Mike Tomlin: 2021 May Be His Greatest Coaching Challenge Yet

By Jeremy Hritz

Mandatory Minicamp is here, and the Steelers are taking the next step in the development and growth of their 2021 unit, preparing for their season opener in Buffalo on September 12th at 1:00 PM.

This is Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s 15th Minicamp, and he is leading a squad that is in flux at several key positions, and despite their being several familiar faces still on board, there are many new pieces that create a myriad of unanswered questions that won’t be satisfied until late in the season. Questions about what Ben Roethlisberger has left in the tank; can the newly retooled offensive line run block pass protect for their aged QB; can a rookie RB single-handedly resuscitate a lifeless running game; will Cam Sutton play above the line opposite Joe Haden; can Alex Highsmith offer explosiveness and disruption in tandem with TJ… I could keep going, but you get the gist.

With all of this uncertainty, the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of a seasoned head coach becomes invaluable and is critical if the Steelers are to disprove the national media’s lazy narrative of the Steelers descent into the loser’s abyss in 2021.

Tomlin Could Catch Cowher This Season

While he has been criticized for his lack of success in the postseason, Tomlin’s accomplishments shouldn’t be diminished, and it is worth acknowledging that with 8 wins, he will tie Bill Cowher’s coaching victory total, and with 9, he will surpass it. I’d say that’s pretty good company, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down or stepping away from the game, especially after signing a contract extension earlier this year.

In times of turbulence and uncertainty in an organization, systems and leadership become critical. With several new starting players on this year’s edition of the Steelers, the team will need Tomlin’s best, identifying the best way to reach his players, adapting based on how they best receive coaching and teaching, and evaluating and pivoting when realizing that a player is not going to work out. Tomlin’s teams have faced adversity before, and just two years ago when Roethlisberger was lost due to his elbow injury, he was able to generate 8 wins from a 2nd-year 3rd-round draft pick and an UDRFA named Duck. Talked about a damn-good coaching performance.

Leadership Is Just as Important as Talent in the NFL

Effectively leading an organization begins with being clear about the mission, and throughout OTAs, we have consistently heard from all of the players, both offensive and defensive, about physicality and aggressiveness. This is the tried and true DNA of the Pittsburgh Steelers. While we won’t know how this will translate into actual play, we do know that the messaging and branding, as led by their head coach, is clear, and that he understands the tradition and history of the team, and that last season’s unit did not meet the mark for dominating their opponents.

This is a big year for many Steelers, but it is an even bigger year for Mike Tomlin. While every year presents its own challenges, 2021, in all its newness and haziness, may be Tomlin’s greatest challenge yet. If he can create cohesion and camaraderie within the locker room and chemistry and execution on the field, despite the many new additions, it could be his best work as a head coach yet.

And based on his track record, there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it.

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