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With the NFL season winding down, things are going to start falling into place. While most of the league’s focus will fall on the playoffs—not to mention the implications of making or missing the postseason—there are individual awards, too. Lamar Jackson seems like a safe bet to take home the NFL MVP, but Coach of the Year is a little less cut and dry. Even if he doesn’t take home the title, though, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin deserves serious consideration.

Critics might point to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ record as a knock against the head coach, but that’s ignoring a key reality of Mike Tomlin’s work.

Mike Tomlin’s coaching career

While Mike Tomlin is still younger than most NFL coaches, don’t expect that relative youth for inexperience. He’s already been around the block quite a few times.

After his college playing career ended, Tomlin headed to the sidelines. He started out as a wide receivers coach at VMI; one season later, he moved to Memphis and spent a year as a graduate assistant. After two years at Arkansas State—first as a wide receivers coach, then as a defensive backs coach—and third season with Cincinnati, Tomlin made the jump to the big time.

Tomlin’s professional career started in Tampa, where he served as a defensive backs coach; the team’s defense was consistently dominant and helped the franchise win its first Super Bowl title. In 2006, Tomlin joined Brad Childress’ staff as the defensive coordinator; one season later, he became the 16th head coach in Pittsburgh Steelers’ history.

While he inherited a strong squad, Tomlin kept the Steeler rolling. After going 10-6 during his first season in Pennsylvania, the coach led his club to victory in Super Bowl XLI; he also took home Coach of the Year honors in the process. Pittsburgh reached the Super Bowl again in the 2010 season but failed to lift the Lombardi Trophy. The team has generally remained consistent since then, but have failed to reach the same heights.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 season

Coming into the 2019 campaign without Antonio Brown and Le’veon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers knew things would be different. No one, however, could have predicted what would unfold.

In Week 2, Ben Roethlisberger departed left the game with elbow discomfort; while the quarterback avoided a dreaded Tommy John surgery, he still underwent season-ending surgery. Mason Rudolph took the starting role and played capably in relief, but soon suffered a scary injury against the Baltimore Ravens. With their back-up also on the shelf, Devlin Hodges was forced into action. Rudolph would retake the starting job once he recovered, but didn’t steal the show; he’s since been benched for Hodges.

The quarterback situation hasn’t been Mike Tomlin’s only issue, though. The entire Steelers roster has been plagued by injury; James Conner, Benny Snell, Jr., JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Ryan Switzer have all missed various amounts of time, forming a patchwork offensive unit.

Mike Tomlin deserves credit for keeping the Steelers alive

After starting the year 1-4, the Pittsburgh Steelers have battled back. The club currently sits at 8-5 and are holding onto the final AFC Wild Card spot due to a tiebreaker over the Tennessee Titans. Not too shabby for a team with their third-string quarterback under center.

Tomlin deserves a great deal of credit for keeping his team in the hunt; no matter what issues have plagued the Steelers in a given week, he’s kept everyone engaged and pulling on the same end of the rope. Players have praised his communication skills and ability to make them feel like trusted collaborators rather grunts following orders.

While some might scoff at awarding Coach of the Year to someone who only wins nine or ten games, Mike Tomlin deserves serious consideration for the award. There may be teams with better records, but someone like Lamar Jackson can paper over plenty of cracks. This season, the Steelers have needed someone to step up; week after week, Mike Tomlin has delivered.