Tomlin's technique a welcome change
By John Harris
Monday, September 3, 2007
Just so you know, the Mike Tomlin Kool-Aid goes down nice and smooth. Tastes just right, with no bitter aftertaste.
Since he became the Steelers' 16th head coach Jan. 22, Tomlin's picture has been on Page 1 of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review more times than George W. Bush's.
And the Trib continues to write up Tomlin daily in the sports section as if advertisers pay $100,000 each time his name appears. In Pittsburgh proper, all is right with Tomlin.
If only things would always be so perfect.
Since we don't know if Tomlin will be a successful NFL coach -- he's never been a head coach at any level -- let's talk about a couple of things that we do know.
Point One: Tomlin's a stickler for details. He focuses on doing the "little things" until his players get it right.
Over and over and over again.
Take special teams.
Tomlin values special teams just as much as he values the importance of offense and defense.
While Tomlin isn't comparing punter Daniel Sepulveda's hang-time with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's ability to read defenses, he's never wavered from his original stance in his very first group interview with local reporters that special teams are indeed special.
Tomlin devoted at least one-third of his first training camp to special teams, which is only fitting.
The first personnel move he made based off game action was signing long-snapper Jared Retkofsky after Jeff Reed's extra-point attempt was blocked against Green Bay.
Retofsky was brought in to "push" incumbent Greg Warren, who snapped the ball adequately on the blocked PAT, but may not have moved quickly enough to his left to impede an onrushing Green Bay lineman.
Since Retofsky was released before the final exhibition game against Carolina, it's safe to assume Warren was never in danger of losing his job.
That isn't to say Tomlin is giving lip-service to special teams.
Asked about some of the Steelers' special-team errors in the fourth exhibition game against Philadelphia -- a shanked punt, along with a fumbled punt -- Tomlin said to imagine what the performance of his special teams would be like without so much practice time.
Gotta like that moxie.
Point two: Tomlin is a "player's coach."
All of which means that even though Tomlin didn't play in the NFL, he still understands what buttons to push on each player.
Consider the relationship between Tomlin and cornerback Ike Taylor.
Taylor is your prototype shutdown corner who struggled at times last season. Former coach Bill Cowher saw fit to sit Taylor, a starter on the Super Bowl XL championship team, without so much as an explanation to the player.
Despite Taylor not playing a single game for him, Tomlin publicly praised Taylor from the moment he took the job and freely mentioned Taylor and the Pro Bowl in the same sentence.
During training camp, Taylor confidently re-established himself as the No. 1 left cornerback, as well as the best cornerback on the team.
What his players seem to like best about Tomlin is that he doesn't try to act like a head coach -- gruff, omnipotent, above-it-all.
"He's the head coach, and we are players. But he doesn't put himself on a pedestal," Taylor said. "He puts himself like 'We're all human, we're all grown men regardless of if I'm the head coach. We all make mistakes.' It's hard getting that from a guy at that level."
It is also Tomlin who commissioned new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to open up the offense -- or at least give the appearance of opening up the offense.
But it's also Tomlin, who at the ripe/wise old age of 35, understands full well that you can know your Xs from your Os, but that you must physically whip the other team.
Hence, Tomlin's Steelers had more physical practices in training camp than they did under Cowher.
Yet, I never once recalled Tomlin raising his voice in four weeks at St. Vincent College.
At this point, Tomlin can do no wrong.
He hasn't lost a game, or made a bad coaching decision or a poor personnel move.
In fact, things are going so good, he should retire right now while he's ahead. (Just kidding.)