The Consistently And Embarrassingly Underappreciated Mike Tomlin

Justin Aller/Getty Images
Justin Aller/Getty Images

It is 1:40pm EST. Mike Tomlin is trending right now. By the time you read this, however, he probably won't be anymore. Although (moderately) famous, he doesn't have the type of fame that would keep him a day-long trending topic in July. Unless, of course, something bad happened. Which is exactly what I first assumed when first seeing he was trending.


Fortunately, it wasn't bad news. He signed a two-year extension with the Steelers; a deal that will take him through the 2018 season. By any objective measurement, this is a great thing. He's never had a losing season as head coach. (His record: 82-46.) He's won two conference championships and one Super Bowl. Considering his age (43) and his accomplishments, he is perhaps the best young (under 50) coach in major American professional sports. But when thinking of great coaches — shit, when just thinking of great football coaches — his name is rarely mentioned. And by "rarely" I mean "never."

Now, there are a few reasons for this. He is not a Bill Belichick or a Sean Payton or a Harbaugh or even a Chip Kelly; guys who act as if coaching an NFL football team is like running Operation Treadstone, and are hailed by fans and media personalities as geniuses. He does not seem to thirst for that type of validation. He also did inherit a team with a talented, veteran roster and a hall-of-fame quarterback; factors that seem to lead some people to believe the Steelers continue to win in spite of him, not because of him.

Oh, and he's Black. Unambiguously Black. With a Black-ass wife and family. "Totally wouldn't be surprised at all if you went to your barbershop and saw him watching a bootleg copy of Ant-Man" Black. "Could definitely see him at some White party on a boat strolling with his college boys" Black. (And he is a Kappa, so you know he's done that before.)

Just in case you might think that Black thing doesn't need to be included, I want you to do something. There are also dozens of lists every year ranking the top coaches in each major sport. Find some. Leave VSB for a a couple minutes and google "top 10 NBA coaches." And then "top 10 NFL coaches." And then "top 10 college basketball coaches." And then "top 10 college football coaches." Read the first list you find after googling each. And tell me how many Black coaches show up on those lists.

I know you're lazy, so I went ahead and did it for you.

On a CBS sports list of the top NFL coaches, Tomlin (6th) was the only Black coach in the top 10.


On an ESPN list of the top NBA coaches, Doc Rivers (9th) was the only Black coach in the top 10.

On a FOX Sports list of the top college football coaches, James Franklin (10th) was the only Black coach in the top ten.


On an ESPN list of the top college basketball coaches, Kevin Ollie (10th) was the only Black coach in the top ten.

Granted, there aren't exactly a ton of Black coaches in these sports to choose from. But you have to think very, very, very hard to name a Black coach — any Black coach, ever — who's been roundly lauded for his "genius" and his "schemes" and his "play-calling" and not just considered a "guy who gets along with his players." Or a guy who just recruits the best athletes. Since Tomlin is, in fact, Black, this general perception of Black coaches does affect how he's perceived.


He's also the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Which, well, deserves its own paragraphs.

Although the Steelers might not be the country's most popular professional sports franchise, no other team means more to its region than the Steelers do to the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Don't bother debating this, because it's not debatable. This means the Steelers are the highest-profile people in the city; a status that makes conversations like these pretty regular:

"Damn. Why are so many people waiting in line outside of the club? I've never seen it like this before. Shit!"


"I think a Steeler might have tweeted earlier that he was thinking about going there tonight."

"Oh. Okay."

Also, out of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country, Pittsburgh's the second Whitest. Basically, unless you're in the Scranton-Wilkes Barre region of northeastern Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh is Whiter than anywhere you happen to be right now. This is not a bad thing. Or a good thing. It's just the reality.


Another reality is that certain Steeler fans have been, for lack of a better term, "slow" to embrace Tomlin as the head coach. Some have outright refused to. This is also not debatable. The way he's talked about on some Pittsburgh sports message boards, blogs, and radio shows, you'd think he was 46-82 instead of 82-46 and spent every offseason snapchatting their nieces. His accomplishments are shrugged off. And, if the Steelers dare lose two games in a row, someone call Russ Grimm. Or shake the Harbaugh family tree to see if another brother falls out, cause we can't let this freakin jagoff keep leading our Stillers to Harlem.

When you consider this…and his lack of any off-the-field personal drama (despite a spotlight bearing down his spine)…and his Black-ass family and fashion-conscious wife, he's to Pittsburgh what President Obama is to America. Yes, I said it. Mike Tomlin is Pittsburgh's Obama. And we need to appreciate him while he's here.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Trill Mickelson

I generally cheer for Black coaches on gp, but f Mike Tomlin and f Pissburgh.

Also, I'm not sure what James Franklin has done to warrant being called the 10th best coach in CFB. As far as Black coaches go, he's not above Strong or Sumlin IMO.