One of the interesting, and at times frustrating qualities that Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin possesses is that, in spite of the fact that he is a very learned and erudite individual, he also puts a lot of value on the idea of intangibles, drive, will, and things that generally can’t be taught.
Apparently, this was something that was instilled into him at his very first stop on the coaching circuit a quarter of a century ago when he worked with the wide receivers at the Virginia Military Institute in 1995, a story that he relayed to Jeremy Fowler recently for ESPN.
“I thought I had pretty good football intellect. I was excited about being able to relate it to people”, he told the ESPN reporter. “I learned very quickly it was less about that and more about me learning the vocation, the minutiae, the drudgery”.
A dozen years later, he would have cycled through the college circuit, broken in at the positional level with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and had a successful season at defensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings to prepare himself for his first head coaching job, in Pittsburgh, in 2007. It’s a post he’s held on to since then as he heads into his 13th year on the job.
And he’ll no doubt credit that to the many lessons he has learned along the way from many different sources, but one that stuck with him from his first coaching opportunity all those years ago is summed up in a phrase that he shared: “we’re coaching it or we’re allowing it to happen”.
“Forget your capabilities”, he would explain. “It’s about what you’re willing to do. I apply that to my coaching. I also apply that to my teaching. The same applies to the playing of the game. Talents are less important than what they are willing to do to help us pursue what we’re pursuing”.
So far through his 12 seasons with the Steelers, he has only successfully achieved what he is pursuing once, in his second season, when his team hoisted the Lombardi Trophy following the 2008 season. Tomlin’s squad returned to the title game two years later but fell short to the Green Bay Packers. Since then, they have only reached the AFC Championship Game once, in 2016, and were handled by the New England Patriots.
Now the Steelers are coming off a 9-6-1 and their first non-playoff season since 2013, ending a four-year run that rivaled the best in the NFL. They were poised to make a mark wit ha 7-2-1 record with six games to go before faltering, stunningly, to a 2-4 finish as the Baltimore Ravens rocketed to the top of the division with a 6-1 finish to their own season.
What are Tomlin and the Steelers willing to do this season to ensure that they don’t suffer a similar collapse? Historically, especially in the second half of his coaching career, his teams have actually been stronger toward the end of the season. Will he will his team to both start strong and finish strong?