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Mark Madden: Mike Tomlin’s reputation transcends results but recent disappointments can’t be ignored

The podcast Mike Tomlin did with ex-Steeler Ryan Clark and Co. has elevated Tomlin to football sainthood.

What a guy! Players would run through a wall for Coach T!

But for five years, winning a playoff game hasn’t been on the other side of that wall.

Clark and Co. tossed up softballs. Tomlin used his rhetoric and charisma to knock ’em out of the park. Tomlin has been more reputation than results for over a decade, and his presentation via this platform was incredibly on-brand.

Tomlin wasn’t asked about winning just three playoff games in 11 years despite having resources to do far better, not least a Hall of Fame quarterback.

He wasn’t asked about the awkward, acrimonious exits of Melvin Ingram, James Harrison or LeGarrette Blount.

He wasn’t asked about Antonio Brown running roughshod.

He wasn’t asked about losing playoff games to Blake Bortles and Tim Tebow.

He wasn’t asked about postseason defeats at Heinz Field against Jacksonville and Cleveland in 2018 and ’21, respectively. (The Steelers were favored both times.) The Steelers trailed Jacksonville, 28-7, in the second quarter, Cleveland, 28-o, in the first quarter.

He wasn’t asked about the Steelers defense allowing 42 points or more in each of their last three playoff games.

He wasn’t asked about falling from 7-2-1 to 9-6-1 and out of a playoff berth in the 2018 season. Nor asked about dropping from 8-5 to 8-8 and out of a postseason spot in the ’19 campaign.

Tomlin wasn’t asked anything difficult. But the public loved it. Heck, the Pittsburgh football media lapped it up, and Tomlin treats them like they smell bad.

Full credit to Tomlin. His reputation transcends results. He is considered a great coach despite little evidence in the last decade that supports that notion.

Sure, Tomlin hasn’t had a losing season over his 15-year career. (You may have heard that.)

But great coaches get great results. They don’t just avoid bad results.

Tomlin is a good coach. He shouldn’t be fired. (He won’t ever be.)

But is Tomlin currently a great coach? That’s hard to buy.

Is he one of the NFL’s top five coaches? No way. His recent record decisively refutes that.

But more people think Tomlin is than don’t, and that includes most NFL media types.

Tomlin is definitely a players’ coach. The locker room likes him. But what good does that do if you don’t win?

Critics say that when Tomlin won his Super Bowl in 2009, he did so with Bill Cowher’s team. It was Tomlin’s second year on the job.

That’s not fair. Perhaps Cowher should have won more often during his tenure, and Tomlin got more out of those players.

But Tomlin inherited a great group of leaders from Cowher: James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith and, of course, Hines Ward, the leader of the wideouts. After those players left, the culture wilted.

Is that Tomlin’s fault? He certainly didn’t stop it.

Tomlin’s regular-season winning percentage of .643 ranks him 11th all-time among those who coached in the NFL for 10 or more seasons.

But seven of the 10 coaches with better records have more playoff victories.

Tomlin is a good coach. He’s a solid bet to make the Hall of Fame.

But he hasn’t done great for the last 11 years. If you think results are important, anyway.

Clark, on the other hand, is awesome. He’s better in the media than he was on the field, and he was pretty good on the field, too.

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