Steelers' Tomlin doing it his way, and some other guys' ways, too
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers quickly learned new coach Mike Tomlin was intent on doing it his way.
The routine changed, the time devoted to special teams increased, the pads went on a little more frequently during training camp and a time clock was wheeled onto the practice field. It didn't take the Steelers long to realize changes from the structure under former coach Bill Cowher.
That didn't concern Tomlin, who, despite the Steelers' unqualified success during Cowher's 15 seasons as coach, said, "I'm not much for tradition."
"Any time you have a new coach and he's going to change the schedule, even the smallest things, whether it's the special teams period or the individual period ... when you're used to one thing, it seems like a big deal," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
But one quality Tomlin didn't bring with him to Pittsburgh following six seasons as an NFL assistant was a my-way-or-no-way mind-set, and it's been apparent since the season started last month.
Certainly, he wants practices and the daily routine to be run uniformly and correctly, but he also realized there was enough talent in the coaches' offices and the locker rooms that it didn't have to be all about Mike.
Tomlin didn't discard the 3-4 defense the Steelers have played for 25 years to install the 4-3, the only defense he's coached in the NFL. He also hasn't taken a large pair of scissors to the weekly game plans of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
Some Steelers players said, in the past, they would occasionally work all week emphasizing a scheme or wrinkle for a particular opponent, only to have Cowher pare it down or discard it on game day.
Tomlin's background, along with Cowher's, is in defense, yet LeBeau has never had a bigger say in what the Steelers do on Sundays. That includes this Sunday, when the Steelers (3-1) and Seattle Seahawks (3-1) play for the first time since Pittsburgh's 21-10 victory in the February 2006 Super Bowl.
"I was not interested in fixing something that wasn't broken," Tomlin said. "I know that sounds cliche, but it's common sense. You'd be surprised at the number of people that get into situations and they want to put their stamp on something or they want to show they're in charge. I'm just interested in winning."
The Steelers defensive players look forward to each Wednesday to see what LeBeau, himself a one-time NFL star defensive back, has schemed up for the week. No doubt their loyalty to LeBeau was quickly grasped by Tomlin.
"Dick LeBeau has been in the league as a player and coach for 49 years," Tomlin said, suggesting it would be silly for him to not rely on someone so experienced and accomplished. "It's been quality time. It's unique. It's awesome."
The 35-year-old Tomlin also allowed Arians to design and label the offense the way he wants -- with input from Roethlisberger.
If the quarterback doesn't like a play call, a pass route or even a play's name, Arians explained, it is less likely to work.
"If he doesn't like it, it's out," Arians said. "You might think it's good, but it's not any good if the quarterback doesn't think it's good."
What if a coordinator or a player doesn't like a play that's being forced upon them by a head coach intent on proving he's the boss?
"When you have good veteran players that have some continuity, you have a chance to be very good," Tomlin said.
The Steelers were very good over their first three games, beating the Browns, Bills and 49ers by big margins. They looked less poised and confident in losing to Arizona 21-14 last week, not that it changed any of his players' opinions about Tomlin, who joked that he really did expect to lose in the NFL some day.
"People have really taken a liking to coach Tomlin," Roethlisberger said.