Seeing as he is a former Los Angeles Ram, Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis was doing his rounds in the media leading up to Super Bowl LIII and you can bet he was going to be asked about the state of affairs of his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bettis was a guest on Boomer and Gio, a talk show hosted by former New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Boomer Esiason and it did not take long for him to be pressed on what he believes to be the problem with the Steelers. The former Steelers’ running back was asked by Esiason if he believes quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was given too much freedom by Mike Tomlin and Bettis’ answer could not have been more transparent.
“Absolutely, no doubt about it. I think that’s where it started and it just permeated through the entire locker room. When he first came in, he was on top of them, he didn’t know the players, he didn’t know who was going to be his guys. Once he started to draft guys and get his guys in there, he loosened up and I thought, he loosened up too much.”
The Steelers’ locker room problems have been well documented by now starting with members of the locker room airing publicly their feelings on the Le’Veon Bell contract dispute and now, the alleged feud with Roethlisberger and star receiver Antonio Brown. Brown’s antics towards the end of the season have put the Steelers in their darkest hour and Bettis goes on to say that he believes that Tomlin’s loose style was taken advantage of.
“They took advantage of it. His philosophy is I’m going to let these guys be men, I’m going to give them some space and I’m not going to stay on top of them like some other coaches do in the NFL and I think he got burned. He’s learned the hard way. I think that’s part of your first time as a coach, that philosophy, you have to find out you know what, its not working and I’ve got to reel these guys back in. I think that’s what he has to do now but that’s the hard part.”
Though many would believe the sky is falling in Pittsburgh, with some even believing that a possible trade of Brown would lead the closure of the team’s championship window, Bettis believes it is not too late for Tomlin to steer the ship.
“It’s not too late. Because what happens is if you don’t do it now, the younger players, the James Conners of the world, these guys are going to say well if you are going to allow these guys to continue doing that then that’s the way I’m going to develop my thought pattern. I’m going to become this player instead of saying I’m going to go down the straight line. I think he has to change it now because if he wants to have any chance of keeping this team in tact, he’s got to do it.”
While the Brown situation is seemingly more complicated than just being a phone call away from being fixed, Bettis offers valid points in his analysis. While the Brown situation may never be amended, Tomlin must re-spray his boundary lines to set an example for tomorrow’s generation of Steelers – a generation that many are hoping can remove the off-field drama from the team’s environment.
Drama has not only been hurtful to the team but also to former players like Bettis, who has witnessed the off-field drama destroy the standard that he once helped maintain.
“Its frustrating because we set a standard that we saw from the guys before us. We said we have to maintain the standard and we’re the stewards of the standard. We’re passing the standard on and to see that standard be eroded, that’s the hurtful part of it,” says Bettis.
A portion of Bettis’ interview with Boomer and Gio can be viewed here.