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Checking In With Mike Tomlin

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It’s been awhile since we checked in on Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin‘s weekly time-waster press conference. While I admit quoting some of the preposterous stuff that comes out of Coach T’s mouth brings me great joy, I must also admit it’s hard to argue with the job he’s done these past few weeks. Sure, he has two excellent coordinators in Dick LeBeau and Todd Haley (yeah, I said it) but the final calls rest with him. If I’m going to give him the criticism when the team sucks, I gotta give him credit when they win.

Coaches coach and players play is a cliche albeit an accurate one but a hallmark of good coaching is putting players – and teams – in position to succeed. While our coordinators have great leeway in their jobs, I doubt any major decisions are made without Tomlin’s approval. Rookie Martavis Bryant playing ahead of free agent pick-ups like Lance Moore or Cortez Allen relegated to watching from the sidelines are two of the biggest reasons for the team’s sudden resurgence. It’d be foolish to think Tomlin had no say in those moves. Likewise, I gotta give him a ton of credit for learning from prior mistakes and going for a kill shot TD to ice each of the team’s past two victories.  

So with this praise in mind, there were two exchanges in this week’s press conference that were classic Tomlin.

First, addressing the 108 kickoff return TD which gave a brief glimmer of hope to the Baltimore Ravens: “We gave up a 108-yard kickoff return, which quite frankly was ridiculous. Guys dancing around and so forth before the ball is kicked and then getting one run back on them is unacceptable.”

I did not see said dancing but the fact it pissed Tomlin off give me hope that Mr. Players Coach may suddenly be realizing a firmer hand is needed with a lot of these guys. “You won’t see our kickoff team dancing anymore moving forward before we kick the ball off.” he added. It’ll be interesting to see if that holds true as Tomlin has made similar tough statements before and – other than the memorable incident where he kept benching guys for fumbling until he literally ran through every back on the roster – he’s nearly never followed through with consequences.

Anyway, if the Fabulous Dancing Kickoff Unit don’t get their act together, Tomlin can always employ his patented Tomlin Two-Step return disruption strategy that worked so well last year.

The headline coming out of the press conference, though, was Coach T’s worry that after two huge wins over potential playoff teams, the Steelers will look past the hapless 1-8 New York Jets. Speaking to that subject, he talked at length about how his team has to maintain their focus and intensity no matter the opponent. Which led to this, frankly, pretty cool line:

“There are no homecoming games. There are no I-AA opponents, if you will, in the NFL.”

We already have one football team in this town with a knack for losing to I-AA teams (I’m looking at you, Pitt Panthers), we certainly don’t need another. It’s nice that Tomlin at long last recognizes his team’s penchant for losing to teams they have no business losing to. What would be even nicer, though, is if he could find some way to steer his team out of that season-sabotaging habit. Perhaps that bit in the presser was his initial stab at providing his team with motivation for Sunday.

Let’s hope whatever other buttons he pushes, one of them is the ignition switch.