Mike Tomlin is one of the longest-tenured and most successful coaches in the National Football League. He currently sits 16th all-time in head coaching wins in the regular season, having 163 total career wins under his belt. Not bad for a coach who just turned 51 and looks to have plenty of gas left in the tank as a certified football junkie.
While Tomlin has been successful on the field, he also has been revered for the relationships he has formed with his players both on the gridiron as well as in the locker room and even outside of the facility. He has been called a “players’ coach” throughout his tenure in the league due to the relationships he develops with his guys and how his players rally around him as a leader of men.
However, Tomlin would be the first to admit that this has been a skill that has been developed over time. Speaking to Sport Illustrated journalist and reporter Albert Breer on the topic of Pro Days and scouting draft prospects, Tomlin mentioned that the relationships he has made with coaches in the college ranks have been invaluable when it comes to learning how to best connect and motivate young men to come together and build a winning football team.
“I got a bunch of relationships, man,” Tomlin said according to Breer. “Those teams are consistently in the mix for a reason, and they got guys coming into the draft every year, so they become routine stops. And in the midst of those routine stops, you got time to do some side projects and gain some understanding. … I stay connected to college football coaches. I learn a lot from them. When I’m evaluating in the spring, and going out and preparing for the draft, I’m also studying programs and coaches and seeing what’s important to them, and the lives of the people they work with, because invariably those are gonna be some of the people that I work with.”
Tomlin and GM Omar Khan (and Kevin Colbert before him) are well-known for making appearances to the top college programs during the pre-draft cycle for Pro Days, having the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the top draft prospects in college football. However, the decision to go to these schools is much more than just a scouting opportunity for Tomlin. He can also connect with the top names at the college level, including Dabo Swinney of Clemson, Ryan Day of Ohio State, Kirby Smart of Georgia, and Nick Saban of Alabama and pick their brains on how young college football players tick as he takes pieces of their ideologies and apply it to his coaching philosophy.
Football is a game of relationships as is most aspects of life. If you have strong connections with your players, your coaches, and your support staff, these actions tend to yield positive results. That has been the case for the top programs in college football as well as Mike Tomlin as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tomlin has always been able to field competitive teams, regardless of the level of talent on his roster. We saw just that last season in what was labeled as a rebuilding year for the Steelers by many. They fought back from a 2-6 start to finish the season 9-8 and nearly make the postseason. This wasn’t the result that Pittsburgh or the fan base was hoping for, but we saw Tomlin’s impact at play as the team rallied around him while being in a deep hole to battle back from absurdity as they finished 7-2 down the stretch.
Pittsburgh has been rehauling its roster throughout the offseason, building it into the image of a bully that wants to smack you in the mouth on offense and play aggressively defense. With the right pieces in-place after the draft and Tomlin continuing to effectively rally the troops, perhaps this is the season in which Pittsburgh can end its playoff victory drought.