PFF Analyst Calls Out Colleague For Going ‘Rogue’ With Mike Tomlin Ranking

Mike Tomlin

Thearon Henderson/Getty Images Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on from the sidelines against the San Francisco 49ers on September 22, 2019.

Last week, Pro Football Focus (PFF) published its 2022 NFL Head Coach Rankings, which rated Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin 13th out of 26 veteran head coaches. On its face, that seems much too low, considering that Tomlin has taken his team to two Super Bowls and has never had a losing season, despite being 15 years deep into his head coaching career.

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Steve Palazzolo: Blame Conor McQuiston for the Mike Tomlin Ranking

Asked to explain the ranking during his weekly appearance with The PM Team on 93.7 The Fan (Pittsburgh), Steve Palazzolo of PFF intimated that the colleague who assembled the rankings was so deep in the analytics that he lost sight of the big picture.

“It was a lot easier when PFF was like, six of us. It was a lot easier to funnel one voice,” began Palazzolo, sounding a little frustrated. “But now we have hundreds of employees, you know…. People go rogue, do whatever they want. They can interpret the data differently.”

Palazzolo believes that NFL media ought to start referring to PFF analysts by name, instead of making out the organization to be a monolith.

“I think it’s time to start blaming Conor for the Mike Tomlin ranking, not me,” he added, referring to Conor McQuiston, who assembled PFF’s 2022 head coach rankings.

“Tomlin’s good, man,” continued Palazzolo. “Obviously, he’s been good and done well in lesser situations,” as in 2019, when he led his team to a .500 record with backup Mason Rudolph and rookie undrafted free agent Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges doing almost all the quarterbacking.

“I don’t know what the criteria was,” added Palazzolo. “I will say, I do think there’s something with the, we’ll call it the ‘nerd faction’ on Twitter. Those who are really deep in the analytics that seem to focus a lot on fourth-down decisions, and maybe only the thing that you can see. I’m not saying that Conor necessarily did that but I do think a lot of people are doing that these days and missing the fact that the head coach is a CEO of the entire organization and sometimes it is as simple as wins and losses.”


Steelers’ Mike Tomlin Ranked Last Among the ‘Good’ Coaches

Nevertheless, McQuiston has Tomlin at the bottom of the second tier of NFL head coaches, behind Kliff Kingsbury, Pete Carroll, Matt LaFleur, Kyle Shanahan, Mike Vrabel, Frank Reich, Mike McCarthy, Sean McVay and Brandon Staley — in that order.

Tomlin is the second-highest ranked coach in the AFC North, following John Harbaugh (Ravens) at No. 2. Kevin Stefanski (Browns) comes in at No. 19 and Zac Taylor (Bengals) is No. 22. There are three coaches in the top ‘Hall of Fame’ tier, with Bill Belichick (Patriots) at No. 1 and Andy Reid (Chiefs) at No. 3.


One Final Point About McQuiston’s Analysis

To be fair to Conor McQuiston, he says up front that his rankings come from “an analytics perspective,” featuring a “multilevel model” that is fully explained in the introduction to his article. He acknowledges that Tomlin’s greatest strength may be minimized by the parameters of his analysis.

“If this list were to consider how well a coach manages a team off the gridiron, Tomlin would undoubtedly be in the top tier,” McQuiston wrote. “His defenses have been consistently strong, but he suffers in these rankings due to having one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL throughout his head coach tenure lead his offense without consistently elite results.”

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