Monday, November 16th, 2020

Talking with Tomlin

Neil Reynolds

Talking with Tomlin

Neil Reynolds NFL

This article originally appeared in Issue 6 of Gridiron Weekly – for individual editions or subscriptions, click HERE



Let’s go back to the early summer of 2013. There was a buzz around the upcoming London games in that year because, for the first time, the UK was going to host two regular season contests, with the Jacksonville Jaguars taking on the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh was my destination in mid-June, as I headed for the Steelers’ final minicamp before breaking for the summer. I interviewed wide receiver Antonio Brown, defensive end Brett ‘The Beard’ Keisel and safety Ryan Clark (I got in trouble with the PR guy for that one because Clark started talking to me about how Tom Brady was “seeing ghosts” and apparently it was my fault for leading him down that path!).

But the undoubted star of the show was head coach Mike Tomlin. He bowled into the interview room (it was more of a corridor, to be honest) a bundle of wide-eyed intensity and energy. In an instant, I could see how Tomlin would fire up the troops during a pre-game or halftime speech. It was hard not to feel motivated after 15 minutes in the coach’s company.

That kind of positivity and energy was on display in 2019 as the Steelers fought on without Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell (who both left before the season) and injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to finish 8-8.

Year in and year out, the Steelers are competitive and much of that is down to Tomlin. He remains energetic, inspirational and committed to winning — and much of what he told me in 2013 rings true almost seven years later.
 


“We want to put ourselves in the position to play in — and win — the confetti game, the world championship. Anything less in our business, playing at this level, is a waste of everybody’s time.”


 
We began our chat with a look at the goals of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin was emphatic in his reply and even suggested his quotes on the subject won’t have changed with the passing of the years.
Our goals are simple — we need to put ourselves in the position to be in the tournament, to compete for that world championship and to win it. That goal has never changed and that will be our goal every year. Our goals will never change. You can use the transcript of this interview 10 years from now and, if I’m still sitting here, our goals will never change. We want to put ourselves in the position to play in — and win — the confetti game, the world championship. Anything less in our business, playing at this level, is a waste of everybody’s time.

We also talked about Tomlin becoming head coach of the Steelers at the tender age of 34 in 2007. We spoke about whether his age was a factor early on and how he adapted as a head coach.
Coaches are who they are — young or old. You either have an ability to relate to players and relay messages or you don’t. I was comfortable in my shoes and I trusted that the Rooneys knew what they were doing with regard to hiring coaches. My comfort level lay in their decision-making. I’m continually evolving and I’m really just trying to be what my team needs me to be. Each and every year, it’s a different group, a different mix with different strengths and weaknesses. Each group has positives and negatives and it’s my job to make all of that dance and I’d better continually evolve in order to bring the best out of them.

Even being in Pittsburgh for just one day during that summer, it was clear how much the Steelers move the NFL needle. They are such a storied and successful franchise with a passionate fan base. So I asked Tomlin how often he stopped to think about leading such an historic team.
I don’t spend a lot of time pinching myself in that regard. If I did, I might miss something. There is not a lot of time to do that. Maybe it’s something I can look back on at some point in my life and be proud of that. But right now, I’m too busy chasing the things we aspire to chase. This is a challenging job and a complex one.
 


“We’ll keep bringing it to the stage and talking about it and, hopefully, those in a position to hire give credible candidates an opportunity, regardless of ethnicity.”


 
One other topic that we touched upon that remains relevant today was the hiring of minority head coaches across the NFL. Tomlin is one of three black head coaches in the NFL, alongside Anthony Lynn (LA Chargers) and Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins). That is the same number as when the Rooney Rule — instigated by Tomlin’s now-deceased boss, Dan Rooney — was unveiled in 2003. Even back in 2013, this was a topic closely monitored by Tomlin.
It is something I pay attention to, but it is equally something I have no control over. The people who do the hiring obviously do. I believe there are some capable and credible candidates out there who haven’t been given the opportunity, but that’s just one man’s opinion. It’s a complex issue, but it is one that continually needs to be discussed. I don’t think any of us in this industry needs to bury our head in the sand with regard to this issue. I like the posture the Commissioner and the league office has taken — and the steps they have taken — in terms of helping people to continue to prepare themselves. But, ultimately, it comes down to the guys who are doing the hiring and those guys having the level of comfort with the candidates they can choose from. We’ll keep bringing it to the stage and talking about it and, hopefully, those in a position to hire give credible candidates an opportunity, regardless of ethnicity.



This article originally appeared in Issue 6 of Gridiron Weekly – for individual editions or subscriptions, click HERE

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