While the might not rank atop player voting as the number one ‘player’s coach’ any longer, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin remains deeply respected around the league—really, around the football world in general—for his ability to relate to and communicate with players of all levels of experience.
That includes the incoming draft class of 2023, on whom he seems to have once again left a lasting impression. According to Aditi Kinkhabwala, Tomlin is “winning the combine”, for whatever that might be worth, with his omnipresence on the field getting to know the prospects.
One player in particular that she mentioned is one of the top cornerback prospects, Christian Gonzalez, who told her that Tomlin was his favorite coach that he met with at the Combine. So much so that he even called his father afterward to let him know that he was, according to Kinkhabwala, “even cooler than they thought”.
Now, being ‘cool’ is one thing that the Steelers’ head coach has never been shortchanged on. Indeed, his coolness factor is often used against him by his detractors, who do have the ready ammunition to point out that he hasn’t won a playoff game in six years.
Still, it can’t be all bad, right? We have heard from many veteran players who have been acquired either in free agency or in trade who years later would recall their interactions with Tomlin during the pre-draft process.
Others may have heard from teammates about how ‘cool’ Tomlin was—or as Gonzalez called him, “real” and “relatable”, which are certainly good qualities to possess when dealing with young men. Yet it doesn’t really matter how cool a prospect thinks a coach is—it’s more about how cool the coach thinks the prospect is, since it’s the coach who makes the picks.
Tomlin and his staff—both coaching staff and front office and scouts—prefer the hands-on approach above all. They frequently are the ones who are on the field, whether it’s at the Combine or Pro Days or bowl game practices, using every opportunity to get closer to the players.
How much of that actually benefits them in their scouting? Well, perhaps they would be best equipped to answer that, but either way, it’s a key part of their process. And as a byproduct of that, they make a lot of connections with players, which sometimes does prove to be beneficial later on down the line.