I’m a big Mike Tomlin fan — have been since he was hired as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach in 2007. But despite enjoying what Tomlin brings to the Steelers on a weekly basis, I realize there’s some criticism which is on-point. To be honest, all NFL coaches get criticism for one thing or another. Even the evil genius in New England, Bill Belichick, has been criticized and chastised for decisions made — Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl anyone?
As for Tomlin, the majority of criticism he faces typically is based on this thought of the team being unprepared. On our weekly podcast last night (which you can listen to by clicking HERE), I spoke about this and asked listeners to give concrete football evidence of how Tomlin should be blamed for something like Ben Roethlisberger’s five turnovers vs. Cleveland in Week 1 — or how they can point to a team that isn’t performing and pin this on the head coach in terms of “preparedness”.
I don’t know what goes on inside the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on a daily basis, but I highly doubt the Steelers had fewer meetings leading up to Week 1, than they will prior to their Week-2 game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. I doubt Mike Tomlin told Keith Butler, “Hey man, we’re playing Tyrod Taylor and the Browns this week, tell the guys to skip all defensive meetings today — we’re good.”
If the coaches coach similarly regardless of opponent, then how can they be blamed for unpreparedness?
I digress, but this all leads to my main point. While I don’t believe being unprepared is somehow a legitimate criticism of Mike Tomlin, I do believe the constant and incessant drama surrounding the Steelers is a very just criticism of the man calling the shots in Pittsburgh.
The one constant throughout Tomlin’s tenure has been drama. He’s had immense amounts of talent wearing the black-and-gold, but the drama has never gone away. In fact, it seems to have intensified during the past few seasons.
Off-field drama and other nonsense might seem a far cry from something that impacts the product on the field, but let’s take a look at the lead-up to last year’s AFC Divisional game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Not only did Tomlin tell Tony Dungy of NBC he had already plotted the plan where the Steelers and Patriots would meet again in the AFC Championship game, but the way his players responded and reacted to the game certainly made an impact — for the Jaguars. Just look up the team’s quotes about Mike Mitchell after their playoff win.
I know Mike Tomlin can’t be sitting next to every player as they stare at their Twitter app and are close to hitting the ‘TWEET’ button, but he can also make policies which curtail this type of behavior. He can also tell his team how to respond to situations and questions to help avoid the media nightmare which might ensue.
When Le’Veon Bell didn’t report to the Steelers as everyone, including his teammates, thought he would, Tomlin could have said to the team, “Listen, we’re all disappointed, but let’s not make this about Le’Veon. Let’s not give the media anything when it comes how we are handling this situation. We’re focused on the players here, and won’t comment on anyone who isn’t.”
That message clearly didn’t get sent, or was blatantly ignored, when Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster (the Steelers’ NFLPA Player Rep) spouted off about Bell’s absence, which caused the entire football world to stand in awe of what just took place.
The questions surrounding Bell aren’t going away, but Tomlin could have forced those questions to be answered strictly by himself if he had stopped this train before it ever got started.
Now the latest situation which was forced to be addressed, not only by the team, but by team President Art Rooney II, was the social media threat Antonio Brown made towards a reporter at The Undefeated for doing a report on the man Brown is away from cameras, and away from social media. When Tomlin was asked about this at his most recent press conference, he shrugged it off, but maybe tightening the ship a bit might be the better response.
Again, Tomlin can’t hold his players’ hands every second of the day, but if he took a more consistent stance with this type of behavior, it might go a long way towards stopping the drama with the team.
Martavis Bryant was suspended by the team for a game in 2017 when he criticized JuJu Smith-Schuster in the comment section of an Instagram post. Antonio Brown says the following to a reporter, “wait to I see u bro, we gone see what your jaw like.” and Tomlin seemingly looks the other way.
Consistency is key, and right now the Steelers look like a team running amok — distracting from what could be a Super Bowl season.
For Tomlin, and any coach for that matter, I criticize the things they’re able to control. This likely comes from my years as a coach myself, albeit at the High School level, but similar nonetheless. You can’t go onto the field and tackle for your players, nor can you throw perfect passes. All you can do is prepare your team to the best of your ability, and hope the results pay dividends on game day.
I have no gripe about Tomlin in this area, but when it comes to things you can control — like how the team is constantly engulfed in drama — there’s some room for criticism in my opinion.