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Ron Cook

Ron Cook: When is the 'Steelers Way' the wrong way?

PITTSBURGH — Is there anything more tiresome than the "Steelers Way?"

I have come to laugh at the term because it is representative of a stale franchise that insists on living in its glorious past.

How many times have you heard that the Steelers believe in continuity with their coaches? That they have had only three since 1969? Chuck Noll won four Super Bowls and made the Hall of Fame. Bill Cowher won a Super Bowl and made the Hall of Fame. Mike Tomlin won a Super Bowl — albeit, almost a lifetime ago — and will make the Hall of Fame.

There's no doubt continuity worked for the Steelers for a long time.

But is it working now?

Has it worked for years?

This is a juicy topic because of Gerry Dulac's report in the Post-Gazette that Steelers president Art Rooney II is expected to give Tomlin another contract extension before next season.

"I don't really evaluate Mike on anything other than I'm glad he's our coach," Rooney told last week. "Hopefully he'll be our coach into the future."

A contract extension for Tomlin now makes no sense for two reasons:

One, Tomlin is signed through the 2024 season. Adding two years to his deal would take him through his 20th season with the Steelers. What is the rush to extend him? Why not wait until after next season to further evaluate not just him, but also his decision to make Kenny Pickett the team's No. 1 draft choice last April and his much-more controversial decision to bring back Matt Canada as offensive coordinator?

Would it really hurt to wait just a bit to extend Tomlin?

Oh, that's right, it's the Steelers Way to extend the coach with two years left on his contract, his record be damned.

That leads me to the second reason why a Tomlin extension now is pure nonsense:

Tomlin's recent record has not been good. It has been mediocre at best. The Steelers haven't won a playoff game in six years going back to the win at Kansas City after the 2016 season. They have been blown out in their past four postseason games, giving up 42, 48, 45 and 36 points. They have won just three playoff games since their most recent Super Bowl appearance after the 2010 season. That's three wins in 12 years. One of those wins was against a Matt Moore-led Miami team after the 2016 season. A second one came against Cincinnati after the 2015 season when the Bengals self-destructed with late, inexcusable penalties on Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones.

Is it just me or has the Steelers Way failed miserably as of late?

Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating that Tomlin be fired. I just think it's ridiculous to reward him again after the team has done so little for so long.

Isn't the Steelers Way supposed to stand for "Super Bowl or bust"?

I still believe Tomlin is a good coach. The majority of his players like him and play hard for him. They never quit on him. They seemed to have good reason to give up on Tomlin this season after they started 2-6, but they hung in and hung together for him, finishing 9-8 by winning seven of their final nine games. That assured he would not have a losing season for the 16th consecutive year. That was important to the players.

And to Rooney.

The strong finish and Pickett's development were enough to convince Rooney this was a good season despite the team failing to make the playoffs.

"He gives us a chance to win, year in and year out, and put us in a position where we have a chance to compete for a championship," Rooney told about Tomlin.

I have to ask:

Is that good enough?

Hanging in the playoff chase until the final week or two of the season is one thing. It's true, Tomlin does that every year. But what about the franchise's stated goal each season of not just getting in the postseason, but winning a championship?

When is the most recent time Tomlin had a team that you thought had a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl?

I'll give you 2017 — maybe — when the Steelers went 13-3 before getting crushed at home by Jacksonville, 45-42, in their first playoff game. That was the day when Tomlin and his players got bit in the behind by looking ahead to their next potential game against New England. That game never happened.

But 2020? I can't go there. That team went 1-4 down the stretch after starting 11-0 and was blown out at home by Cleveland, 48-37, in its playoff game.

And 2016? No. The Steelers made it to the AFC championship game behind 167- and 170-yard rushing days by Le'Veon Bell in playoff wins against Miami and Kansas City but were blown out by New England, 36-17. The eventual Super Bowl-champion Patriots were much the better team and would have won even if Bell hadn't run out of gas because of a groin injury.

You have to go back to the 2010 season for the Steelers' best, most recent chance of winning a championship. Who knows? Maybe the team would have given Tomlin a second Super Bowl win if not for Rashard Mendenhall's fumble in the fourth quarter. We'll never know.

What we do know is Tomlin and the Steelers have been stuck in a rut for a long time. I don't see them climbing out any time soon with so many great quarterbacks on other AFC teams, including Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, Lamar Jackson in Baltimore and Deshaun Watson in Cleveland.

Maybe you believe it will happen.

Maybe you still believe in the Steelers Way.

I know one thing:

I don't.

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