Column: Tomlin to the Commanders isn’t as crazy as you think

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin once said “never say never … but never” to leaving Pittsburgh, but could Washington change his mind? Rob Woodfork lays out how the Commanders could make a home run hire. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

When the Washington Commanders play their final game of the 2023 season against the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 7, Ron Rivera will coach the Burgundy and Gold on his 62nd birthday under the likely assumption it will be his final game at the helm — bringing to a close a 4-year tenure in which he never had a winning campaign.

Managing partner Josh Harris will begin his first full year in control of the franchise, making crucial decisions about the direction of a team in dire need of an organizational enema after decades of ineptitude that even predates the previous owner. Presumably, a new lead football executive will be at the top of his to-do list. But there’s one man I think would signal a true shift that would take the Commanders from NFC East punching bag to a contending team that will do the majority of the punching: Mike Tomlin.

I know, I know … the Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t fired a coach in the Super Bowl era. Tomlin himself, in one of the most epic coaching rants in recent years, said “never say never — but never” to leaving the Steel City. Some in league circles think Tomlin is too loyal to leave while the Steelers are down.

But as Washington slides higher into the NFL draft order and Tomlin draws dangerously close to his first losing season in 17 years, the two sides could be inching ever closer to joining forces. Allow me to break down the ways this dream scenario — a 51-year-old Super Bowl-winning coach who is still well-respected in his field and has plenty left in the tank — can happen.


Tomlin’s contract with the Steelers ends after the 2024 season and neither side appears to be in a hurry to get an extension going. To be fair, his current contract came around this time so it doesn’t necessarily signal a divorce. But if Washington offers to “trade” for him, Pittsburgh would do well to listen.

I’ve seen a suggested haul of a second-round pick in 2024 and a third-rounder in 2025, which would be fair compensation for a coach with Super Bowl pedigree but hasn’t won a playoff game since the end of the 2016 season. Tomlin is one of the very best coaches in the sport, but even they reach a period where the message grows stale.

It happened to Andy Reid in Philadelphia. Even the great Bill Belichick’s “Patriot Way” has run out of steam in New England. This is Tomlin’s 17th season in Pittsburgh — the exact same mark where Chuck Noll’s 23-year tenure turned mediocre.

Even as Steelers receivers become unhinged, perhaps Tomlin’s style, swagger and resume are exactly what Washington needs right now.

Washington’s appeal

Tomlin grew up around Newport News, Virginia, and has ties to the area. He once named Joe Gibbs as one of his heroes in this coaching business, and given St. Joe’s continued presence in and around the organization he led to its only three Super Bowl titles, perhaps he could craft a sales pitch strong enough to persuade Tomlin that there’s no place like home.

Geographical desirability aside, the Commanders job will undoubtedly be among the most coveted jobs this offseason — if not the most coveted. (Yeah, that stadium sucks but that’s only a problem for about five more years.)

Washington is likely to have a Top 5 pick in the upcoming draft and five selections among the first 110 picks. Even if that first pick isn’t used on a franchise quarterback, Sam Howell is intriguing enough to be attractive. Oh, did I mention the more than $90 million in salary cap space entering 2024? That’s a recipe for a quick turnaround with the right leadership in place.

That leads to the next point: Harris used to be a minority investor in Pittsburgh under the Rooneys. I don’t know the extent to which he knows Tomlin, but Harris could hire former Steelers GM Kevin Colbert to at least serve in a consultant role to help find the right person to lead the football operation. Would all that Steeler association lead Tomlin to believe Washington to be a safe landing spot?

The win-win-win

Pittsburgh gets a fresh start with draft compensation, Washington gets the coach of their dreams — a Super Bowl winner with charisma and a penchant for getting more out of less — and Tomlin gets a fresh start in a place closest to home (yet not so close that it’s a distraction).

And the cherry on top of the Chocolate City Sundae? A qualified Black man with street cred takes the helm of the last NFL franchise to integrate — an optic that all but reverses the curse hovering over this team for decades.

Harris needs a home run to jump start this organizational rebuild. Mike Tomlin would be a moonshot into the Anacostia River.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on

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