With nearly a month under his belt as the new head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin had a meet-and-greet with members of the Pittsburgh print media, talking about a number of subjects. Here's what he had to say.
In the three weeks since he was named head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin has become an instant celebrity. But heís also been quite busy, breaking down film of the team, hiring coaches and learning the ins and outs of his new job. We caught up with him this week for a meet-and-greet with members of the print media in Pittsburgh. Hereís what he had to say:
Q: Mike, I read you have a photographic memory.
Tomlin: Youíve got to consider the source on that. I donít know where you got that from, but you know I tend to remember things as they pertain to ball, particularly plays. Thatís helped me throughout my career. If I see something generally once, thatís important to me, I can log it. Who told you that?
Q: I read it somewhere. I think youíd gone into your garage to check notes youíd made 10 years earlier that fit a situation, and the writer, or maybe one of your ex-players, said you have a photographic memory.
Tomlin: Yeah, I do tend to remember issues like that and remember the moment that it was important and I can go back and dig it out.
Q: But as far as remembering reporters and where they work?
Tomlin: No. It doesnít carry over to everything, just ball.
Q: Mike, have you talked to every player on the team and how many guys have you actually met face to face so far?
Tomlin: No, I havenít talked to every player on the team. Iím in the process of sorting through that. I met quite a few face to face. It is their down time, the part of year where they get away and regenerate, in terms of the game. So the guys that are around are the guys Iíve met with face to face. Other ones Iím contacting over the phone and just going about it that way at this point in time. Thereíll be enough time for me to sit down with everyone here when the time is right.
Q: Mike, did you see what Alan Faneca said? And are you concerned at all that there are some veterans who were a little disappointed that either Grimm or Whisenhunt didnít get the job?
Tomlin: Yeah, I did see what he said and no Iím not concerned about it whatsoever. Transitionís never easy, particularly at a place like this that has had great stability. Some organizations get quite used to change. This is not one of them, thankfully. So you donít expect it to be easy or comfortable for everyone, but not concerned about that at all. I think as they get to know me that those kinds of questions will quickly be laid to bed.
Q: If players are nervous about a new boss, can that be a good thing?
Tomlin: Some people motivate through fear. To me, fear is not a good long-term motivator. I think you motivate true professionals through teaching, so thatís my approach. Charismatic leadership or motivation, fear motivation, or teaching; I tend to focus on teaching.
Q: What about the veterans whoíve played longer or are even older? Do you have any fears that some of those guys might be out of reach?
Tomlin: None. Playing is playing; coaching is coaching. Itís quite obvious that you see the game differently from that standpoint. Mutual respect is required. Respect the experience that players have and gained through playing and coaches the same way.
Q: Do you have a plan in place to show the players exactly what your process is?
Tomlin: Iím not here to entertain them, or try to win them over immediately with glitz and glamour. Thatís short-lived. Iím going to be myself. Weíre going to get started about the business of putting together a great football team. Thatís just rolling your sleeves up and going to work on a day-to-day basis. Thatís what theyíre going to see from me. The things that they see from me Day One, once we get started on our off-season program, are the same things that theyíre going to see from me next January when weíre in the thick of things.
Q: Mike, what are you seeing on film?
Tomlin: I see a very talented team, of course, a team thatís physically and mentally tough. We have some standout players at various positions. Thereís a lot to be excited about.
Q: What do you think went wrong this past season?
Tomlin: Again, I hesitate to pass judgment on what happened in í06, first and foremost because not being here you donít know exactly what they were being asked to do, or what the circumstances of the situations were. I think thatís important. Iím looking back to gain information as I move forward. Iím not looking back to pass judgment on what happened here, nor do I care what happened here. My focus is the í07 Steelers, not the í06 Steelers.
Q: Can you tell us what you see, what would help you in moving forward?
Tomlin: Yeah. I like to evaluate players in terms of what theyíre capable of, from a potential standpoint. Seeing what they do well, seeing what they individually potentially struggle with fundamentally, and thatís why Iím looking at the tape, simply from that standpoint, to evaluate personnel, to see what they fundamentally do well, to see what they fundamentally struggle with, and, as we come together and put our plan together, build around the strengths of our men.
Q: Do you talk to the other coaches to help you evaluate personnel?
Tomlin: To be honest with you Iíve been quite hesitant to pass judgment on the men based on what Iím told, again because, number one, I was not here, and, number two, I think that itís only fair, when youíre starting off on a new relationship, that you build that relationship on the interactions between the two parties. Iím going to base my judgments and feelings about the men off of our relationship during the time that we spend together. Iím making a conscious effort not to pre-judge them in that regard because I think itís the right thing to do. One thing about this league, about this profession, itís obvious some people succeed in certain situations and fail in others and vice versa, so I think weíd be selling potential men short if we took some things for granted based on whatís happened in the past.
Q: How do you start since youíre coming in new? Are there starters in your mind? Do guys go in with any kind of status? Is everybody the same? Howís that going to work as you move forward?
Tomlin: Itís never cut and dried in that regard. There are certain things that are obvious. You have to use your common sense. Alan Faneca is a starter. You know, really Ö really. The big thing you have to be open to is you canít be close-minded in terms of potential change. Change is part of football. It doesnít matter whether Iím in year one or year 15 here. You have to have an open mind that roles change on any given team from year to year. Players emerge; players fade. Thatís part of football, so I have an ear to the ground in terms of expecting some things to change because they always will and they always do, but at the same time it does involve a little common sense and understanding that known commodities are known commodities.
Q: Mike, have you determined what positions need to be strengthened as you move forward into the draft and free agency?
Tomlin: Still in the process of that. Iím greedy. You know, Iíd like to strengthen all the positions, but at the same time Iím a realist. Itís not necessarily what positions need to be strengthened, itís about prioritizing what positions you want to focus on. Thatís what weíre in the process of doing. Itís sincerity when I say Iíd like to strengthen all positions, but you have to prioritize.
Q: Mike, did you know Dick LeBeau before you came here? And now that youíre here, what are your thoughts on working with him?
Tomlin: I knew of Dick LeBeau. I think that everybody in this business knows of Dick LeBeau. (I) had a great deal of respect for him, and as I start to work with him on a day-to-day basis heís exceeded my expectations in terms of what heís capable of. Heís an awesome coach. Heís a detail guy. Heís a humble guy. All he wants to do is win. Itís been refreshing. And not only him, but the entire defensive staff with (John) Mitch(ell) and Keith Butler and Ray (Horton) and Lou (Spanos). Itís been fun. Weíre in there every day hacking away at it, trying to find ways to get on and off the field.
Q: Do you need to determine, before the draft and free agency, the type of defense youíre going to run? And what type of outside linebacker or defensive end youíre going to be looking for?
Tomlin: No, we donít. The elite players defy scheme. They do. Troy Polamaluís going to be an excellent safety, regardless of what defensive scheme heís in. Casey Hamptonís going to be a dominant interior defensive lineman, regardless of what scheme heís in. So the elite players defy scheme. Weíre not going to get enamored with that. What weíre going to do is weíre going to continue to shape our package to do what our players do and do well. Itíll be a constant evolution, just like the players are constantly evolving.
Q: Mike, you wouldnít have to watch much film to see the quarterback was much different last year than he was the year before. How do you get that rectified? Was that one of the reasons why you changed the quarterbacks coach?
Tomlin: I changed the quarterbacks coach because I felt strongly about some of the things that Ken (Anderson) was able to bring to the table. His experience both as a player and as a coach is well-documented. I think he has a unique experience from that standpoint in that heís experienced just about everything that someone can experience from inside that helmet. I think that will help him in terms of building a quality relationship and mentoring Ben (Roethlisberger). In terms of what went wrong last year, again, a lot of times the quarterback position gets too much credit when things go well and gets too much blame when things donít go well. So Iím not enamored with that. Like everyone else I mentioned, Iím not going to judge Ben and what happened. I look forward to working with him. Iím more focused on the quality of his play in í07 than trying to get something rectified that I wasnít around on a day-to-day basis and donít know what the issues were.
Q: Mike, you said youíre not going to rush to judgment about watching film and what happened last year, does that make it more difficult heading into free agency and the draft?
Tomlin: No. I am sure what I have. I just said Iím not evaluating men by what I see on tape, in terms of what they were being asked to do, or passing judgment on them in that regard. What I am doing is looking at what they do well and what they donít do well fundamentally, and I get just as much information from that, or more information from that, than I do evaluating how they fit in a particular scheme. Iím just looking at the players, what they do well, and what they struggle with fundamentally, and basing our needs on that information.
Q: Considering the expectations, this canít be an easy position to step into. Are you feeling any pressure? Have you sensed any of it in the city yet?
Tomlin: I do, and I enjoy it. I do. If you donít like pressure, youíre in the wrong business. I thrive on it. Thatís how you know youíre alive. If you donít want to get out the bed and meet the challenges of the day, I donít know what you do for a living at a high level. Do you guys feel a little pressure when youíre competing at the highest level?
Q: Right here.
Tomlin: You know what I mean. I always laugh when people ask me that, because if youíre competing in any industry Ė if Iím in mortgage banking and Iím competing at the highest level in the international stage of mortgage banking, I would imagine thereís some pressure.
Q: Wouldnít it be easier to step into a 2-14 situation with young talent, a lot of high draft picks and a lot more money to spend in free agency?
Tomlin: Personally, Iíd rather step into this situation (laughs). Would you rather go to a newspaper with absolutely low expectations in terms of your performance or do you want to compete? I struggle to understand why someone would think I have an issue with expectation. Itís part of the business. You love it. Thatís what drives you. Thatís the competitor in all of us that do what we do. I welcome that.
Q: But thereís less margin for error here.
Q: If you were to implement new ideas here, you wonít be getting as much time for them to take place.
Tomlin: Great. Pour gasoline on the fire. Really. Really. Thatís what we do, man. Thatís what we do for a living. We compete, and youíd better have confidence in yourself and your ability to do the job if you expect your men to take the field with that kind of swagger. And I do.
Q: Youíre under the microscope more here than maybe almost any other coach in the world. Itís a high-profile position.
Tomlin: When you dream about getting your opportunity, and you lay awake at night dreaming about getting your head-coaching opportunity, thatís what you wish for. And if you donít get it initially, you hope you build a program that gets to that point where the expectations are sky high and youíre capable of competing for a world championship every single year. So whether or not you get it year one, or whether you build it six, seven years into the process, thatís what you lay awake dreaming about. It just so happens Iím getting an opportunity to be part of a team thatís capable of competing for world championships right now. Great.