Mike Tomlin told Pittsburgh Steelers players and coaches Tuesday that he plans to coach the team in 2024, a day after he walked out of a news conference when asked about his contract, sources told ESPN.
Tomlin, who has a year left on his contract, has given no indications of wanting to step away in recent weeks, a source close to the situation told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, and Tomlin “just wants to coach football.” The source added that contract extension talks could intensify this offseason.
A day after the Steelers’ wild-card loss to the Buffalo Bills, defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, the longest-tenured Steelers player, voiced his support for Tomlin and strongly rebuffed the speculation around his coach’s future.
“I’ll just say this about Mike T, why are we so concerned with somebody who has a year on their contract, has been locked in and has wanted to just play, coach football?” Heyward said. “We don’t ask anybody else if they need to come back for another year or anything else. I just think it’s doing him a disservice. This guy’s been locked in from the very get-go, but yet we’re worried about if he’s coming back or not. He’s been locked in, and I appreciate it because that’s only created more dissension for players and coaches.
“We just want to focus on one goal. He wants to focus on one goal, and I just think that’s fair to him. I think everybody likes to talk about, ‘Oh, he might take a year off. He might do this. He’s only got one year.’
“I just think, why would he answer a question like that? He’s worried about trying to win a playoff game and then last night we just lost a big playoff game. Why does he need to address that now? That’s not the time or the place and I appreciate the question, but I just think for him in general, Coach T’s earned that to just be singularly focused on one goal, and we’ve asked this question week in and week out. It’s just not fair to the process.”
Tomlin is no stranger to the Steelers’ contract cycle. Though the Steelers have previously extended coaches at least two seasons removed from the end of their deals, Tomlin signed a three-year extension in 2021 when there was one year remaining on his previous contract. Speculation around Tomlin’s future intensified late in the 2023 season as the Steelers battled through a three-game losing streak, and questions about leadership and accountability within the locker room were raised.
As he praised his coach’s consistency, Heyward said he hasn’t noticed a change in his head coach that would suggest he has lost his fire for the job.
“My thought is he’s going to be the coach here,” Heyward said, “and if anybody’s thinking it should be anybody else, and you’re asking for a whole lot more than just that. Mike T wants to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, is a Pittsburgh Steeler. Why anybody else for anything else?”
Speaking for the first time since injuring a knee in the regular-season finale, star pass-rusher T.J. Watt echoed Heyward’s sentiments. Watt also said nothing “groundbreaking” was discussed in Tuesday’s brief team meeting.
“I want to play for Mike T,” Watt said. “That was huge in my contract talks. I don’t want to play for anyone other than Mike T. You guys understand and see in the way I talk about him, how much I respect and appreciate him as a coach, as a man, as a leader. That’s my endorsement for him.”