If you had listened to all the noise coming from outside the Pittsburgh Steelers organization this offseason, you would assume that the Steelers are on the verge of collapse having said goodbye to Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell this year. But for those players that remain, the perspective from inside the locker room is markedly different.
When not blaming Ben Roethlisberger or Kevin Colbert for the dysfunction that has seemingly plagued the Steelers as of late, Mike Tomlin is the one who has often come in for the most criticism. Accused of being too close to his players and lacking in discipline, the actions of Brown and Bell have landed at the feet of a coach labelled an enabler, while the behavior of the individuals concerned has largely been given a free pass.
But while outsiders may expect Tomlin to adjust his coaching style in 2019, that does not match with the expectations of veteran leaders like Ramon Foster and Cameron Heyward. When speaking to reporters during practice on the first day of OTAs, both players made it very clear that there was no need for Tomlin to change the way he manages his team.
“Coach T has been handling us the same way for years. He gives guys an environment where they can develop themselves, and in that development of themselves, you get certain things out of it, whether good or bad and we’ve always found a way to deal with it. So, I don’t think he going to rein guys in or switch it up. The guys who understand how to work do that because of the amount of respect with have for him and how he allows us to be men, first and foremost. So, I don’t think you’ll see somebody whipping the whip to just do this and do that.”
“I always refer to him as the Uncle you just don’t want to piss off. You know you can be who you want to be, but you step out of line, and you guys have seen him in his element, the element that you don’t see. He can be a real problem if you take him down that lane. It’s just certain stuff you know. You're allowed to be yourself.”
Asked about Tomlin’s reputation for being too much of a players coach and the reins being too lose, Foster scoffed at the suggestion from the reporter.
“I’ve heard it all and I’m sure if you ask all 1200 players in this league who would they rather play for, he’s at the top of the list. And that’s because they know how he deals with people, they know how you're able to develop yourself. He’s not going to carry you on a leash and say “hey, you gotta do this, you gotta do that”. People who are mature enough and professional enough know how to handle that type of thing.”
“How has the development of this team been? Has he been one of the most consistent coaches in the league? Has he won games? Has he ever been a guy that you were scared that this was going to happen? No. Coach T is a guy that you want to work for, a guy that you want to play for, you give you all for, because you know at the end of the day, the mutual respect that he has for you is not seen around this league like that.”
If there is to be less talk coming from the locker room this season, it appears that directive might not necessarily be coming from the head coach, with Foster clearly suggesting it was the responsibility of the players to police that sort of thing.
“Wouldn’t it?[come from the players] Would you agree that it should? He don’t have to say much. Like I said, he’s that guy that you don’t want to piss off. So, with that being said, it has to be self-policed.”
Sentiments Cam Heyward would echo when asked if he expected Tomlin to attempt to rein the team in this season.
“What needs to be reined in? We’re talking about the few. We’re not talking about the many. We’ve got a great group of guys that are hard-nosed and just trying to get better. Coach T’s going to coach it like he wants to. I don’t make that decision. But I also don’t expect that decision. It‘s definitely not going to be stagnant.”
With Brown and Bell no longer on the roster, it seems safe to assume that the Steelers will be far less dramatic in 2019, but should there be a repeat of last season from someone else, you can be sure the fingers will be pointing at Tomlin.