The Carolina Panthers are going to be searching for a new head coach next year. After firing Matt Rhule, the Panthers are 4-4 with interim head coach Steve Wilks and could certainly keep him around if they somehow find a way into the postseason. However, recent speculation by Pro Football Talk‘s Mike Florio implied that the Panthers could trade for current Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin is one of the more accomplished coaches in the league, but would he be a good fit for Carolina?
Why the Carolina Panthers Should (And Shouldn’t) Trade For Mike Tomlin
Why They Should
Since taking over for Bill Cowher back in 2007, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been one of the most successful coaches in all of football. Coaching is ultimately all about winning, and Tomlin certainly knows how to win football games. The head coach currently has a 159-93-2 record in the regular season, and has yet to finish any season with a losing record – although that will probably change this year. Proven winners like that don’t come around too often, and there is no reason to think that Tomlin’s style of coaching wouldn’t work in Carolina.
Tomlin is not just a product of good players, either. While the Steelers of the late 2000’s and early 2010’s were loaded with talent, the roster has cooled off in recent years. Despite that, Tomlin has kept his team competitive. He went 8-8 with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges under center in 2019 and a combined 21-11-1 with a washed-up Ben Roethlisberger in 2020 and 2021. A good amount of coaches would not have been able to accomplish that, and it speaks to Tomlin’s abilities that he kept his team competitive despite lacking answers at the game’s most important position.
Knowing the X’s and O’s is obviously a huge part of being a successful head coach, but you also need to know how to manage your players. While the Steelers weren’t exactly a drama-free organization during Tomlin’s reign, it is remarkable how he kept that many wild personalities all under control. I mean, just look at what happened to Antonio Brown the second he left Pittsburgh.
Why They Shouldn’t
Tomlin is a good head coach, but he isn’t a great one. While he’s good enough to prevent five-win seasons, there isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest he can turn a good team into a true contender. Yes, he won the Super Bowl in 2008 and made it back to the big show in 2010, but since then, his highly talented teams have consistently underperformed.
The 2011-2018 Steelers were some of the most talented teams of the decade, yet they never made it to the Super Bowl. Yes, sharing a conference with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the peak of their powers certainly makes it harder to win a championship, but the fell short far too often, and Tomlin is not blameless for that.
The 2017 season is a perfect example. Leading up to the divisional matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, safety Mike Mitchell was talking about how he was already focused on the Patriots. While Mitchell might have been the only one dumb enough to say it out loud, it’s clear the entire team overlooked Jacksonville, as they lost to Blake Bortles in a 45-42 game that was not nearly as close as the final score implied. This lack of focus ultimately rests on Tomlin’s shoulders, as he did not prepare his team to face their upcoming opponent.
Building For the Future
Additionally, Tomlin’s inability to develop a quarterback is worrisome for a team like the Panthers that lack a proven passer. Ben Roethlisberger was already an established starter by the time Tomlin showed up, and the only two quarterbacks Tomlin drafted that ever had a chance to start were Mason Rudolph and Kenny Pickett. Rudolph crashed and burned during his 2019 audition, and while it’s far too early to draw any long-term conclusions about Pickett, the early results aren’t promising.
The Panthers would likely need to give up multiple early draft picks for Tomlin, and that’s not something Carolina should be doing at this point in their rebuild. Ultimately, players are the ones that win games, and the Panthers need to focus on getting as much talent on the field as physically possible. Tomlin is a good coach, but he’s not worth the price tag. The Panthers are much better off passing on Mike Tomlin, keeping their first-round pick, and either hiring Steve Wilks or an up-and-coming offensive mind like Ben Johnson.