‘We Are Not Rabbit’s Foot-Type People:’ Mike Tomlin Doesn’t Believe In Luck Creating Greatness

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is widely regarded as a player’s coach in the NFL. That can conjure up thoughts of coaches who don’t hold players responsible for their actions or take it easy in practices. However, if you spend any time listening to what Tomlin preaches, not only in press conferences but in meetings rooms and on the field, that’s not Tomlin’s view of being a player’s coach.

There is Tomlin’s desire to get his players into pads in practice and viewing that as so much more important than pad-less practices. There’s also a long history of Tomlin showing that he cares for his players as human beings and not just players, including educating them so they’ll be prepared for life after football.

Tomlin also holds his players accountable in multiple ways. One of those ways is the common refrain of “Make it a great day.” When he addressed the media on the last day of training camp Thursday via, Tomlin reinforced his views on how players are responsible for both great days and victory on game day.

“We’re responsible for the creation of a great day, individually, if we’re positive contributors to it,” Tomlin said. “And so, we’re trying to take the mystique out of some of those things. We are not hoping that we’re gonna have a great day or hoping that there’s gonna be a positive vibe. We’re owning our roles in the creation of it, just like we own our roles in the creation of victory. We are not rabbit’s foot-type people when it comes to creating victory.”

That emphasis on individual player responsibility is an example of Tomlin as a player’s coach in an odd way. When Tomlin entrusts a player, whether a 10-year veteran or an undrafted free agent, with the responsibility to create a great day, some might see that as creating pressure. However, it’s actually empowering every player on the roster, whether that’s 90 during training camp or the 53-man roster come the regular season.

Think of it. Tomlin is actively encouraging each and every player to attack each day with the belief that the day can be great while entrusting them with the responsibility of making it happen. Even an undrafted free agent can go out and take advantage of each and every little rep on the practice field.

That mindset carries over to game day. No matter offense, defense, or special teams, there are 11 players on the field for the Steelers. If 10 of them do their jobs correctly but the 11th fails, the play can easily fail. That’s a lot of pressure. However, Tomlin encourages each player to make greatness occur each and every day. That means 11 players doing their jobs to the best of their abilities can create great plays rather than busted plays.

That’s WR Calvin Austin III recovering from an injury that robbed him of his rookie year and hauling in a 67-yard touchdown pass along with gaining 17 yards on a jet sweep in his first NFL preseason game a year later. That’s rookie LB Nick Herbig making his NFL debut with a bang, tallying 1.5 sacks.

Maybe coasting by with a lack of responsibility in creating great days is easier. However, that does not inspire greatness or victory. While some may deride Tomlin for the lack of success in terms of championships, there’s a reason why he holds the NFL record for most consecutive seasons as head coach without a losing season. Sixteen seasons as the Steelers head coach, and Tomlin’s teams have yet to end a season under .500. Why?

Tomlin encourages, maybe even demands, that his players attack each day with the intent to make it great. That’s in practice, and that’s on game day. You don’t avoid losing seasons for 16 seasons due to a rabbit’s foot or luck. There’s something more at play, and that’s Tomlin holding his players accountable for how they approach each and every day they are playing for Pittsburgh.

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