Since forcing his way out of Pittsburgh, Mike Tomlin has had little to publicly say about Antonio Brown, despite Brown being at the center of the news time and time (and time) again. Tomlin has publicly shut the door on ever reuniting with Brown from an on-field aspect, he’d never play for the Steelers again, but Tomlin has said little about his experience – beginning, middle, and end – coaching him.
In a lengthy, 90-minute interview on The Pivot, a show hosted by Ryan Clark, Fred Taylor, and Channing Crowder, Tomlin opened up about coaching Brown through the highs and lows of his career and how Brown changed over time.
“We had nine great years,” Tomlin started off by saying. “I appreciate that dude in ways that I can’t explain to y’all that I won’t even bother to attempt to explain to y’all because it sounds like I’m defending him in some way…the nature of our relationship and what we all did together requires no defense.”
Pittsburgh drafted Brown in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, a lightly-known prospect from Miami who played his college ball at Central Michigan. Brown made an immediate impact, finding the end zone on his first NFL touch, a kick return against the Titans, and soon transformed into the game’s top receiver. His run from 2013 to 2018 is one of the greatest in NFL history. Over those six seasons, he averaged 114 receptions for 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns. Averaged. Tomlin praised Brown’s fearlessness, never seeing him “blink” on the field. Brown finished his Steelers’ career with more than 800 receptions, 11,000 yards, and 79 receiving scores.
He was unstoppable, uncoverable, and the only man who slowed him down was himself.
Brown fought his way out of Pittsburgh following the 2018 season, traded to the Raiders for a third-round pick. He never played a down there, nearly coming to blows with then-GM Mike Mayock, leaving the Raiders little choice but to cut him. Brown played one game for the New England Patriots before sexual assault allegations led to his quick release. He reunited with Tom Brady in Tampa Bay and won a Super Bowl before another tirade, this time during the middle of the game, led to his release. Brown has since hinted his NFL days are over. While Tomlin used his time to focus on the positive, he understand Brown’s stardom changed him.
“With success comes a lot of things. Some we deal with well, some we don’t. Some he dealt with well, some of it, he didn’t. Some of it changed him in ways that that were not as attractive…He was real naïve when he got here, man. He not a naïve dude in terms of the ways of the world and business and how to market it himself [now]…we grow because of a lot of things and particularly success man, is a slippery red carpet.”
But Tomlin focused his attention about Brown on his earlier days. Before the fame and fortune. Coming to Pittsburgh as a late-round pick, trying to prove himself with, in Tomlin’s words, “unbelievable work ethic, unbelievable belief in himself,” and trying to figure out how to be a father at the same time. Tomlin shared stories of how the team supported him on and off the field.
“I witnessed this dude grow and have a desire to be an unbelievable dad. When he was young…he hit me up, ‘it’s Easter, man, what should I do for my boy?’ I said, man, get that dude a suit. Take him to church. After church, come around my house tomorrow about one o’clock man we’ll have an egg hunt around this joint.”
Tomlin shared another similar story.
“His rookie year, he was single dad. He had little AB up here and we go on road games, man. We all took turns like keeping little AB. We go do our business. We land at Pittsburgh International after the game man and I’d be like, ‘Hey man, he good, man. Let him sleep. Come get him in the morning.'”
Brown’s time in Pittsburgh had the highest of highs, a legitimate Hall of Fame career based solely off his on-field Steelers production. Twice he led the league in receptions, twice he led the league in yards, and once he led the league in touchdowns. He made seven Pro Bowls, four All-Pro teams, and was the unquestioned best receiver in the game for years. Only a handful of receivers have had a longer dominant stretch. Don Huston. Jerry Rice. Randy Moss. It’s a short list.
But his time in Pittsburgh, and in the NFL, came with the lowest of lows. Mention Antonio Brown’s name now and no one first thinks about the unbelievable catches, the clutch plays, the total and utter dominance. He’s the butt of the joke, a disappointing shake of the head, all the talk about what he did off the field instead of on it. Brown somehow had both an incredible career and an incredible “what if” attached at the same time. Tomlin will choose not to remember the latter. But the rest of the football world will.
Check out the whole interview below. It’s a great window into Tomlin’s mindset as a coach, leader, and man.