Speculation is swirling this week after the Pittsburgh Steelers upset loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As first reported on the Uncovering Sports podcast, the decision to have the Jags go over was a last minute decision, made just minutes before kick-off. The NFL spent weeks building towards a Steelers vs Patriots AFC championship rematch, only to blow off whole feud at the last minute, sending the Jaguars to their first AFC title game since 1999 (where they lost to Jeff Fischer’s Tennessee Titans).
While the reason for this change has been the subject of much speculation, it sounds like the main reason is heat in the locker room on several of Pittsburgh’s stars. Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley was released this week, but that does little to mitigate the heat from the front office that head coach Mike Tomlin is said to have. While Tomlin is one of the longest tenured head coaches in the league, his unwillingness to work with the league’s plans have caused consistent tension over the last few seasons. Several incidents, including the first Steelers/Jaguars meeting earlier this season, and the league’s decision to move James Harrison (a fan favorite in Pittsburgh) to the Patriots as part of the build to the AFC title game, are said to have been points of friction between Tomlin, the Steelers front office, and league management, and the playoff loss could be more of a ‘punishment’ and a message to Tomlin, more than anything else.
Tomlin is not the only star in Pittsburgh who’s said to have heat in the locker room though. Running Back Leveon Bell, playing in a contract year in Pittsburgh, has already made it clear that he is sitting out unless a big new deal gets done. Unwillingness to play ball with management during this uncertain period with Mike Tomlin is contributing to his heat. If the Steelers were to part ways with Tomlin, it’s likely that Bell’s future with the club would be in jeopardy as well.
It appears that for now, Tomlin is set to retain his position as head coach and Bell will be back next year as well. Despite heat on both men, it seems unlikely that the Steelers would move on from Tomlin before quarterback Ben Rothlisberger retires, as they see the two as the current identity of the Steelers.
We will continue to follow this story as it develops.