Former Vikings Coach Ain’t Leavin’
In January 2007, the Pittsburgh Steelers hired then-defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin away from the Minnesota Vikings. He earned the job and never relinquished it in a league notorious for coaching turnover.
Fast forward 18 years, and Tomlin has no intention of departing his franchise, even after a playoff loss at the Buffalo Bills on Monday.
Former Vikings Coach Ain’t Leavin’
Tomlin’s not leaving; that’s the message out of Pittsburgh.
NFL Network’s Mike Garofolo tweeted Tuesday, “In a team meeting today, Mike Tomlin told Steelers players the speculation about him stepping away is unfounded and he plans on coaching the team in 2024, sources say. Tomlin, who is entering the final year of his contract, is expected to address the media later this week.”
Why would the Steelers or Tomlin, personally, consider severing the relationship? Simple — the team doesn’t win playoff games anymore. From 2017 to present, Pittsburgh owns the NFL’s fifth-best regular season record at 70-43-2 (.617) but an NFL-low 0-4 mark in the postseason. Put bluntly, the Steelers have been highly relevant in the last six seasons but refuse to win in the postseason.
Naturally, such a state draws hot-seat ire, or at least speculation, and Tomlin totally avoided the departure topic after Monday’s loss at Buffalo. A reporter asked him about his job security, and he walked away from the podium.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio opined on Tomlin’s status as the Steelers’ skipper on Tuesday, “The man who routinely says he wants volunteers and not hostages will volunteer nothing that would undermine the effort to win as many games as possible in 2024. And he will never regard himself as a hostage. He made a commitment through next year. For the first time during his career as the team’s head coach, he’s entering an offseason with only one year of job security. It’s a unique situation, one that allows him to entertain the possibility of picking any team he likes in 2025.”
Pittsburgh hasn’t quite solved life after Ben Roethlisberger retired in 2021. The future Hall of Famer played 18 wonderful seasons for the Steelers, but since his exodus, Pittsburgh has been rudderless at quarterback, auditioning Kenny Pickett in 2022 and 2023, pivoting to Mitchell Trubisky after a Pickett injury this season, and landing on veteran backup Mason Rudolph down the stretch of 2023.
Truth be told, if Pickett is not the long-term solution, Tomlin probably deserves at least one more crack at it with a new quarterback, whether a rookie like Bo Nix from Oregon or free-agent-to-be like Kirk Cousins.
Thankfully for his sake, the Steelers don’t cycle through head coaches — like at all. They’ve employed three since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970: Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and, of course, Tomlin.
Pittsburgh was classified as the league’s ninth-best team per DVOA in 2023, ranking 15th offensively and 6th on defense. It also played oodles of one-score games, not unlike the Vikings.
Tomlin began his NFL coaching career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001 as a defensive back coach, graduating to the Vikings’ defensive coordinator gig for one season in 2006. He’ll turn 52 in two months. His career-long .633 win percentage as a head coach is better than Bill Cowher, Bud Grant, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs, Chuck Noll, Bill Parcells, Mike Ditka, and countless others.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).