“I Love It All”: Mike Tomlin Is As Invested As Ever Entering His 17th Season
He’s been to Super Bowls and he’s failed to make the playoffs. But the Steelers’ head coach continues to embrace the job and the process no matter the results.
The turning of the page to what the NFL likes to call the “New League Year” took place on March 15, but for Mike Tomlin, it was just another day at the office.
More Pro Days and tape study. Free agents coming and going. Staff alterations by design and by necessity and more draft prep.
We’re still a ways away from OTAs, let alone training camp, the 2023 opener and the Steelers’ inevitable visit to Baltimore.
But Tomlin is already immersed in all of it.
As it was in his first season back in 2007, it remains 17 years later.
To borrow a thought from one of Tomlin’s NFL predecessors, Marv Levy, there’s no place Tomlin would rather be than right here, right now.
No matter what part of a given League Year we’re talking about.
“I love it all,” Tomlin insisted this week from Phoenix, at the NFL’s Annual Meeting. “I do.”
Tomlin confirmed that much hasn’t changed on Sunday after initially answering a question about Kenny Pickett, specifically about whether he was as excited about Pickett entering his second season as Tomlin had claimed to be a year ago regarding the unknown associated with entering Year One without Ben Roethlisberger.
The follow-up question explored what excited Tomlin more, the actual games or all that goes into preparing to play them.
“I love team building, man,” he emphasized. “I love the team development. I love division of labor, just all the steps of the process.
“There are things to get excited about and challenges to meet. I think that’s one of the things that keeps this profession from being stale just over the course of a 12-month calendar. The urgency that’s required in each segment of team development and assembly is awesome and fun.”
Tomlin doesn’t get stale, at least he hasn’t yet.
Not in a 12-month period and not in a head coaching career that’s beginning to approach two decades.
For an organization that values stability, Tomlin’s consistency is currency.
With Tomlin, what you see is what you get, and what the Steelers have always gotten from him.
Relentless energy and infectious enthusiasm are two of the things that define him, even after all these years.
Focus, purpose and persistence are also on the list.
So is that aforementioned love of the game.
Those characteristics aren’t always recognizable during a Tuesday afternoon press briefing in advance of a game against Cleveland, or when he emerges on the wrong side of a blowout in Philadelphia.
Even guys who love football aren’t above hating the media on occasion.
But if you’ve been to a training camp practice and you were paying attention, you’ve seen the Tomlin effect.
Tomlin bouncing around the field from one position group to the next.
Tomlin coaching both sides of the ball during a two-minute drill.
Tomlin navigating the formation as the players stretch, and having something to say to each one he encounters.
Tomlin working the officials when they’re present, or the fans.
When he’s on a football field Tomlin, he’s home.
And his respect for the game is seemingly matched only by his appreciation for yet another opportunity to do what he does, to do what he still loves.
It carries over to the South Side, and to media access periods in the locker room when Tomlin decides to make the rounds after a practice just to see and hear what everyone happens to be talking about.
One can only imagine what he’s like in team and individual meetings, although years of periodic revelations from players about something Tomlin has done or said to get everyone’s attention or apply perspective allow for a pretty educated guess.
Say what you will about clock management, his offensive philosophy or his failure to win a playoff game in the last six seasons, but Tomlin is still all-in.
The standard is the standard.
It’s that, in part, because Tomlin has no off switch.
“I don’t,” he confirmed. “I love it.”
It’s a sentiment that ought to be as comforting for the Steelers as it is familiar.
Happy New Year.