Perhaps no single coach in the history of the NFL has ever been more acutely associated with the label of ‘player’s coach’ than has Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. He is pretty much always voted on among players as being one of the head coaches they would most like to play for.
And generally speaking, those who play for him seem to love doing so. And some make it a point of explaining just what their relationship is, and that it’s not all buddy-buddy as may be the perception from those on the outside.
“Coach T’s a cool guy; you can have a conversation with him. We’ll be talking like this, and then we’ll go into a team meeting…and he’ll put up the big board”, T.J. Watt said last week on Pardon My Take, explaining how he uses team film meetings to equalize the room and critique anybody and everybody, because the tape tells the tale.
“You’re like, ‘Man, we just had a cool-ass conversation out there, we’re on good terms’”, he added. “The big board comes on and you’re like, ‘Please don’t have me up there with my bad reps’. Bam, he’ll roast your bad reps in front of everybody”.
“It’s all about holding you accountable. I think he has the great balance. He’s had so much success because of it. We’ve been scolded before. It’s just that he keeps a lot of things ‘in house’ in house, and I respect him for that”.
Doing the media rounds this past week on behalf of Invisalign, Watt has been asked about a wide variety of topics and his answers have been pretty consistent. His informal setting on this podcast, though, was probably the most freeing and featured his most honest remark about playing under Tomlin.
Many other players who have also spoken of Tomlin as being a “cool guy” have echoed what Watt said as well, however. There are no friends in the film room. Even a guy as vetted as Cameron Heyward dreads being up on the wall.
Former Steelers cornerback Joe Haden said last year in September that one thing you’re likely to hear in that room is, “If you don’t fix that, we’re going shopping”. That’s what guys hear when they’re shown something negative on tape and were coached up to fix it, but then put it on tape again.
“You gotta take it on the chest and make sure you know Coach T’s watching, so do your job and you’ll be fine. If you don’t, he’ll call you out”, he added. “When he says things like that, he’s gonna go in there and he’s gonna talk to [any player], like, literally in front of the entire team”.
There’s no greater way you can undercut an athlete than by pointing out his failings in front of his peers. It’s the ultimate humbling experience. But it’s how you get better, both on and off the field, and it’s one of Tomlin’s greatest tools in his coaching arsenal.