One of the most beautiful things in Pittsburgh right now is the love between the local professional football team’s head coach and his players. This season more than ever—acknowledging the reality of recency bias here—it seems that the Pittsburgh Steelers are exemplifying a real love of the game, and fort the camaraderie that comes along with it.
That was never more evident than in Joe Haden’s gushing praise of Mike Tomlin after the game, when asked to talk about what his head coach does that makes him so good. “He definitely always has the ‘next man up’ mentality, but he practices what he preaches”, he said.
“He always says he doesn’t have backup players, he has starters in waiting, and I really feel like he feels that way. When he bumps guys up, he expects them to produce the same way the other guys did. They’re just held to a high standard on this team.
Those ‘starters’ in waiting in this game alone included Devlin Hodges, B.J. Finney, Benny Snell, Tyson Alualu, and, really, take your pick for whatever wide receiver you’d like to single out. JuJu Smith-Schuster was out, and Donte Moncrief is long gone.
“He gives us great nuggets, gives us great film study. He meets with the DBs and the linebackers twice a week”, Haden mentioned. “That’s something I’ve never done with any other head coach, just telling you what the gameplan is, what you’ve got going on, so he’s just very, very, very hands-on with everything with the team. I appreciate him”.
Haden and Tomlin have had a bond for a number of years, even while he was with the Cleveland Browns. They met twice every year, of course, but there was always a mutual respect. The opportunity to play for Tomlin was one of the things that attracted him to Pittsburgh when Cleveland released him in August of 2017, and he ended up signing by the end of that same day.
“You wouldn’t tune out Coach T because he’s giving you great knowledge, great information, and the one thing you want from your coach, he’s bluntly honest with you”, he went on. “He’ll let you know where you stand, if you’re making the plays, if you’re not. If he’s going to go shopping for another guy. Just his transparency, and then, he really believes in us and he feels like we can do it until we show him otherwise. I just, I love him”.
In a season with no Ben Roethlisberger, no Antonio Brown, and no Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers have now more than ever in the past decade and a have been relying upon the resolve and planning of the coaching staff, and some of those have required radical mid-stream adjustments.
All things considered, and especially in light of the murderer’s row that they opened the season with—four of their first five games came against the top teams in the NFL—that they’re sitting here at 7-5 and with a very real shot of making it to the postseason with a quarterback who didn’t even make their initial practice squad is really something, and says a lot about the man who steers the ship.