Mike Tomlin’s three-year contract extension led to a chorus of celebration from Steelers players Tuesday. One of the league’s most liked and respected coaches, the 49-year-old Tomlin will remain in Pittsburgh through at least the 2024 season.
Among Tomlin’s players who reacted to the news of his extension was his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. The longest-running coach-quarterback duo in the NFL, Roethlisberger and Tomlin will embark on their 15th season together in 2021. During that span, the Steelers have won 153 total games, seven division titles, two conference titles and one Super Bowl title.
“I think he deserves to stay as long as he wants,” Roethlisberger said via text message to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think stability is huge and underrated in this game. He will go down as one of the greats.”
The second-longest tenured coach in the NFL, Tomlin will break a tie with Marty Schottenheimer for the most non-losing seasons to start a career if Pittsburgh can go at least 8-8-1 in 2021. Tomlin, whose .650 winning percentage is eighth highest in NFL history among coaches with at least 100 wins, is nine wins from passing Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher for second all time in franchise wins. He’s 57 wins behind Hall of Fame coach — and four-time Super Bowl champion — Chuck Noll for the top spot in franchise annals.
Stability was one of the main factors that led to Tomlin’s extension, according to Dulac. The 39-year-old Roethlisberger is entering the final year of his contract. So is longtime general manager Kevin Colbert. Given the uncertainty of both Roethlisberger and Colbert, Steelers president Art Rooney II wanted some level of continuity over the next several years.
While many thought he might decide to leave Pittsburgh with Roethlisberger, Tomlin has opened up the possibility of coaching without Roethlisberger under center. Tomlin’s only season without Roethlisberger taking the majority of the snaps was in 2019. After a 1-4 start, the Steelers, buoyed by their defense, won seven of their next eight games with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges under center. Pittsburgh’s lackluster offense, however, was exposed in December, as the Steelers skidded to an 8-8 record. Nevertheless, Tomlin’s coaching that season has been lauded as arguably the best of his career.
Tomlin’s team started 11-0 last season before dropped passes, a 32nd-ranked rushing attack and a grueling late-season stretch (they played three games in a 12-day span) contributed to the Steelers winning just one of their final six games. Pittsburgh’s backslide was mercifully ended by Cleveland, which put up 48 points in its wild-card win at Heinz Field.
The Steelers should again be a competitive team in 2021, a season that could be the last with Tomlin and Roethlisberger on the same sideline. If the Steelers are going to seriously contend for a title, they will have to use the draft to rebuild and offensive line and a rushing attack that fell woefully short of expectations in 2020.
“We’ve got to be a lot better in running, and certainly, we don’t want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers being last in the league in rushing ever again,” Rooney said earlier this offseason. “I think it’s something that our coaches are focused on, and we’ll be focused on ways to improve in the draft. It’s something we’ve got to fix, and we’re working on it.”