Something of a conspiracy theory has emerged over the course of the past year. According to the theory, Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin has become the team’s operating defensive coordinator, usurping Keith Butler from that role in all but name and nominal duties.
Tomlin is said to not only run the meetings during the week, but to even call the plays on Sundays. This has all been sourced from marginal comments from beat writers that have been taken to absurd proportions, even though we have never heard such comments directly from any coach or player.
Cornerback Joe Haden, however, seemingly offered the first confirmation about how hands-on Tomlin, a former defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator, has come to be during his two seasons in Pittsburgh.
“He’s very hands-on with us”, the veteran said of Tomlin. “I know him and Coach Buts, they talk all the time, and he does meetings with us with just the DBs and some of the linebackers, where he lets us know why we run what we’re running. He’s very, very, very influential, and he’s very into what’s going on in the secondary and letting us know what we got”.
This is a far cry from what some conspiracy theorists would have you believe. Some have even gone so far as to ‘let Butler off the hook’ for the defense’s poor play—when they do play poorly—because it’s now Tomlin’s fault because he is running the show.
Of course the reality is that most head coaches will dip their toes in the pools of their coordinators. The vast majority of them will have come from a coordinator’s background at some point in their past anyway, and as position coaches before that. It’s not as though they don’t know the job.
Nor is it as though they are required to delegate every responsibility imaginable and simply sit in a chair all week doing nothing but telling others what to do. Head coaches are coaches. They coach. It’s in the title. They are going to be involved in meetings. They will even run some meetings, and call some plays.
That is what Tomlin is doing, has been doing, and will continue to do. That is the prerogative of every head coach in the league, at least those who are in good standing with their employers.
Part of the reason that this theory has been able to capture the attention of so many is because of how deferential he was for so long with Dick LeBeau because of both his esteem and his tangible success. Tomlin came from a 4-3 background, but preserved LeBeau’s successful 3-4 scheme and pretty much left him to run it.
He had, after all, more than proven that he knew how to run a defense. Butler had not. So it’s not exactly surprising that he would be more involved in some of the finer nuances of defensive play now than he was five years ago. That doesn’t mean he’s running the entire unit, though.