It’s become an all too obvious and frequent occurrence that the biggest stories coming out of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room in recent years have had less to do with football and more with interpersonal drama. Many, many people from all avenues are placing this issue at the feet of Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
According to 10th-year veteran Ramon Foster, who has spent more time with him on the roster than anybody short of Ben Roethlisberger, believes it’s just the opposite, suggesting to Jacob Klinger that things could actually be much worse if it were not for Tomlin’s managerial skills.
This take is going to go over worse than an argument in favor of making Roger Goodell the permanent commissioner, but Foster has consistently been one of the most thoughtful and well-spoken locker room ambassadors over the years, so I think it’s worth hearing him out.
“I don’t think they understand the ins and outs of this job, how to handle the people in this place”, he told Klinger in the aftermath of the season’s conclusion and the saga of Antonio Brown’s disappearance. “I don’t know if any other coach could do that. I’m being completely honest”.
Tomlin, routinely regarded as one of the ‘player’s coaches’ in the NFL, has coached the team for 12 seasons, bringing them to the postseason eight times. They have reached the Super Bowl twice, winning once, and played in the playoffs for four straight years before narrowly missing in 2018 with a 9-6-1 record.
“I don’t want to say unfairly because he’s compensated properly”, the veteran lineman said of how Tomlin is treated and what it takes to endure it. But he also made it clear that he feels his head coach is asked to weather storms that are not of his making by outside forces
“You know? That’s the first thing they’re gonna say. ‘Well hell, we do this, we pay your salary, we do this’. It’s — you guys are around”, he said to the media present. “I know I got to say it in order for you guys to throw it out there, but I’m not gonna say it. You guys know how it goes. You guys know”.
There is a lot there Foster is saying by not saying it. Anybody who has followed the team in recent years should understand what he’s driving at. But he did expand his thoughts a bit more.
“You understand the underlining of everything that goes on”, he said. “And that — he is one of the best at managing it. And sometimes the ropes get pulled a little bit farther”.
So is it possible that there is something to what Foster says? Is Tomlin actually a good manager of the team’s situation—that most any other coach would see similar situations spiral even further out of control? Are the personalities in the locker room really so toxic that they can erode in spite of Tomlin’s efforts? I would expect that the truth is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.