pay for.

I wrote last week about why Kansas City ought to drown out fans’ demands for radical change and instead stay the course. For the Steelers, the opposite is true. Big Ben only has a few years left, if that. Bell has threatened to retire if the Steelers hit him with the franchise tag again, so he might bolt. The defense isn’t the dominant force that it used to be. They have no succession plan in place; backup quarterback Landry Jones is a competent second-stringer, but he can’t lead anybody to the playoffs as a starter. The window for a championship is rapidly closing. If the Steelers are to win another ring, they need to do it now. With Mike Tomlin at the helm, that’s not going to happen.

 

Contact Andrew Ziperski at ajzip ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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