Pretty much since the day he was hired, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has seemingly been known as much for his personality and his demeanor as much as anything else. He’s borne the label of ‘players’ coach’, both good and bad, for well over a decade. You can write a book about ‘Tomlinisms’, if there isn’t one already.
Some people love it. Some people hate it. But all can agree that he has a strong personality that sticks out, and is very much his own. He is frequently cited in player polls as the head coach many would most like to play for, as well.
One former player, wide receiver Nate Burleson, recently chose Tomlin as his all-time favorite coaching personality, recalling one conversation that he had with the Steelers head coach after he signed a contract with the Detroit Lions.
I picked Mike Tomlin just for the simple fact that he always says the right thing. Listen, I remember I was playing against the Steelers. There was a rain delay, there was thunder, so we’re sitting there, and I’m just walking around the stadium because I’m just a goofball. I run into Mike Tomlin, right by the Steelers’ locker room. He says, ‘what’s up, Nate? How you doing? You signed with Detroit, huh? How much they give you?’. And I was like, ‘well, they gave me X amount of dollars, X amount of years’, and he looked at me and said, ‘you’re good, but you ain’t that good’. And that was the funniest thing I heard, so I’m going with Mike Tomlin.
Burleson, a former second-round pick, had a couple of big years, with one 1000-yard season and two years with nine touchdown receptions. He finished his career with four years in Detroit, from 2010 to 2013. The Steelers did not play the Lions until 2013, but they did play Detroit in the preseason in 2010, so that must be when this conversation took place.
And it’s funny. And very, very Mike Tomlin. Frankly, I think even some of Tomlin’s biggest critics agree that he has a good personality—it’s just that they are annoyed in their feeling that he too often fails to back it up with what he accomplishes on the field.
In their own way, the Steelers have had strong personalities at head coach for a long time with Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll before him. Noll was more the quiet type, but ask anybody who played for him what they have to say.
But the bottom line is that they don’t hand out awards for winning personalities. Tomlin has one Lombardi, but that was back in 2008. Yes, it’s hard to win Super Bowls, but that’s the standard in Pittsburgh, so his personality had better be winning in 2020.