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Stephen A. Smith says criticism of Mike Tomlin is racially based

Alex Reimer
December 13, 2018 - 9:54 am

With the Steelers in the midst of another late-season collapse, there is a building movement in Pittsburgh to can head coach Mike Tomlin. Radio host and columnist Mark Madden is leading the charge, writing this week it’s time for the organization to think about moving on, despite Tomlin’s exemplary win-loss record. 

With a matchup against the Patriots looming, it’s not a stretch to say this might be the most pivotal period of Tomlin’s coaching career.

On “First Take” Wednesday, Stephen A. Smith responded to Madden’s column, saying he thinks any calls for Tomlin to be fired are racially based. “This man is a black man,” Smith said. “You got a whole bunch of white coaches that if they were doing what he did, they wouldn’t be saying anything. Sean Payton missed the playoffs three straight years before the Saints made the playoffs last year. I didn’t hear anybody talk about him needing to be gone.

“How many times did I bring up Jason Garrett? But we allude to the relationship between him and his step daddy Jerry Jones. It’s no problem. You win 65 percent of your games, you’ve never had a losing record in your career as a head coach, and we’re talking about you being gone? That’s ridiculous, and it highlights and illuminates a double-standard that I don’t appreciate.”

It’s unlikely Tomlin’s job is in jeopardy, since the Steelers have never finished with a losing record under his watch. His career .653 winning percentage is second among active coaches who have worked three seasons or more. 

But the recent story in Pittsburgh goes further than Tomlin’s career record. After losing to the Patriots in the 2017 AFC championship, the Steelers went on to drop their Divisional Round game at home to the Jaguars last season. There have also been several moments of undisciplined error, such as when Antonio Brown posted a Facebook Live video of Tomlin calling the Patriots “a—holes.”

This season, the 7-5-1 Steelers have lost three games in a row heading into Week 15. There’s seemingly a new calamity every week, from Roethlisberger blaming his teammates after a costly two-interception performance against the Broncos to Big Ben being kept on the sidelines in Oakland with a bizarre rib injury. 

Given all of the talent in Pittsburgh, it’s fair to argue the Steelers have underachieved under Tomlin. Since reaching the Super Bowl in 2010, they’ve lost their first playoff game on three occasions. The Patriots also own them. Tom Brady is 7-1 in his career against Tomlin with 23 touchdown passes. 

The talent-rich Steelers have failed to advance to the top of the AFC in nearly 10 years under Tomlin. That is a long enough sample size to determine the Steelers may not be reaching their full potential with their current coach, regardless of his race.

Besides, Smith undercuts his own argument. Earlier in his rant, he talks about how he won’t even entertain questions about Tomlin’s job security until Marvin Lewis is fired in Cincinnati. 

This doesn’t appear to have anything to do with skin color. 

Related: Ben Roethlisberger's bizarre rib injury is latest piece of Steelers turmoil heading into big Patriots game