Like any good coach, Mike Tomlin is who he needs to be. Sometimes that means an arm around your shoulder. Sometimes that means a kick in the butt. And for some players, that means being a father figure, especially to those who don’t actually have one in their life.
In an interview last week with Ike Taylor and Mark Bergin on the Bleav In Steelers podcast, Tomlin discussed how what he’s learned as a dad applies to him as a football coach.
“Just coaching football and being able to be in the lives of these dynamic young people and helping them gain some clarity about what’s important to them and the things they need to hold near and dear,” Tomlin told the show. “I’m called to do it, but more importantly than that, it’s something that I love doing.”
Tomlin has earned the reputation as a “players’ coach,” a term he’s tried to shy away from over the years. It often comes with a negative connotation, describing someone who is too buddy-buddy with his players without building strong boundaries and rules. But in every player I’ve spoken with or heard from, he’s referred that way to describe his honesty and transparency. Many coaches won’t tell players where they stand. They’ll sugarcoat things, use white lies, and leave the player shocked when he’s cut or benched. In Pittsburgh, Tomlin makes things clear and players have come to respect that.
Tomlin joked he has plenty of free time to be a dad to the young men he coaches.
“I do laugh now. My boys are 21 and 20. They’re in college. As a dad, I’ve got a lot of free time, I’ve got a lot of free dad energy because my boys call and check on me now, Ike. So I get an opportunity to dad some of these guys and I’m appreciative that they allow me into that space.”
Pittsburgh has one of its youngest rosters in years, especially on the offensive side of the ball. A unit that’s undergone wholesale changes over the last 24 months. An entirely new offensive line no longer relying on the leadership of Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, or Ramon Foster. Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement this offseason, the last player of the pre-Tomlin era. Now, no player on the Steelers’ roster has won a Super Bowl ring with the team.
New faces like Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth will have to step up as leaders of this team while one of the new QBs, Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett, will be the face of the franchise in 2022, with the goal of Pickett being that guy long-term. In a sense, this is a unique challenge for Tomlin, who has experienced practically everything else a head coach can experience. Though he’s had years and pockets of time without Roethlisberger, Tomlin has never entered a year wondering who his QB will be or where leadership will come from. This summer will set a much different-looking stage.
“I think [mentoring is] as much a part of the job and the game as a strategic component as blocking and tackling. Because, man, these guys have very few people in their lives that don’t want anything from them but just want what’s best for them. And I pride myself in being one of those people for them.”
Tomlin’s making that impact in and outside of his locker room. He’ll again speak at next month’s ManUp conference. Taking place June 11th, he’ll hold a Q&A to discuss his life and journey. Tomlin has been an annual speaker at the event for a decade.
Check out the full interview below.