Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

Mike Tomlin‘s contract situation is one that leaves few people sitting on the fence. People think either Tomlin is doing a good job or he’s long past his expiration date and should have been fired.

The fact is, it’s a multi-layered situation with Tomlin’s contract. As things currently stand, Tomlin has two years remaining on a contract that is paying him an estimated $7 million per year.

We estimate because NFL coaching salaries aren’t exactly public knowledge. Some contract information does leak out on occasion about coaching salaries, but unlike the players, whose salaries are governed by the salary cap, there is no limit to what a franchise can spend on coaches.

That $7 million per year puts Tomlin seventh among NFL coaches in terms of compensation, behind Bill Belichick, Jon Gruden, Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, Ron Rivera and Andy Reid.

The Steelers have typically given their head coach a contract extension with two years remaining on his deal. Some would argue Tomlin isn’t deserving of that. But digging deeper shows Tomlin compares quite favorably with his coaching peers not named Belichick.

Obviously, Belichick is the gold standard by which all other coaches are currently measured. His estimated salary is $12.5 million per season. And he’s won six Super Bowls, nine conference championships and 16 division championships.

Belichick’s winning percentage of .685 (292-134) also leads all coaches with at least three seasons. But the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay (26-10, .722) and Chicago Bears’ Matt Nagy(12-5, .706) are the new kids on the block.

Tomlin’s winning percentage? It’s fourth among current coaches – and second among coaches with at least three years of experience – at .645 based on his 133-73-1 record.

OK, what about the next group of highest-paid coaches, led by Gruden at $10 million and Carroll and Payton at $9 million per season? Those three, like Tomlin, each have won a Super Bowl. A single Super Bowl. And of that group, only Carroll and Tomlin been to the Super Bowl twice.

Some will argue Tomlin has “wasted” having a future Hall of Fame quarterback, but could not the same be said of Payton? He’s gotten New Orleans to one Super Bowl despite having Drew Brees in all 13 of his seasons with the Saints. Most pundits consider Brees, who broke the league record for career passing yards last season, to be a superior quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger.

In this decade, Payton has a postseason record of 3-4. Tomlin is 5-6 in the postseason during that same span.

As for Gruden, he was talked out of the broadcast booth to coach the Raiders last season. His career winning percentage is just .517. And his Super Bowl win came all the way back in 2002. Gruden’s record since that season? It’s 49-63.

Carroll is an interesting comparison in that, like Tomlin in the early part of this decade, he’s been tasked with rebuilding his team on the fly around a franchise quarterback. Like the Steelers with Roethlisberger, the Seahawks had early success with quarterback Russell Wilson and a very good defense, leading Seattle to a Super Bowl win in Wilson’s second season.

The Seahawks went back to the Super Bowl the following season but fell short against the Patriots. Since then, with salary cap trouble and an aging defense, the Seahawks have won two playoff games in the past four seasons.

The next tier of coaches are Rivera and Reid at $7.75 million and $7.5 million, respectively.

Rivera was a finalist along with Tomlin for the job with the Steelers when the latter replaced Bill Cowher. Rivera had to wait until 2011 to be hired by the Carolina Panthers. He has a 74-60-1 record, leading Carolina to one Super Bowl, though the Panthers lost that game to the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning.

Outside of that Super Bowl run, however, the Panthers haven’t had great success under Rivera. His postseason record is 3-4, and Carolina has qualified for the playoffs just four times in Rivera’s eight seasons. And one of those playoff years was 2014, when the Panthers went 7-8-1 to win the NFC South. Rivera has five losing seasons in eight years.

Reid is an interesting study. Like Belichick, he’s been around for a long time, joining the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 after 14 seasons in Philadelphia.

In six seasons at Kansas City, Reid has a 65-31 record. He’s never had a losing season with the Chiefs. That .677 winning percentage is right there with what Belichick has done in New England. And for his career, Reid has a 195-124-1 record, which is a winning percentage of .611.

What Reid doesn’t have, however, is a Super Bowl win. He’s gotten there just once, with Philadelphia, losing to the Patriots in 2004. For his career, he’s 12-14 in the postseason.

Reid’s teams have gone to the playoffs 14 times in his 20 years in the league, and he’s had only three losing seasons in that period. But his lack of postseason success can’t be denied.

Even in Kansas City, it’s been bad. Since joining the Chiefs, Reid has a 2-5 record in the playoffs. And his postseason record this decade is 2-6.

One other coach whose career compares to Tomlin’s is the Baltimore Ravens’ John Harbaugh. Like Tomlin, Harbaugh is estimated to earn $7 million per season. And like Tomlin, Harbaugh has won one Super Bowl. The two also have banged heads throughout their careers, with Harbaugh having joined the Ravens in 2008, one year after Tomlin was hired by the Steelers.

In Harbaugh’s 12 seasons, the Ravens have won the AFC North only three times. The Steelers have won it six times.

Harbaugh has had only one losing season in 12 years, that coming in 2015. That came in the middle of a stretch in which the Ravens missed the playoffs in four out of five seasons after winning the Super Bowl in 2012. Since winning that Super Bowl, the Ravens have qualified for the postseason only twice, winning one game.

Tomlin is not without his faults. He allowed the Antonio Brown situation to fester until a parting of the ways became necessary. But clamping down on Brown likely would have meant the situation would have come to a head sooner rather than not at all.

And Tomlin’s decision-making on replay challenges has been bad enough that the Steelers brought in assistant coach Teryl Austin to help him with that facet of the game.

But overall, Tomlin compares quite favorably with the other 30 guys not coaching in New England.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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