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02-02-2011, 06:14 AM
Harris: Trusting in one another

By John Harris
Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ARLINGTON, Texas During their four seasons together, Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger have shared a common bond winning.

There have been three seasons of 10 or more wins, three postseason appearances and a 5-1 playoff record, including a win in Super Bowl XL.

This is the way of NFL coaches and their franchise quarterbacks who forge a unique partnership.

"There is no doubt that this is a quarterback league,'' Tomlin said. "We are fortunate enough to have somebody who I think is an elite one, so it makes it much easier.''

For better or worse, Tomlin and Roethlisberger are joined at the hip. Tomlin trusts Roethlisberger to lead the Steelers on the field while he leads from the sideline.

Until this season, it could be said that the fiery coach and the laid-back star player were almost always in accord.

That changed when Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the season, leaving the Steelers' postseason hopes dangling like Wile E. Coyote off the edge of a cliff.

After all, it was former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay who said, "Whoever calls the signals has the coach's life in his two bare hands. I don't like to give up that responsibility unless I'm pretty sure he'll do a good job.''

Upon Roethlisberger's return from his suspension, Tomlin continued to make his quarterback the master of his own as well as the coach's fate.

And now one of the league's most prolific coach-quarterback duos is in another Super Bowl two years after winning their first one together.

"One foot in front of the other,'' Tomlin said about Roethlisberger's comeback season during Super Bowl XLV Media Day at Cowboys Stadium. "It's no different than when anyone makes a mistake and has to atone for it in some form or fashion and move forward. That's what he's done, and that's what our team's done.''

You don't hear about Tomlin and Roethlisberger the way you do, say, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in New England. However, Tomlin's on-field relationship with Roethlisberger is no less grand. In fact, it has the potential to be recognized as one of the best coach-quarterback tandems in league history. At 38 and 28 respectively, Tomlin and Roethlisberger have an lot of football left in them.

Their relationship is built upon a foundation of trust and respect, with the coach having the final say.

It's a trust that maintained following Roethlisberger's suspension.

During an exchange this season captured on NFL Films, Tomlin calmly threatened to remove Roethlisberger from a game the Steelers had under control if he continued to run.

Tomlin: "I want to leave you in the game at least another series. If you can keep yourself clean.''

Roethlisberger: "At least?''

Tomlin: "At least ... I'm just having a conversation with you. If you keep yourself clean, I'll be more inclined to leave you in the game. If you don't, I'll pull you.''

Roethlisberger: "I only know how to play one way, Coach, but I'll do what I can.''

Tomlin: "That's why I'm having a conversation with you. All right?''

Roethlisberger: "Okay, coach ... no more John Wayne.''

Yesterday, Roethlisberger, saying he runs out of necessity, defended his playing style.

"People for some reason assume I want to play the style I play,'' Roethlisberger said. "I don't really want to do that. I want to drop back and get the ball out in time, but sometimes either our style of offense or the way we play the game just doesn't happen like that.''

Tomlin trusts Roethlisberger to play his game, but every coach has his limit. What's apparent is the obvious give-and-take between the pair that extends beyond football.

Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians play golf in the offseason. Tomlin, who doesn't golf, has a relationship with Roethlisberger that can be described as professionally cordial.

When playing in Super Bowl XLV was only a gleam in Tomlin's eye, he spoke regularly with Roethlisberger while he was being investigated for an alleged sexual assault. Their conversations were "about football, about personal life; that's the nature of our relationship.''

Driven by a common bond, Tomlin and Roethlisberger excel at winning. Tomlin feels good about his quarterback better than he ever has and you don't have to be a member of MENSA to realize the feeling is mutual.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

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