Follow The Leader To Cleveland

On a day for Steelers awards, Mike Prisuta makes a case for Mike Tomlin -- not that the head man wants or will win Coach of the Year.

You can't really say Mike Tomlin should be named Coach of the Year in the NFL, not when considering what Todd Haley did in Kansas City, what Raheem Morris pulled off in Tampa, and what Lovie Smith accomplished in Chicago.

You can't even say the job Tomlin did this season was his best with the Steelers; the man has, after all, won a Super Bowl.

But what can be said, and what should be emphasized, is how well Tomlin handled a unique set of circumstances that almost defied description and could have easily derailed the season.

It started with the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger.

It continued with a perceived conspiracy, one of flags and fines and repeated assaults on a particular quarterback that went unnoticed, one that was much tougher to define than a season-opening, four-game stretch minus said quarterback and no easier to confront.

The Steelers have come through all of the above to the tune of 11-4 heading into Sunday's regular-season finale at Cleveland.

There's enough at stake in that one that much of all the good accomplished to this point can be undone by a subpar performance. But the best thing the Steelers have going for them heading into Cleveland is the consistency with which Tomlin has brought them this far in the first place.

That's happened not because Tomlin schemed like never before or because Tomlin raged against the machine; he did neither.

What he did was set a tone of defiance that manifested itself in preparation and focus and performance and accountability.

Pretty good stuff, all of that.

It's a lot deeper than deciding which quarterback to play while your franchise starter is suspended, whether to try an onside kick with the lead against Green Bay or whether to go for two again in a playoff game against Jacksonville even though your first attempt had been wiped out by a holding penalty.

It's bigger than a formation or a play-call, even one that results in a safety that might have otherwise been avoided.

It's bigger, even, than drafting Jason Worilds instead of Sean Lee.

It's what ultimately wins games, preparation and focus and performance and accountability.

It's what the head coaches that win consistently are able to glean from their teams.

The Steelers, for the most part, have kept their eye on the ball well enough long enough to overcome almost all that's been thrown at them because Tomlin refused to let them approach this season's challenges any other way.

The Roethlisberger suspension might have been inspiring in at least one respect, but surviving his absence to the tune of a 3-1 record still took an overall discipline and determination few teams are able to realize.

As for that perceived conspiracy, it went above and beyond the locker room. Privately, Steelers officials higher up the food chain than the head coach made repeated inquiries to the NFL office as to what was going on and why; the satisfaction of answer was never forthcoming. Publicly, Tomlin stood undaunted and seemingly unaffected by it all, and in the process helped to keep a lid on a locker room that on several occasions appeared ready to boil over in frustration.

Just keep playing was his unwavering message.

One week at a time, one game at a time, one overtime period at a time if need be.

The results are on tape for all to acknowledge. They've been on scoreboards in stadiums for all to see.

The guess here is that matters to Tomlin a great deal more than Coach of the Year.


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