The Consistently And Embarrassingly Underappreciated Mike Tomlin » VSB


The Consistently And Embarrassingly Underappreciated Mike Tomlin

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

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • There are like 3 Black HC in Div1 football which blows my mind. I wi

    • I thought there were at least nine black coaches in D1. Still not nearly enough.

      • Sigma_Since 93

        Frat, Charlie Strong, is gonna do his thing this year. The mere fact UT has two Black coaches leading the money making sports makes me warm and fuzzy inside at the white tears they generate.

        • miss t-lee

          Yup. I still can’t believe it. Can’t wait til everything starts back up.

      • DB

        List of black coaches in D1 (out of 129 FBS schools)

        Charlie Strong – Texas (2nd year at UT, 6th overall) – Big 12
        Kevin Sumlin – Texas A&M (4th year at TAMU, 8th overall) – SEC
        Derek Mason – Vanderbilt (2nd year) – SEC
        David Shaw – Stanford (5th year) – Pac 12
        Mike London – Virginia (6th year at UVA, 8th overall) – ACC
        James Franklin – Penn State (2nd year at PSU, 5th overall) – Big 10
        Darrell Hazell – Purdue (2nd year at Purdue, 5th overall) – Big 10
        Willie Taggert – South Florida (3rd year at USF, 6th overall) – AAC
        Curtis Johnson – Tulane (4th year) – AAC
        Ruffin McNeill – East Carolina (6th year) – AAC
        Dino Babers – Bowling Green State (2nd year at BGSU, 4th overall) – MAC
        Paul Haynes – Kent State (3rd year) – MAC
        Trent Miles – Georgia State (3rd year at GSU, 8th overall) – Sun Belt

        List of other coaches of color
        Tony Sanchez – UNLV (1st year) – MWC
        Norm Chow – Hawaii (4th year) – MWC
        Ken Niamatalolo – Navy (9th year) – AAC

        That is a total count of fifteen coaches (11.6%), twelve (9.3%) of whom are black.

        • To put those numbers in perspective, a slight majority of D-I FBS players are minorities. It’s something like 47% Black, 3% Latino, 3% Asian/Pacific-Islander.

    • No, that was John Idzik joining #TeamPetty the American football division. Plus the Jets were f*cked with the cap for a couple of years. Rex Ryan’s job (or is any other head coach’s job really) isn’t to run the cap numbers.

  • miss t-lee

    I dig Mike. Talented and seems like a really good dude

  • Jennifer

    I always imagined that Mike Tomlin goes to church in those LONG Steve Harvey-like suit (in pastels, natch). He’s always seemed like a wise, old black man even though he’s only in his 40s. Otherwise, I totally agree that he is unappreciated — just like Tony Dungy (IMO).

  • Courtney Wheeler


    Coming from a Giants fans.. Mike Tomlin’s that dude. To be that young and to pull off that many Super Bowls…please his critics need to sit down.

    Not to mention..let’s give a special shout out for Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy

  • laddibugg


    • Mayborn7


  • LadyIbaka

    I didn’t read this installment, I’m just here to say he looks rawr!!!

  • Animate

    Because time travel is real or they are literally from the same zygote.

    • Lea Thrace


  • They’ve given Tony Dungy plenty of credit for the Tampa 2 defense. (Fittingly, it was Tony Dungy that put Mike Tomlin on.) Still, I give him credit for building that defense with na’an a top-tier free agent and keeping them elite for over a decade. I also think it’s a combination of his personality and his team that keeps him from getting more shine. Let Tomlin be the same dude for the Dallas Cowboys, and he gets a LOT more credit. Also, Pittsburgh isn’t a high profile city for the casual fan. While he’s probably a big deal locally, Pittsburgh doesn’t really get talked about much in NYC save for the Roethlisberger jokes. Then again, when the rivals of the local teams are the NFC East and AFC East, you’ll dealing with a constellation of high-profile teams.

    But you’re so right about the lineup and the linen suits. That looks so him. LOL

    • NipseysKlub

      while they give Dungy credit for the defense, Chucky (Gruden) gets all the credit for the super bowl win in Tampa Bay even though he inherited Dungy’s team,

      • Well yeah they actually won the Super Bowl with him.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    “Mike Tomlin is Pittsburgh’s Obama. And we need to appreciate him while he’s here.”

    I’m Sigma_Since93 and I approve this message all day long and twice on Sundays.

  • Quiana

    *Puts on my ravens jersey while reading this…*
    I mean, he seems like a cool dude, minus the foot in Jacoby’s way incident, and just being the Steelers coach.

    But no, congrats to him and this extension. He is a great coach, seems to take no bull out of his players and demand the best. I would expect anything lackluster from him. He’s a guy that I don’t think, any person would want to disrespect. He’s just a great coach. And I wouldn’t expect anything less from him nor the Squeelers.

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