So the Pittsburgh Steelers did the only sensible thing they could do, by extending coach Mike Tomlin for three more seasons – which means his current contract now runs through the 2016 season.
 
It was a no-brainer for an organization that prides itself on coaching continuity; the Steelers have had exactly three head coaches since 1969.
 
After five highly successful seasons on the sidelines for Pittsburgh, Tomlin is surprisingly one of the longest-tenured coaches in the AFC.
 
LONGEST SERVING CURRENT AFC COACHES
* playoff appearances in parentheses
  • 12 seasons ­– Bill Belichick, New England (9)
  • 9 ­– Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati (3)
  • 6 – Gary Kubiak, Houston (1)
  • 5Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh (4)
  • 5 – Norv Turner, San Diego (3)
  • 4 – John Harbaugh, Baltimore (4)
 
SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES (Record)
  • 5 (3-2) – Belichick
  • 2 (1-1)  – Tomlin
 
Of  those AFC coaches who’ve been with their current teams for at least four seasons, only Belichick has a better resume than Tomlin.  Of course, the Patriots’ coach has been with his team more than twice as long as Tomlin has.  Belichick’s Patriots have dominated the AFC East division, with nine division titles in a dozen years.
 
The Steelers under Tomlin won Super Bowl XLIII in thrilling fashion over Arizona, and lost to Green Bay in SB XLV, in addition to claiming three AFC North titles.  Tomlin’s teams have made the playoffs four of five years, and have not finished below .500.
 
It’s interesting that three of the longest-tenured AFC coaches currently reside in the North division.
 
While Lewis’ Bengals have won two division titles, Lewis is still looking for his first postseason victory out of three chances.  The best shot for Cincinnati to earn its first playoff win since 1990 was probably in a home wild-card game in 2005 against sixth-seeded Pittsburgh, with a young, healthy Carson Palmer at QB.  But those hopes were gone after Kimo von Oelhoffen rolled up Palmer’s leg, destroying his left knee.  Cincinnati also lost playoff games to the New York Jets in 2009 and to Houston last season.
 
Harbaugh has completed four above-average seasons at the helm in Baltimore.  His Ravens won the North division in 2011 (via a tiebreaker over Pittsburgh), and were a dropped TD pass away from advancing to the Super Bowl.  Baltimore has averaged 11.5 wins a year under Harbaugh, with four playoff appearances – and two trips to the AFC Championship Game.  Of course, nothing will seem like success until he gets them into a Super Bowl (especially if Tomlin and the Steelers continue to make trips to the Big Game).
 
PITTSBURGH PLAYOFF LOSSES UNDER TOMLIN
 
  • Jan. 5, 2008 @ home vs. Jacksonville, 31-29
  • Feb. 6, 2011 @ Super Bowl vs. Green Bay, 31-25
  • Jan. 8, 2012 @ Denver, 29-23 (OT)
 
The common theme in all three losses was heartbreak.  David Garrard converted a fourth-down run (with the officials whiffing on an obvious holding call) to set up the Jaguars’ game-winning field goal with under a minute left.  In the Super Bowl, the Steelers had the ball with about two minutes left, with a chance to drive for a winning score, but were unable to move the ball downfield.  And of course, the Steelers were Tebowed in OT this past January, with Tim Tebow connecting with Demaryius Thomas for a long TD pass on the first play of the extra period.
 
The success for Tomlin and the Steelers the past five years has outweighed the failures, which is why the Steelers were willing to extend his contract.  If Tomlin can at least finish out the contract, he’ll have a decade under his belt (putting him within reach of Bill Cowher’s longevity) – and putting the Pittsburgh franchise close to 50 years with just the three head coaches.