Mike Tomlin Named AFC North Coach Of The Year

Mike Tomlin has been awarded the honor of being named the 2015 AFC North Coach of the Year, as determined by NFL Nation reporters from ESPN. The Pittsburgh Steelers head coach was the clear choice according to the committee of four, though there were realistically only two options: Tomlin, and Cincinnati Bengals’ head coach Marvin Lewis. Tomlin got the nod by virtue of the Steelers advancing further in the postseason than their division-rival Bengals. Ironically, it was Pittsburgh who ended Cincinnati’s season thanks to that notoriously memorable Wild Card game in January.

Mike Tomlin was able to keep the Steelers’ ship afloat, despite facing major adversity throughout the 2015 season. Tomlin and his staff were constantly forced to look to their bench when a rash of injuries struck some of the team’s best players and leaders. Maurkice Pouncey, considered arguably the best center in the NFL, missed the entire season after suffering a broken left fibula in the preseason. Le’Veon Bell, a consensus top three running back in football entering the year, was suspended the first two games of the season and only played in four after that when a knee injury cost him the rest of 2015. And then of course there’s Ben Roethlisberger. Tomlin witnessed his team’s quarterback miss four regular-season games — and the Steelers still made the playoffs.

Mike Tomlin Coaching vs Browns [Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images]That wasn’t all either. Long-time defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau resigned from Mike Tomlin’s staff following the 2014 season, forcing Tomlin to look elsewhere for the first time since he took over the job. Tomlin kept the hire in-house, going with former linebackers coach Keith Butler. Their middle-of-the-pack defense was a far cry from the “Steel Curtain,” or even from defenses under LeBeau. But the Steelers finished the season 10-6 and in second place behind the Bengals.

Only four teams in the AFC had a better record than Mike Tomlin’s Steelers: The Bengals, Patriots, Broncos, and Chiefs. To be fair, and to give credit where it’s due, the Bengals and Broncos both dealt with injuries to their starting quarterbacks and still persevered to qualify for postseason play. But the Steelers did it with three. Landry Jones and Michael Vick both were forced into duty at times when Roethlisberger went down. But Big Ben gutted it out in the playoffs, playing in the Divisional Round despite suffering a shoulder injury in the Wild Card round against Cincy.

Mike Tomlin Celebrates Win Over Bengals [Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]Mike Tomlin’s masterful coaching performance finally came to an end at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos. But even then he wasn’t playing with a full deck. Roethlisberger wasn’t 100 percent. All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown suffered a concussion against the Bengals and missed the game. Backup running back DeAngelo Williams wasn’t available, forcing Tomlin to go with his third and fourth-string running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. Add in the fact that they had a revolving door of bodies on the offensive line, and it’s a wonder they advanced as far as they did.

Once the dust settled on the Steelers’ 2015 season, Mike Tomlin was able to reflect on the year, and though he was proud of the team’s accomplishments, he was sincere that it didn’t meet its ultimate goal, and wouldn’t use the injuries as an excuse. Here is a portion of those comments, as covered by the team’s official website.

“I’m disappointed and that’s just an honest answer. I think we all are. We appreciate the support that we get from others, the acknowledgment of the fight and all of that. But, we go into the journey with that understanding, that it’s going to be difficult, that’s it’s going to be a fight, that a fight is going to be required. We appreciate the support but at the same time we set out to be world champion. That was our goal. We meant it. It’s not us this year, so there’s disappointment associated with that.”

[Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images]