‘If The Issues Haven’t Hit Them In The Face Already, They Will’: Why Coach Mike Tomlin Educates His Rookies

When people discuss the transition of football players from college to the NFL, the majority of the conversation revolves around acclimating to the speed of the game. However, the reality is that the speed of life changes dramatically for these players as well. It’s an entirely different life, going from the life of a college student-athlete to a professional athlete.

When Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show Thursday, one of the topics discussed was how Tomlin approaches talking with the rookies about life outside of football. Tomlin talked about how he wants the rookies to understand how to take care of themselves physically with nutrition, how to interact with fans on social media and the community at large, how to handle their money, and even have former players like Clinton Portis come and talk to the incoming rookies.

“I tee up all the discussions,” Tomlin said. “I try to bring professionals or experts in. I have perspective on money management because I’ve lived a bit. I’ve made some good moves, I’ve made some bad, but more than anything, I tee it up. I talk to them about [how] we have resources and relationships to help them. We bring them and connect them with experts that can educate them and assist them in ways they may need to be assisted. So more than anything, I tee up the discussions or provide a little color or provide a legitimate story or two to let them know that the skills that we’re working on are real. And if the issues haven’t hit them in the face already, they will very soon.”

The reality is that these rookies are all young men, some of whom potentially have become millionaires with one phone call during the NFL draft. The structure of life has changed. If any one of us were put in that position, we would struggle. It’s why there are horror stories of people who have become instant millionaires by winning the Lottery and end up going bankrupt not long after winning. When people who don’t have the skill set come into success, it goes to their head and they don’t always make the wisest decisions.

While numbers fluctuate wildly for NFL players after retirement, the truth is that a number of former players have gone through high-profile financial struggles after retiring. Portis, whom Tomlin brought in to talk with the rookies, was one such player. He lost a lot of money to a variety of problems. Some problems were self-inflicted, but he also fell prey to financial advisors when he retired who were registered with the NFLPA at the time. It took only two years after retirement for Portis’ money to essentially be gone and he had to file for bankruptcy.

It’s no surprise that Tomlin would do something like this for incoming players. He has a well-earned reputation for being a player’s coach in the NFL. He genuinely cares about the players in that organization as people, not just football players. So he doesn’t want to see them make mistakes that are avoidable. These players will make mistakes on the field, and Tomlin and his staff will coach them up to perform better. Here, Tomlin is doing the same for these men to be successful in life.

To hear him talk about what he and the Steelers are doing to help these young men prepare for a life that is usually completely unlike anything they’ve experienced before is just another sign that Tomlin cares for them as human beings.

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