Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin roams the sidelines during player introductions prior to the start of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA on October 29, 2023.

The stability of the Pittsburgh Steelers is admirable. 

While other sports franchises frequently change head coaches at the first signs of adversity, the Steelers have fought against that trend for decades. The Rooney family hasn’t fired a coach since 1968 and has had three coaches since, all of them have won at least one Super Bowl: Chuck Noll (4), Bill Cowher (1), and Mike Tomlin (1).

That said, resistance to change is also how organizations get stuck in inertia. Tomlin is unquestionably a future Hall of Fame coach. He has never had a losing season, and last year, the Steelers made the playoffs despite a terrible offense. But the grumbling from some media members and some fans around Tomlin has increased. Pittsburgh hasn’t won a playoff game since following the 2016 regular season. It has dropped five straight, including four by double-digits.

For a proud franchise with six Super Bowl trophies, that’s not good enough. The Steelers have acknowledged as much with some atypical moves. They ousted much-maligned offensive coordinator Matt Canada mid-season last season, something the organization hasn’t done since 1941. They added two quarterbacks with starting experience: Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, and traded away 2022 first-round pick Kenny Pickett.

By Steelers’ standards, these are radical changes.

Tomlin was never in danger of losing his job. Last month, he signed a three-year contract extension through 2027. He’s the longest-tenured NFL coach, having been with the Steelers since 2007. Tomlin has a certain way of doing things but even he had to realize that the status quo wasn’t cutting it.

Pittsburgh may not be a Super Bowl contender in 2024. Winning their division is going to be challenging enough. Every team in the AFC North finished with a winning record, and it figures to be just as competitive this fall. The Baltimore Ravens have two-time MVP Lamar Jackson. The Cincinnati Bengals have Joe Burrow, who reached the Super Bowl three seasons ago. The Cleveland Browns have Deshaun Watson with his massive contract and massive expectations.

Tomlin’s Steelers will likely counter with Wilson, although Fields cannot be completely ruled out in this training camp competition. Wilson and Pittsburgh need each other. The veteran quarterback is trying to redeem himself after two underwhelming seasons with the Denver Broncos. Wilson doesn’t necessarily have to be great. He needs to be an improvement over Pickett, which means piloting an above-average offense. Assuming the Steelers’ defense remains stout, that should be good enough to win a playoff game. Fields seems more like an insurance policy if Wilson gets hurt or is ineffective.

There is reason for optimism. New offensive coordinator Arthur Smith may have failed as a head coach with the Atlanta Falcons, however, he resuscitated Ryan Tannehill’s career as the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator. Smith should be a vast improvement over Canada, whose playcalling was widely criticized

The Steelers could also have their best offensive line in years. Pittsburgh spent its 2024 first-round pick on Washington tackle Troy Fautanu and a second-round pick on West Virginia center Zach Frazier. And that’s after taking Georgia tackle Broderick Jones with its 2023 first-rounder. Pro Football Focus rated the Steelers’ offensive line at No. 9 entering the season.

You can legitimately question the lack of weapons. Nobody other than George Pickens scares a defense. Maybe running back Najee Harris, tight end Pat Freiermuth, and rookie wideout Roman Wilson all exceed expectations. But again, Pittsburgh might not need to be spectacular on offense.

Competency would be a sign of progress, and perhaps it could be enough to win a playoff game.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.