Mike Tomlin apologizes, but not for what you think

I said I was sorry. What more do you want? - Ezra Shaw

Some of the worst singing you'll ever hear, along with other rants in preparation for Pittsburgh's Week 17 game against Cleveland.

Shoutout at the Okay Chorale

Before you jump to the obvious conclusion, I'm not talking about Tomlin's apology for the sideline two-step during the Ravens game a few weeks ago. No, Tomlin apologized recently for something I think is a great deal more serious.

As Ivan Cole said in his Weekend Checkdown,

Rebecca Rollett and other music sensitive individuals may want to cover their ears, but the Steelers continue their tradition of sharing their, um, singing talents as they give their rendition of (butcher) various Holiday classics. It is moments like these that they and their families must be extraordinarily grateful that these young men know how to play football at a high level.

As usual, Ivan hit the nail on the head. But with the same sort of fascination which draws us to the scene of some horrific accident, I couldn't help myself—I clicked the link. The video was as bad as ever. In fact, this year it was, if possible, the worst ever. But there was a surprise at the end. I quote Head Coach Mike Tomlin:

"On behalf of the Pittsburgh Steelers coaches, players and staff I'd like to wish Steeler Nation a merry Christmas and happy New Year. And I'd also like to apologize for some of the poor singing."

I've always said Tomlin gets it. This was a much-needed apology. I would only say he didn't go far enough. "Some of the poor singing?" Which bits in particular, Coach? They were uniformly poor.

If poor is even an adequate word.

I'm not a fan of these videos, as you can tell. I understand teams feel like they have to do things to "connect" with the fan base. And I understand the players are not professional actors, or singers, or whatever, and I'm sure feel they have better things to do with their free time than make stupid videos.

But if you're going to do something like this, you should do it right. If necessary, hire a men's acappella group to do some awesome arrangements of carols and get the players to mime. Troy and Keisel actually do some pretty sweet air guitar playing. Get the guys to buy into it a bit. I just think it sends a bad message to the players to say "We're going to do this really half- um - baked thing here, but don't worry, it won't take more than 10 minutes of your time and requires no preparation whatsoever."

So Coach, I'm with you. Put your foot down, tell the people in the publicity department that they need to come up with something else, something the players actually do well, and then you'll talk.

The Possession Heard Around the World

The NFL's Head of Explaining Stupid Officiating Mistakes has gone on record about the illegal batting call. In this video he explains:

Pittsburgh would have kept the football and we would have enforced the foul from the spot of the bat, and they would have kept the ball. So it's an interesting play, (but) not something that's currently reviewable.

What a comfort that would have been if the Steelers had lost the game by seven points or less. Knowing it should have been the Steelers ball would have made all the difference. The fact that, according to Dean Blandino, the Competition Committee "will continue to look at" [whether possession is reviewable] would also make everyone feel better...

Strangely, Dave Dameshek's Hall of Shame for Week 16 included both bad—in fact, really bad—singing, by none other than Dameshek himself at item Number 3, and a classic rant at Number Two:

Possession's not reviewable? Listen to yourselves, refs!

He then played a bunch of clips with the refs ruling on, you guessed it, possession. Who knew?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Bruce Arians

In his Week 16 Power Rankings, NFL Analyst Elliot Harrison made the following statement when talking about the Arizona Cardinals:

Who deserves Coach of the Year honors more than Bruce Arians? No one, and I mean no one, expected Arizona to be 10-5 coming off a win in Seattle. Of course, Arians won the award last year. No head coach has repeated since Joe Gibbs in 1982 and '83.

Unexpected? For sure, in Steeler Nation. From the past comments of many people on this august site, you would think Arians was a combination of Barney Fife and Gomer Pyle. (Sorry, forgot to precede that with an Old Person Alert. Thank God for reruns.)

And yet, the coach a huge portion of the fan base couldn't wait to get rid of has been completely rejuvenated in the desert air.

Was Arians the greatest thing since sliced bread? Did the Steelers fans (and, more importantly, those in the organization) who wanted him gone make a mistake of massive proportions?

I'm not prepared to go that far. No one could say what would have happened if he had stayed. I'm guessing the offense would not have tanked, the way it did for a while, but on the other hand the pain of going through the changes Todd Haley has instituted finally appears to be paying off.

Fortunately, Steeler Nation is bursting with would-be coordinators who can point out every single mistake made by any of them, whether their name be Bruce Arians, Todd Haley, Dick LeBeau, or insert name of choice.

Did Bruce Arians make the absolute most of the players he had? Does Todd Haley? Does Dick LeBeau? Probably not all the time. But it is amazing to me how a guy Steeler Nation's battalion of experts had declared to be a complete bum can go somewhere else, move up to head coach, and do such a great job. I guess I just don't understand how this stuff works.

And finally,

Gut Check

I've read thousands of words now about Mike Tomlin's decision to take the touchdown and leave the Packers 1:25 to answer. I even had to listen to a rant about it after the game from my own dear son, who then sent me a link for the article Advanced NFL Stats posted, apparently minutes after the game was over.

But you know what? Coaching, whether you are talking about a football team, a ballet troupe, a chorus, or anything else, isn't just about probabilities. Here's what Tunch Ilkin had to say on Steelers.com Live:

Nobody has a better finger on the pulse of his team than Mike Tomlin does. And one of the things I've always said about this game is, coaches many times, they make their decisions based on gut instinct at the moment. And they do that because they have a feel, they know their guys. They know what their guys are capable of and they know what their guys are not capable of.

So when a guy sitting at home watching the game on TV has the luxury of hindsight says "They should have done it this way" or "They should have done it that way" I laugh, because you don't know about that football team. We're talking about coaches, coordinators, head coaches that watch hours and hours and hours of video, put hours upon hours upon hours of game planning, put in hours upon hours preparing their team. Are you going to tell me someone that's watching the game knows better about what decisions should be made at that point in time than the guy that's out on the field?

I'm sorry. I agree with Mike Tomlin. If I'm an offensive lineman out on the field I'd say "let's pop it in, baby, let's just drive it down their throats and run it in." That's what I'd be saying.

I love stats. I think it's really interesting to look at how things work out in large sample sizes. But when you're dealing with people, you aren't dealing with large sample sizes. You're dealing with a complex mixture of personalities, with a knowledge (if you're a good coach) of where your people are right at this very moment, and with a need to make a decision which balances out what you think your guys are capable of and, for that matter, need to happen, right now.

Bill Belechick probably sits on the sideline with a slide rule. Bill Belechick's teams seem to be made up of a bunch of largely interchangeable players (other than maybe Rob Gronkowski). Belechick is obviously a brilliant coach in a certain style.

But that isn't Mike Tomlin's style. Mike Tomlin considers himself a servant leader in the style of his mentor Tony Dungy. This requires you to not just have your finger on the pulse of the team but of each individual on it. Maybe he knew Le'Veon Bell NEEDED to score that touchdown. Maybe he knew the defense NEEDED to feel he trusted them to get a stop (which Tomlin said in his press conference he did, although he admitted that had he realized Special Teams would give up a 71 yard kick return he might have calculated differently.)

Would Tomlin be better off if he had one of those charts with the probabilities, as Belechick almost certainly does? Probably not. That's not how he rides. And his guys love him. Maybe that doesn't matter to you, but it does to me, and more importantly, I suspect it does to them.

Don't get me wrong. As I said, I enjoy stats. One of the things I've admired the most about Clint Hurdle, the manager of the Pirates, is that he was, as an old-school coach, willing to come to Pittsburgh and work with the stats department. This has been very successful in, for example, the defensive shifts Pittsburgh has employed to a greater extent than almost any other team in baseball.

But football isn't like baseball. The "match ups" in football aren't clean. It isn't one batter battling one pitcher, with a bit of help from the other players on defense. Football is messy, unpredictable, and strategic in a way baseball really isn't. And sometimes it is more about heart and desire (those very nebulous qualities we hear so much about be nobody seems to be able to predict) than it is about anything else except, perhaps, talent.

But whichever two teams are playing, whatever their record, you can bet there is a lot of talent on both sides of the field. The question is how well they work together and how good the coaches are at maximizing it. Lots can go wrong, and does. But a coach who "has" his locker room is going to right the ship eventually. A coach who loses it won't.

Rant over. See you all Sunday. Let's beat the Browns and then hold our collective breath. It may all end in tears, but it's pretty sweet to have something to hold our breath for, considering everything. So even if you're a "glass half full" sort of person, fill it up halfway and raise it to our 2013 Steelers. In the meantime, Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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