Mike Tomlin Undecided On Steelers Future?

JANUARY 16: Tomlin’s Steelers fell to the Bills on Monday as many expected, bringing the team’s season to an end. To no surprise, Tomlin faced a question about his future, but he declined to address the topic. He instead elected to depart his press conference when his contract was mentioned (video link via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport). Until further clarity emerges as it pertains to the NFL’s longest-tenured coach, Tomlin’s status will be worth monitoring.

JANUARY 14: The Steelers will take on the Bills in a wild-card matchup tomorrow, a game that was pushed back a day due to heavy snow in Buffalo. Pittsburgh is a heavy underdog in that contest, and according to a number of high-profile NFL pundits, it is fair to wonder whether it will be head coach Mike Tomlin‘s last game on the Steelers’ sidelines.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk says that whenever Pittsburgh’s season comes to an end, Tomlin will discuss his future with his family and “reassess his situation.” While such a reassessment takes place at the end of every season, Florio suggests the situation is different this time around because Tomlin is only signed through 2024 and has never inked an extension with just one year left on his contract. In Florio’s estimation, Tomlin could certainly re-up with the Steelers, but he could also forego a new contract, finish out his current deal in 2024, and become a free agent in 2025. Alternatively, like current Broncos head coach Sean Payton did when he was under contract with the Saints, Tomlin could choose to sit out a year and see if another club pursues a trade for his rights (of course, regardless of whether Tomlin re-signs or chooses to enter 2024 as a lame duck, that may not prevent another team from trying to acquire via him via trade).

To be clear, the factual underpinning of Florio’s report is flawed. When Tomlin signed a three-year extension in April 2021, his existing contract at the time only kept him under club control through the end of the 2021 season; in other words, he has indeed gone into an offseason with just one year left on a contract. However, Florio is not the only one who believes Tomlin’s Pittsburgh future is uncertain.

On January 7, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports (video link) reported that the Steelers would not fire Tomlin, which jibes with Florio’s own report from last month, when he wrote that Pittsburgh had no desire to move on from its head coach and had no reason to believe that Tomlin did not want to continue his tenure with the club. Glazer did add, however, that “it’ll be [Tomlin’s] choice if he goes back to the Steelers or not, but it will be his choice.”

Just one day later, ESPN’s Adam Schefter (video link via Awful Announcing) said that some league sources believe Tomlin could decide to take a year off, a la Payton. While Schefter did confirm that the Steelers have no intention of parting ways with Tomlin if the Super Bowl-winning head coach wants to return, he noted that Tomlin is a Washington, D.C. native and that his wife loves Los Angeles, thereby implying that the Commanders’ and Chargers’ HC vacancies may be appealing to him.

Although the 2023 campaign looked to be heading nowhere after three straight losses from Weeks 13-15 — including defeats at the hands of the woeful Cardinals and Patriots — Tomlin’s decision to insert quarterback Mason Rudolph into the starting lineup in Week 16 paid immediate dividends, as the Steelers rattled off three consecutive victories at the end of the season to sneak into the seventh and final spot in the AFC playoff field. That said, no matter what happens in the playoffs, Pittsburgh’s long-term QB situation is decidedly unsettled, and between the in-season firing of OC Matt Canada and some locker room tension, 2023 has doubtlessly been a trying one for Tomlin.

As such, it would not be as surprising as it might have been in past years to see Tomlin step away for a time or move on to a different team. If he opts for the latter course, there will be no shortage of interest in his services. Now that Bill Belichick and the Patriots have parted ways, Tomlin is the longest-tenured head coach in the league, but he is still just 51 (he will turn 52 in March). While the contingent of Pittsburgh fans that believe Tomlin should be fired are surely tired of hearing about it, Tomlin has famously never had a sub-.500 season, and he boasts a 173-100-2 regular season record.

Detractors will point out that Tomlin is 8-9 in the postseason and has not won a playoff game since 2016, both of which are fair criticisms. Nonetheless, his overall body of work has kept him in good stead in the Steelers’ front office and will make him a hot commodity elsewhere if he seeks a change of scenery.

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