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PFT Founder Mike Florio's Character Assassination of Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin is Out of Line


For the most part, I've been fairly critical of the role of Pro Football Talk in the media landscape covering the NFL.

At the same time, I respect the opinions of the site, and its founder, Mike Florio. They're entitled to those opinions, as am I, as are you.

My main contention is the style in which he writes. Sometimes, it seems the presumptions he makes are a bit off-the-mark. And his offensive character assassination of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on Monday is the most recent - and probably best - example of his own news creation.

From Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who quipped about Tomlin's recent induction into William & Mary's athletics Hall of Fame:

When the Steelers coach was inducted earlier this month to the Hall of Fame at his alma mater -- Tomlin was a three-year starter at wide receiver at William & Mary in the early '90s -- he gave a rousing speech thanking his family and coaches and teammates for helping him as a player, person and coach. And he said something about why he's coaching in the NFL, and not college football.

"One of the reasons I work in the National Football League -- I'm tired of the NCAA rules,'' he told a crowd in Williamsburg, Va. "I am a win-at-all-costs kind of guy. The NFL is just right for me, although I am not a bounty guy in any form or fashion. Any form or fashion.'' Much applause. "What you've got to understand about the Pittsburgh Steelers is .. I ain't got to offer them anything. Guys like James Harrison -- they'll do it for nothing. The men I work with, I'm a blessed person.

Florio responded, slanting Tomlin's message in a different direction:

The easy message is that Tomlin has renounced paying defensive players to wreak havoc. The more subtle message is that Tomlin wants guys who'll wreak havoc without an extra cash incentive.

Apparently, it's the subtle message that counts, not the obvious one. Tomlin says he does not pay players to injure other players. But Florio is right, he wants guys who will wreak havoc.

I, for one, am glad he does. Defensive players are, by design, supposed to prevent the opponent from advancing down the field. Since this game isn't played in a court room, nor is it played with puppy dogs and flowers, Tomlin's statement of wanting guys like James Harrison, the Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, seems to fit well in his philosophy of having defensive players who can, you know, stop people.

If we want to continue dipping into semantics, we can certainly do that. Does "wreaking havoc" mean "injuring players"? Not at all. It doesn't imply it, either.

It's easy to judge what someone says when they don't say it.

James Harrison is certainly paid plenty of money to play football. Few can argue, contextually, James Harrison's job description does not include hitting an opposing player in a way that, even if done properly, can result in injury. To insert my own assumption, Tomlin is referring to Harrison's passion and love for the game. He's not a thug nor is Tomlin puffing his chest with pride because he feels he doesn't need extra motivation to get his players to want to hurt people. But his players do want to hit offensive players.

How this concept is lost on people is beyond me. It's not a safe game. It's not going to be a safe game. It's an unfortunate drawback, and one in which our own guilt compels us to feel as if we must protect the players from themselves. I admit to succumbing to those feelings and support certain measured changes to help players be at their best, but it's more in the diagnosis of injuries, and prevention of players returning to action before they're ready. The nature of the game cannot be changed.

"I'm tired of the NCAA rules." It's also clear that he's tired of the NFL rules. Every gripe and complaint and piss and moan from Steelers players regarding the league's rules for hitting offensive players naturally traces to the coaching staff - and ultimately to Tomlin.

I'm still reading for anything Tomlin said that suggests he's tired of NFL rules. Maybe he is. Does he not have the right to question the rules, or at the least, the interpretation of those rules? It's difficult for even the most ardent (and NFL compensated) writers to suggest there is harmony between the way officials see a hit in real time vs. how the league's office (facing literally hundreds of plaintiffs in an ever-growing lawsuit) views them after the fact. There's clearly even less clarity from the player's level.

So a little "pissing and moaning" seems appropriate. Suggesting a coach who's managed to navigate the new regulatory-rich waters of the NFL while still maintaining defensive success is in some way a breeder of thugs and an enabler of the shameful is flat-out ridiculous.

What's worse is the clear double-standard in which he wallows.

If he's enlightened enough to see the "natural trace" from the Steelers play to Tomlin's coaching, why didn't we see Jim Schwartz crucified on PFT when Ndamukong Suh was fined multiple times? In fact, Florio praises him, writing, Schwartz is "the man who has had a key role in turning around the team's on-field product."

So Tomlin has his Hall of Fame induction speech taken out of context and ripped to shreds, and is lectured by Florio that his teams words and actions "naturally" trace back to him, while Schwartz's 2011 draft class has racked up five arrests this season, but he's responsible for "turning the franchise around."

Is Schwartz any less culpable for the conduct of his players than Tomlin is? At the very least, DT Nick Fairley's recent decision to drive while drunk for the second time in two months was not made in the nanosecond it took James Harrison to hit Browns QB Colt McCoy. To suggest Tomlin has any more control over Harrison in that moment is as preposterous as saying Fairley's poor decision-making is the cause of the Lions not spending enough time at practice working on calling cabs.

Plain and simple, Florio is entitled to his opinion, and while many, myself included, feel his position was essentially created with an unofficial but obvious link to the NFL (thus slanting his opinion for disingenuous reasons), his opinion is based on faulty logic and assumptions of a man with a high level of character.