In early 2007, as the Steelers were looking to replace Bill Cowher, I was a huge proponent of Mike Tomlin. Hidden for years in Tampa because the organization refused to allow position coaches under contract to interview for coordinator jobs, Tomlin proved in one season as Minnesota’s defensive coordinator that he was ready to be great head coach.
And he has been, even if the Rooneys nearly hired Russ Grimm instead.
Per Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback, Tomlin was inducted earlier this month into the Hall of Fame at William & Mary, where he started at receiver for three years. And Tomlin gave a rather eye-opening glimpse into his mindset.
“One of the reasons I work in the National Football League — I’m tired of the NCAA rules,” he said. “I am a win-at-all-costs kind of guy. The NFL is just right for me, although I am not a bounty guy in any form or fashion. Any form or fashion. . . . What you’ve got to understand about the Pittsburgh Steelers is . . . I ain’t got to offer them anything. Guys like James Harrison — they’ll do it for nothing. The men I work with, I’m a blessed person.”
The easy message is that Tomlin has renounced paying defensive players to wreak havoc. The more subtle message is that Tomlin wants guys who’ll wreak havoc without an extra cash incentive.
“I’m tired of the NCAA rules.” It’s also clear that he’s tired of the NFL rules. Every gripe and complaint and piss and moan from Steelers players regarding the league’s rules for hitting offensive players naturally traces to the coaching staff — and ultimately to Tomlin. Last year, for example, safety Ryan Clark was celebrated in the film room for a hit that got him fined $40,000 by the league office.
The dynamic culminated in the powers-that-be on Park Avenue talking to Tomlin and owner Art Rooney, presumably about the trickle-down effect of the things the coaches say to players behind closed doors. As the NFL tries to make the game safer, Tomlin needs to realize that his “win-at-all-costs” mindset needs to be tempered by a genuine respect for whatever rules may apply.
Especially when those rules are aimed at allowing the men he works with to be blessed with long, healthy lives.