The Pittsburgh Steelers had about as unusual a season as they have had in many years in 2019. Due to a variety of circumstances, the team experienced major ups and major downs all in the course of a single 16-game season. And frankly, it started before that, and has continued after.
Even though the team ultimately fell well short of its goals—going 8-8 on the year and missing the postseason, for the second consecutive year—many still credit the unit for getting as far as it did. That argument is made harder because of how they fell in the final three games, even though they were playing teams on hot streaks.
When assigning credit for a job well done, those inside, from the locker room to the front office, have consistently pointed the finger at head coach Mike Tomlin. They say it all goes back to him and how he has been able to hold the team together through absurdly trying circumstances—even through death.
One of Tomlin’s biggest advocates over the course of the past half-decade has been left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. A former Army Ranger who has since pursued a business degree after capitalizing on what was perhaps his final opportunity in the NFL, he has seen in Tomlin leadership qualities that far transcend a game.
“The Steeler culture, in my opinion, is how to do it as a leader, and, for me, I’d be Coach Tomlin”, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “If I could go back to the real army, if I went to the corporate world, I would want to be him. He understands how to maximize everyone’s potential and creates an environment where you win at life. You don’t win at football; you win at life”.
Teaching his men how to ‘win at life’ is in a sense what Tomlin has been trying to do all along. What he teaches players, outside of scheme and technique, isn’t about just playing a game, but about how to live your life as well.
And any account that you have heard about how he interacts with his players will inevitably consist of descriptions of conversations running the gamut of human experience. Whether it’s a bit of fatherly advice or something entirely different, he has always striven to get the most out of his players, and for them to get the most out of themselves, their opportunities, and their lives.
That’s why Tomlin was honored at the Dapper Dan Awards, and that’s why people were being interviewed about him. His leadership skills have long been acknowledged, but never so formally recognized as this. He may not win the coach of the year award, but those around the team know the instructor he is.