Alejandro Villanueva has been a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers since head coach Mike Tomlin decided to bring him onto the practice squad in September of 2014. In the years prior to that, he was an active-duty Army Ranger, a decorated war veteran who both led and experienced leadership in literal situations of life and death.
Leadership has come to be a quality toward which the 6’9” franchise left tackle gravitates, and he has always seen Tomlin as that sort of leader, something that he has mentioned in a number of interviews. But even though this is the Steelers’ worst season since he has been here, he is seeing a new side of Tomlin’s leadership that has impressed him.
“Since I’ve been here, this is the best of Mike Tomlin”, he told Brooke Pryor of ESPN. “From a leadership standpoint, from an ability to motivate his players and to get the best out of the current circumstances. Awesome”.
After all, he has his team 4-2 with games started by players who had never started a game—or hardly ever even thrown a pass—prior to their first career start. That was because their franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, was lost for the season following the first two games, both of which they lost, to the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, who had three losses combined at the halfway point.
“I’m sure that he’s going to look back at this year and look fondly at some of the lessons that we’ve all learned because obviously it’s been a different season”, Villanueva said. “It’s one that we all are struggling to write and hopefully finish on a good note”.
I can safely guarantee you that that is not what Tomlin is thinking right now, though. He is just thinking about how to beat the Los Angeles Rams and get over the .500 mark, a spot at which they have not been at any point this season. Doing so would help them climb their way into the playoff discussion after missing the postseason in 2018 for the first time since before Villanueva was here.
“He’s had to step up in a big way to control the narratives that are going around a locker room to make sure that everybody is singularly focused on the task”, he added. “That is a very, very difficult job. Not just because of the events that have happened, but just the fact that you’re seeing the Steelers logo on television 24/7”.
It’s easier to say when you’re riding a three-game winning streak, of course. One’s leadership is almost always ultimately judged by their win-loss record. Right now it’s .500. Where will they finish, and will that include a postseason appearance?