The Mike Tomlin interview that he did recently on the Pivot Podcast hosted by former NFL players Ryan Clark, Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor sure was a treasure trove of information and personality by the normally evasive Steelers head coach, right?
Maybe it was because Tomlin is now good friends with Clark, his former player. Maybe it was because Tomlin hosted the podcast team in his very own home. Maybe it was because Tomlin and the guys were drinking Happy Dad, a hard seltzer that is apparently good enough for alpha head coaches and former football players, but Tomlin sure did let his hair down during this interview.
There were a ton of interesting nuggets and insights unearthed in this 90-minute treat, some of which I may touch on in future articles (training camp is still three weeks away), but I want to use this space to focus on one particular nugget from the Tomlin chat: The way the Steelers apparently still do business.
Fans have always had this vision of the Steelers as being an organization that is very accessible from an ownership standpoint. Growing up, I’d hear stories of how one could walk right into the team’s headquarters at old Three Rivers Stadium and find the Chief, Art Rooney, holding the door open for them. He’d ask you about your family. He’d treat you like you were one of his best friends. As for the business side of things, it has been reported that, during Joe Greene’s rookie holdout in 1969, the Chief, after growing tired of the stalemate, said to those doing the negotiating, “Just give it to him.” The same kind of approach, both from a personal and business standpoint, was adopted by Dan Rooney, Art’s son and successor as both team president and then majority owner. Sure, Dan was a little more corporate than his father, but he still loved to roll up his sleeves and go to work. He still had that folksy personality. He still had the same human touch as his legendary and loveable dad.
You don’t often hear the same things being said about Art Rooney II, Dan’s son, the Chief’s grandson, and the man who took over as team president starting in 2003. From what one could glean by reading articles and listening to Steelers insiders over the past two decades, Art II seems more corporate and less folksy. He is more “suit” and less “roll up his sleeves and go to work.” He is less “Come on in” and more “Let me check my schedule.”
We got to know Art II a little better as he became more visible and vocal over the years. He conducted press conferences with the media. He did interviews. He was on the stage with his dad accepting the Steelers' fifth and sixth Lombardi trophies.
But how would things be once Rooney really took the reins as the team’s majority owner, which he did following his father’s passing in 2017?
It’s hard to say how Art II is when it comes to interpersonal relationships, but he’s apparently very accessible to the people that work for him, including Tomlin. Just like his grandfather and father, all one has to do is go right down the hall to ask him a question.
During his Pivot Podcast interview, this is how Tomlin said he approached Rooney about hiring Brian Flores, a man who was in search of a head coaching job and had just filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the entire NFL.
“He was like, ‘Great,’ said Tomlin of Rooney’s reaction after popping in his office and explaining to him that he suddenly had an opportunity to add this talented coach to his staff. “That’s the extent of the conversation. I told Flo, give me 24 hours. But I think I called them back, like, 45 minutes later. I didn’t want to miss. I didn’t have a coordinator job available. I thought somebody else might have something more attractive, so I wanted to move with a certain swiftness. Forget his title, what’s on the business card. Football coach – with us.”
It seems so informal. You just walk down the hall and ask your billionaire boss if you can hire someone, and he says, “Great,” and nothing more needs to happen. There’s no real concern about Flores’ title or the fact that he’s set to engage in an ugly court battle with the NFL—including with the man who will now be signing his paychecks.
Channing Crowder, in particular, seemed amazed that this was how Tomlin was able to approach his boss about hiring someone. Evidently, this ownership/coach dynamic isn’t the norm for most NFL franchises.
I don’t know if we’ll ever hear stories about Art II joking and paling around with players decades younger than him. I don’t know if he’ll ever grow into the same loveable figure that his grandfather and father were (he is about to turn 70, however, so he is approaching the age where those things start to happen), but it’s nice to know that one can still pop into his office and do business the old Steeler Way.