If you’ve been a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a while then you already know what to expect when Head Coach Mike Tomlin addresses the media, especially when it comes to post-practice sessions in the spring. That is, he isn’t going to offer much, and even when presented with the opportunity to offer an opinion—unlike many other coaches—he turns it down and says he’s not at that stage yet.
There is some truth to what he says, and perhaps even some value in declining to put gut-reaction opinions on tape from a rookie minicamp session, but there is obviously more that he could say that he chooses not to.
Tomlin has over the years learned to expertly handle the media in terms of avoiding the divulging of meaningful information that is of no benefit to the team’s efforts. But he has also become adept at using his platform in front of the microphones to speak indirectly to his players, and that is something that he did yesterday in his brief discussion with the media.
One reporter asked the veteran head coach if he tries to keep an open mind about the players who are in camp one a tryout basis, to which the obvious response was, “always do”. Of course, the Steelers signed no fewer than four players from among the tryouts to the 90-man roster last year, so it goes without saying that he keeps an open mind.
Sensing the obtuseness of the question, the reporter followed up by asking if he conveys that sort of message to the players. And Tomlin seemed to take that opportunity to send another message of his own.
“I’ve stated it”, he said regarding whether or not he conveys the message to the tryout players that they are being given a sincere chance of making the team, “but whether or not they believe me is up to them”.
Now, I’ve been listening to these little Tomlin segments for many years now, and I don’t recall him ever taking this specific approach. He followed up that comment by relaying an observation, that “oftentimes whether or not they believe me has a direct impact on how they perform”.
It goes without saying that here he is trying to reinforce the message to his players that they are not just bodies. They are being brought in with the good-faith belief that they have the capacity to earn a spot on the 90-man roster, and from there, who knows. Look at the career Terence Garvin carved out.
“I’m wishing them the best”, Tomlin said. “It is a legitimate opportunity, but they have to believe it”.
If you’re given an opportunity that you do not sincerely believe is a legitimate one—for example, a token interview, perhaps—you are likely to give something less than your maximum effort to that effect. The only way to assure that he gets the most out of his players is to assure that them giving their most can lead them to greater opportunities ahead.