When it comes to success within a team structure, there are obvious elements that you can talk about like talent and experience that contribute to doing well. Then there are other, more intangible qualities that are hard to define, or to identify how they build toward that success—or if they even do that.
Good teams who are winning, of course, will be inclined to say that their culture helps contribute to their ability to win. But as defensive lineman Cameron Heyward was asked earlier today, does the ‘vibe’ lead to winning, or does the winning lead to the vibe? They say that winning cures all, and it’s easy to stick together through the good times.
“When you talk about winning leads to a vibe or a vibe leading to winning, I think it’s a little bit of both”, Heyward said. “I think winning creates the culture, but the culture has to keep building on that. You can’t just rest on winning one game and say you’ve done the job. It takes a good group of guys to stay humble and consistent and understand that the job’s not done”.
To the team’s credit, and to head coach Mike Tomlin’s, I do think the fact that he has never had a losing season does speak to the idea that culture matters. There have been times when the team could fall apart, but he has rallied them to success. In 2013, they lost their first four games. He made some changes, including installing Heyward in the starting lineup, and they were able to crawl back up to an 8-4 finish over the final 12 games.
Or you could just look at last season. They started out 0-3, and then 1-4, having lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season. They could have easily caved in, but they continued to forge on, even starting an undrafted rookie quarterback for six games, and managed to finish 8-8.
Granted, they haven’t finished strong every year (thinking of the 2018 season, particularly the frustrating loss to the New Orleans Saints thanks to some late-game fumbles), but more often than not, Tomlin has his teams as one of the brightest in November and December play.
This is a team that always has its eyes on the postseason and with the goal in mind of getting better over the course of the year, improving week in and week out. They spend more time on the plays that they miss and what they aren’t doing well then on what is working.
Everyone and their grandmother has this and that as a complaint about how Tomlin or some other coach or player is doing their job, but at the end of the day, there aren’t many teams who have been better than the Steelers over the course of whatever time period you want to set up going back half a century, and it’s hard not to want to attribute that at least in part to a consistent culture put in place by the Rooney family and in whom they have entrusted to run their coaching staff and front office.