Pittsburgh Doesn’t Deserve Mike Tomlin

Photo: Michael Hickey (Getty Images)

So this premise is already operating at a deficit: If born, I guess, you deserve the ability to continue living, and whatever’s necessary to achieve that goal—food, water, safety, shelter, etc.—exists under that umbrella. But once we get into concepts like happiness and fulfillment, our application of “deserve” becomes nebulous, as it gets conflated with “things that we would very much like to happen while we’re here.” No one actually deserves anything.

But, in a pretend universe, where the deserving and the undeserving can be split into factions, the city of Pittsburgh deserves each of the Trump-affectionate quarterbacks the Pittsburgh Steelers employ, including the one whose entire steez is “Ron Burgundy in a bathrobe.” We deserve, for the next 10 years, to lose twice a year to Lamar Jackson. We deserve our status as “Wakanda, but for white people.” We deserved that sinkhole. We do not, however, deserve to have Mike Tomlin as the head coach of the Steelers.

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Tomlin has been the head coach of the Steelers for 13 years, and he has never had a losing season. Only two other coaches in NFL history (Don Shula and Marty Schottenheimer) began their careers on such a streak. Think of all the things that can befall an NFL team and derail a season: Injuries. Free agency. Strange weather. Bad luck. Gonorrhea outbreaks. Predicate felonies. Yet Tomlin has maintained a standard of competence and professionalism as impervious to adversity as his hairline appears to be.

You’d think this sort of consistency would be celebrated in a place that unironically calls itself “The City of Champions,” but Yinzer Nation has wanted Tomlin’s head for as long as he’s been the head coach. Listen to any local sports talk radio show or visit the comments of any Steelers-related news story, and you’ll find a motley of rationales for why the Steelers should can Tomlin; comments ranging from the genuinely batshit (“But why can’t a drug-sniffing dog also be the head coach?”) to the “You’re not even trying to hide it anymore, huh?” (“Welfare Tomlin and this ghetto thug Chicago football needs to go! Obama!”)

Of course, Tomlin shouldn’t be immune to critique. His time-management continues to be an adventure, and the next coaches’ challenge he wins might literally be the first. (You can also say he’s only won one Super Bowl in 13 years. I’m not great at math, but one championship in 13 years in a 32-team league is better than most!) But so much of the criticism he receives here is so colored by a general lack of faith in things led by black people and a pervasive skepticism of our intelligence that it’s near impossible to distinguish what’s real from what’s just racist. Which, unintentionally, has made his criticism the city’s most effective Rorschach test. If you can’t see that race plays a vital role in how he’s perceived here, I know your blindness is both an effort and a performance.

Maybe one day the Yinzers will get their wish; Mike Tomlin will get fired, and the Steelers will hire a Blue Lives Matter bumper sticker. And well, remember what I said about no one really deserving anything? I was wrong. Pittsburgh definitely deserves that.

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About the author

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a columnist for GQ.com, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)