14 years on, as it turns out, Pittsburgh Steelers players still enjoy playing for Mike Tomlin as their heads coach. Having been labeled a ‘players coach’ during that entire time, nothing has changed in that regard. The label is still applied to him regularly, and it’s still true, even if it’s sometimes employed pejoratively.
Second-year inside linebacker Devin Bush was the latest to discuss Tomlin and what it’s like to play for him while he made his most recent appearance on the Rich Eisen Show—something that as a fellow Michigan alumnus is probably not going to be an uncommon occurrence.
“He’s just one of those really, really, really good leaders”, Bush said when asked to describe Tomlin and what it’s like to play for him. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in him. He’s not the kind of guy to just walk around and talk all day and say, ‘do this, do that’. He kind of leads by example first, and then he follows up with a lot of words and actions. So you have the utmost respect for him and you want to play for a guy like that”.
While there are certainly things that you can question about Tomlin—his uncertainty over how many players he was permitted to dress in Week One was hardly excusable—the same is true for every head coach, including Bill Belichick, who showed poor clock management at the end of the New England Patriots’ loss in week two.
One thing he is certainly capable of is motivating his players, which is something that we have seen time and time again. Granted, not everybody responds to it, but some people don’t seem to respond to any external source of motivation, like Antonio Brown. For guys like Bush, it means a lot to play for a head coach who clearly shows he cares.
And charges of being a hands-off coach have long been refuted, even if some try to have it both ways. When the defense was playing poorly, it was said that Tomlin took over the defense. But since the unit has turned things around, it’s odd how we don’t hear that as much anymore.
It is true that Tomlin’s teams have missed the postseason in the past two years. He has now been kept out of the playoffs five times in his first 13 seasons as head coach, having also previously been eliminated from contention in 2009 and 2012-13. Generally these absences have been tied to serious injuries, such as the losses of Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith in the second half of 2009, which precipitated a five-game losing streak in a year in which they still finished with a winning record.
So far, Tomlin has his Steelers 2-0 on the season and is looking to be 3-0 for the first time since 2010. They have one of the easiest records in the NFL, so if they don’t perform and make it into the postseason this year, perhaps there will be some pressure placed on him. But I don’t expect that to happen. Barring the unforeseen, such as catastrophic injuries, this team is too talented not to have a go at it.