There is a Mariana Trench size disconnect from coaches and fans. For a variety of reasons. But recent events heighten one in particular.
Fans get to be the pessimists. Coaches are ever-optimistic. And it is what’s keeping this Pittsburgh Steelers’ team afloat.
Mike Tomlin has preached “next man up” and the famous “the standard is the standard” line we sometimes like to poke fun of. It’s a concept that virtually any coach will openly preach. Not as many walk the walk.
Tomlin isn’t walking. He’s sprinting.
Landry Jones in the game? Attempt a two-point conversion.
It is admittedly a bizarre call we’d all be bashing had the game not worked out in the Steelers’ favor. But it’s the beat Tomlin marches to. If you call it with Ben Roethlisberger, you call it with Jones. That’s the philosophy.
It’s that consistent message, backed up by his actions, that has this team – his team – buying in. Buying in when they lose their Pro Bowl center. When they lose their inside linebacker, a starting corner, change safeties, then lose that safety. Most importantly, when the franchise quarterback goes down.
Internally, I bet it keeps Tomlin up at night. Externally, he’s a cool customer. The players feel it, respect it, embrace it. It doesn’t always work out, see the failed two-point conversion or the Baltimore Ravens’ debacle, but the coaches have the upmost faith in their roster. And the players perform like it.
It begins with stability. From ownership, to head coach, to coordinators, to position coaches. The turnover is kept to a minimum. The message doesn’t change. When there’s no stability, no belief, it’s easy – probable – for a group to crumble through adversity. But when there is that belief system, that’s enacted on every week, it’s possible to rise up and somehow, as improbable as it seems, to overcome it. Being a head coach transcends X’s and O’s or being an offensive/defensive guy. It’s leading the charge. Or holding the fort together.
Look at the Miami Dolphins. Instability in ownership and a wishy-washy head coach destroyed that locker room. There was reportedly universal dislike for defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, and the on-field results showed it. It’s how you get spanked by the Buffalo Bills 41-14 and embarrassed in London to the New York Jets. There was no system to by into. 53 individual players. Not a team. There’s a difference, and you don’t have to search hard to find it.
There is at least one common thread between coaches, players, and fans. This might be the most emotional, non-playoff three week stretch this regime has ever encountered. The heart-breaking loss of the Ravens, the equally thrilling win over the San Diego Chargers, and today’s magical victory over the Arizona Cardinals. This team has stayed afloat, battled, and as Tomlin indicated during his press conference, done enough to get out of stadiums with W’s.
You can’t win games with just belief.
But it’s hard to win without.