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Mike Tomlin is the best offseason coach in the NFL

NFL games are held from September through January. The Super Bowl is played in February. While winning NFL games does not occur in March and April, often times the moves done throughout that time period will shape how much success the team can see the following season.

Don’t get me wrong, being “offseason champs“ does not always equate to success on the field. For an easy example, Steelers fans need to look no farther than their own division as the Cleveland Browns have been deemed by experts to conquer the offseason multiple times in recent years yet it has not equated in a long playoff run into late January. But shaping and improving a team’s roster is necessary to put them in the best place to find success between the sidelines.

When it comes to coaches who do the most for their team in being able to acquire talent without destroying their salary cap, Mike Tomlin may very well be the best there is.

Of course simply mentioning the name Mike Tomlin brings out varying emotional responses. Will some appreciate the longest tenured coach in the NFL, others believe he has achieved all he can and Pittsburgh and both sides need to move on to greener pastures. But is the grass always greener?

There are plenty of opportunities throughout an NFL season to criticize the choices made by the Steelers head coach. Although it was improved in 2023, I am often critical of how the Steelers handle their clock management at the end of the first half of play, too often attempting to save so much time for themselves that they leave too much for their opponents. This is just one example of where the Steelers current head coach is by no means perfect. But there is one aspect of Coach Tomlin‘s qualities that often gets forgotten during the course of the season…

More than any other coach in the NFL, players want to play for Mike Tomlin.

Of all the grades handed out to the Steelers by the NFLPA’s anonymous player survey, Mike Tomlin came out on top. Receiving an A, the grade for Mike Tomlin stood out among many subpar designations.

Additionally, during last Friday’s press conference where three new members of the Pittsburgh Steelers were announced, they all spoke glowingly of Coach Tomlin and also indicated he was the reason they chose to sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is a quality which is not easy to replicate.

Don’t get me wrong, a player’s number one goal in free agency is to acquire the largest salary in the best situation possible. Money will almost always to be the biggest factor. But once money is removed from the equation, players have a tendency to flock towards Tomlin rather than run away from him.

I was asked this weekend, just after the Justin Fields trade, about why the Steelers always seem to end up getting their players on such good deals. It should be noted this came from a fan of another NFL team (the Tennessee Titans). While I don’t agree with the entire premise of the statement, particularly the word ‘always,’ the Steelers have managed to pull off some pretty team-friendly situations to land players in Pittsburgh. My answer was very simple: players want to play for Mike Tomlin.

Because of his personality and being deemed a “leader of men,“ this is why some in the national media believe Tomlin would be an excellent college coach. Being able to shape his roster without the constraints of a salary cap and simply by convincing the best talents to come and play for him, Tomlin would likely blow the college ranks out of the water as a coach simply from the number of quality players who would flock to him. But as Mike Tomlin said himself when questioned about going to the college program, he’s the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and why would he want anything else?

What is too often lost is how Tomlin makes connections with players, particularly as they are entering the NFL as he travels around the produce circuit and other events. These connections Tomlin has built with players the Steelers aren’t able to draft as often come back to benefit the team when players become available by other means. It is a great skill to have in order to build these relationships, and it appears to come to Tomlin naturally. Players flock to him. He spends time with their families. Important connections are made.

As NFL fans should realize, there are no guarantees when it comes to the draft or free agency. If players work out half the time in the draft and two out of every three in free agency, teams are doing quite well. So while there’s no guarantee the Steelers free agent signings are going to take them to the next level, adding necessary pieces is still required with the hope things work out. For the Steelers, it’s a much easier process when Mike Tomlin is the coach players get to talk to. And when Steelers fans are screaming for the head of Mike Tomlin again this season, as many are looking for any opportunity to do so, I doubt many will remember the number of players that chose Pittsburgh with Tomlin being one of the most important factors.

Mike Tomlin may be the very best coach in the NFL when it comes to player relations. Because of this, Mike Tomlin is fantastic during the offseason at helping make the Steelers the best roster they can afford. As long as he is in Pittsburgh, this is a benefit to the Steelers which means far more to the organization than some realize.


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