Mike Tomlin is known as a players’ coach. That label can be misused to the point that Tomlin doesn’t like the term. To the outside, a players’ coach might sound like a guy who is buddy-buddy with everyone. Tomlin’s age and personality gave plenty of credence to that. But in that locker room, guys play hard for him because of his honesty. Sometimes, his brutal honesty.
Speaking with Michael Irvin on Irvin’s podcast, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster gave an example of that. During one meeting, Tomlin called out one player to step up or step out.
“He’s a real coach,” Smith-Schuster told Irvin. “He tells it how it is. One meeting, he said, ‘Yo, you’re going to lose your job if you don’t get right.’ [He said that] in front of all of us. He not throwing no shade. He just tells it how it is as a grown man. He said that to our punter. Next thing you know, our punter was gone the next week. But he came back the following week. I was just like, damn, he don’t play around. That’s just how he is. It’s a grown man business. That’s how I knew he was real.”
Smith-Schuster doesn’t specify when this was or who he is talking about. Considering Jordan Berry had been the team’s punter from 2016 to 2019, you can assume he’s talking about 2020. And presumably, he’s referencing Berry, though the details don’t quite match. The Steelers cut Berry right before the start of the season, but brought him back a few weeks later after Dustin Colquitt failed to secure the job.
Regardless of details, Smith-Schuster’s making the point that Tomlin lets you know exactly where you stand. Good, bad, otherwise, he’s not one to tell a guy he’s doing great and then cut him the next week. It’s an honesty players don’t get from every coach. And it’s a big reason why Tomlin has garnered so much respect in that locker room and why he’s never lost the “buy-in” from the players even during difficult situations and seasons.
The experiences of many players, past and present, reflect Smith-Schuster’s story about Tomlin. And it shows why Tomlin is the third-longest tenured head coach in the NFL, trailing only Bill Belichick and Sean Payton.