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Mike Tomlin’s current rite of passage might just be his greatest challenge yet

If Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin manages to lead this team through a brutal first-place schedule into the playoffs with all these distractions, it’ll be his greatest achievement and it may finally get the Bill Cowher monkey off of his back.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

I remember as a young man having to take a management training program. I’d been a team captain on various sports teams and I thought I had a handle on what true leadership entailed. So you can imagine my surprise when many of my ideals were shot down that first day. The one statement that disturbed me the most was “Management cannot maintain the same type of relationship with the individuals they are responsible for.” I was shocked and flabbergasted to say the least. What do you mean I can’t still hang out with the fellas and just be one of the guys? Nothing has changed. I’m still the same person. I’m only accepting the position for the financial benefits and what it will mean for my family. I’ll be the best boss ever. I’ll be the the kind of individual that I always wanted to work for.

Fast-forward quite a few years, with multiple employers and employees, plus many valued relationships that started as work colleagues. With age hopefully comes wisdom, and my experiences taught me a valuable lesson. When attempting to lead a group of individuals, no matter how big or small it may be, you’ll always end up sounding more like a parent than you will a fishing buddy.

Your relationships with your employees has to be developed on an individual basis because it depends on the character of the individual. Some employees have a strong work ethic and a get-it-done attitude. These employees need little supervision and appreciate recognition for a job well done. Other employees are not self-starters, but they’ll follow your instructions to the letter with a modicum of supervision and encouragement.

This brings us to our last type of employee and the place where a superior manager really earns their salary. This type of individual will do just enough to get by — just enough to keep their job and still collect a paycheck. They require constant supervision, and then complain that management is always on their tail. When you try to reach out to this type of individual on a mentoring level, some view your overture as an opportunity to exploit your kindness. They’ll mistake your compassion for weakness until you set the record straight.

Mike Tomlin has been accused of being more cheerleader than coach by some in the media, most famously by Steelers’ legend Terry Bradshaw. James Harrison spoke out about a lack of team discipline after being released last season and then signing on for a Super Bowl run with the hated rival New England Patriots. He should know, as reports of him sleeping through meetings and being an overall poor teammate surfaced not long after his release. Deebo even name dropped All-World WR Antonio Brown as being perpetually tardy to meetings. Silly Deebo, nobody likes a tattletale.

Others have proclaimed Tomlin won his Super Bowl with Cowher’s players, which is partly true, but how is that Tomlin’s fault? You play with the hand you’re dealt. Following that line of thinking, the true common denominator through all this success has been Mr. Ben Roethlisberger. Make no mistake about it, this year’s roster is all Mike Tomlin’s.

I want to make one thing crystal clear. I believe Mike Tomlin is a good man. I believe he wants to win each game as much or more than anybody reading this article. I don’t know the man personally, but his character and competitiveness should never be questioned. I totally understood when he almost stepped out on to the field to stop Jacoby Jones from returning that kick for a touchdown against the Steelers in the Ravens’ victory back in 2013, because I would have wanted to do exactly the same thing. It took every bit of constraint he possessed to not only stop himself from tripping the man, but from tackling him outright. You could see the look on his face. He wanted to win. Nobody ever achieves greatness in life without passion. Maybe that’s why Tomlin appears compassionate toward passionate players like Antonio Brown, because he can relate. Maybe we should be happy he hasn’t planted a big kiss on him like Coach Cowher did to Kordell Stewart back in the day.

Tomlin has tried to stay true to his personality as a players coach because that’s who he really is. His greatest attributes as a coach are his relatability and enthusiasm. Players from all over the league have stated they would love to play for the man. Sadly, this has yet to benefit the team as most high-profile free agents abhor the Steelers hard-line stance toward guaranteed contracts. This years collection of talent at Tomlin’s disposal may force him from his familiar perch as a players’ coach and, instead, require him to sprinkle in copious amounts of tough love. It’s impossible to command true respect without a certain amount of fear. Not fear of the individual, but fear of the consequences to come.

Tomlin is still a relatively young man and far from a finished product. He isn't yet what he will eventually be. The Steelers have had a tough start to the season to say the least, but tough times don't last. Tough people do. I believe that the Rooneys, Tomlin, and the leaders in the locker room can still rally together as a team and turn this season around. But it’s imperative that journey starts in earnest this Monday night against the Buccaneers.

We should all be rooting for Tomlin to succeed and get this season back on track. That would mean the Steelers were back to their winning ways, and that should be everyone’s goal. We’re all one family — each one a valued member of Steelers Nation.

Together we are strong. Go Steelers!