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Old 09-02-2007, 12:35 AM   #1
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Default A man of letters, a leader of men

A man of letters, a leader of men
Sunday, September 02, 2007
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the beginning, soon after the Steelers hired Mike Tomlin, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went to the new coach and told him he had to win the players' respect and trust. Tomlin's public reaction said a lot about the man.

"People keep asking the players what they think of me. It's irrelevant. Their job is to play. My job is to evaluate them." Tomlin's private reaction said even more. For someone who claimed not to care, he worked terribly hard to win that respect and trust.

With a few players, it was easy.

"He had my respect the day Mr. Rooney hired him," cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "That's my leader. If he tells me to run through a wall, I might look at it for a while, but I know I've got to do it sooner or later."

With most of the rest, especially Roethlisberger, wide receiver Hines Ward and the other veterans, who were used to doing things coach Bill Cowher's way and weren't interested in changing, it was a tougher challenge.

Tomlin started the process at the spring minicamp when he met with each player. Get-to-know-each-other sessions, if you will. There's nothing unusual about that, but what happened next is rare. Tomlin followed up each meeting by contacting the players in the summer. Many received a handwritten letter, signed by "Mike," not "Coach Tomlin." There is a difference.

"Believe me, there was no secret agenda to those letters," Tomlin said. "I've just always been a guy who, if something moves me, I respond to it. And I've always believed a written letter is more meaningful than an e-mail or a phone call."

Those letters certainly meant something to the players.

"I carry mine in my Bible," Ward said.

"I filed mine," defensive end Aaron Smith said. "This wasn't some printed form letter that everyone got. It's a huge statement for a coach to take that kind of time."

"Still have mine, too," linebacker Larry Foote said.

Ward described his letter as "inspirational."

"He kind of lit a fire in me. I always love to play football, but he made me want to play football for him."

Letters to Foote and linebacker James Farrior were instructive. Each letter quoted conversations that they had in their meeting with Tomlin. Think about that for a second. We've probably all been in a meeting with an authority figure, who seems to be looking over our head as he or she talks to us, counting the minutes until it's over and looking to see who's coming in next. Apparently, Tomlin isn't that kind of boss.

"He proved to me that he listened and that he thought what I had to say was important," Foote said.

It's fair to think the players felt better about Tomlin when they reported to training camp July 23 than they did when he was hired. Many had hoped the Steelers would stay in-house for Cowher's replacement by naming Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm as coach.

"Everybody I talked to said they liked [Tomlin]," Foote said. "I can see why now."

Don't get the wrong idea, though. Tomlin is not all touchy, feely. He's a football coach, isn't he? Cowher was regarded as a players' coach, but he had his moments, too.

"Right from the start, [Tomlin] made it clear it was his way or no way," Ward said. " 'It's not coach Cowher's team anymore, it's my team. I don't care how you did it here in the past. This is the way we're going to do it now. If you don't like it, go get your own team and do it your way.' "

"The Commander in Chief," Smith called the new boss.

Tomlin didn't want to hear the players whine about the brutal heat and humidity during camp at Saint Vincent College. To reinforce that point, he wore all black clothing every day to the practices.

Tomlin didn't care if the players didn't like his two-a-day schedules. He almost seemed to take delight when he moved the afternoon practice Aug. 9 to the Steelers' indoor facility on the South Side because of heavy rain in Latrobe. Under Cowher, the team would have had an easy workout in the Saint Vincent College gymnasium. Now, the players had to board a bus, fight the traffic to get downtown, practice, get back on the bus and fight the traffic to get back to Latrobe.

"There was a lot of griping that day," Ward said. "[Tomlin] didn't care."

That goes back to what Tomlin said early on.

It's irrelevant what the players think ...

Being liked and being respected are two different things. Tomlin gives the impression he'll settle for the respect.

Tomlin certainly didn't win friends in the locker room with his News sessions, which started at minicamp, continued through training camp and, presumably, will go on throughout the season. But it's hard to think they haven't helped team accountability. Frequently, Tomlin points out the players' mistakes at practice in front of everyone during team meetings. Roethlisberger and Ward were among the early targets, which made it pretty clear that no one -- "from the quarterbacks down to the long snapper," quarterback Charlie Batch said -- was exempt from constructive criticism. Tomlin even fingered himself at camp for not being fully prepared for a meeting.

"He always says, 'I don't make the news. I just report it,' " Batch said, shrugging.

Tomlin took that accountability thing to a new level when he publicly called out Roethlisberger for his play in the exhibition game against Washington Aug. 18. "I'd like to see him perform better."

This is only a guess, but that might be the first time that Big Ben -- or any pampered quarterback with a fragile ego, for that matter -- has been publicly chastised, even so gently.

Perhaps, it was no coincidence that Roethlisberger played much better in the next exhibition game against Philadelphia and threw for 247 yards in the first half.

We'll begin to find out next Sunday, when the Steelers play their opener in Cleveland against the Browns, if Tomlin can carry that magic touch into the season. Even his players concede it's far too early to pass judgment on him.

"He hasn't been thrown into the fire yet," Foote said.

Or, as safety Troy Polamalu put it, somewhat less delicately, "I want to see how he reacts when it's late in the season and we're starting to get ready for the playoffs and everyone's butt is getting tight."

It's nice to hear Polamalu mention the playoffs, isn't it?

At least the team's starting goal hasn't changed since Cowher left.

"We're buying into what [Tomlin] is saying," Ward said. "At this point, we have to put our trust in him. Where that leads us, we'll see."

Only this much is certain:

"The coach is going to do it his way," Farrior said. "It's up to us to get on board with him."

We already know Townsend will run through a wall for Tomlin.

Beginning next Sunday, we'll find out just how committed the rest of the fellows are.

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Old 09-02-2007, 12:37 AM   #2
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Default Re: A man of letters, a leader of men

Tomlin's technique a welcome change
By John Harris
Sunday, September 2, 2007

Just so you know, the Mike Tomlin Kool-Aid goes down nice and smooth. Tastes just right, with no bitter aftertaste.

Since he became the Steelers' 16th head coach Jan. 22, Tomlin's picture has been on Page 1 of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review more times than George W. Bush's.

And the Trib continues to write up Tomlin daily in the sports section as if advertisers pay $100,000 each time his name appears.

In Pittsburgh proper, all is right with Tomlin.

If only things would always be so perfect.

Since we don't know if Tomlin will be a successful NFL coach -- he's never been a head coach at any level -- let's talk about a couple of things that we do know.

Point One: Tomlin's a stickler for details. He focuses on doing the "little things" until his players get it right.

Over and over and over again.

Take special teams.

Tomlin values special teams just as much as he values the importance of offense and defense.

No joke.

While Tomlin isn't comparing punter Daniel Sepulveda's hang-time with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's ability to read defenses, he's never wavered from his original stance in his very first group interview with local reporters that special teams are indeed special.

Tomlin devoted at least one-third of his first training camp to special teams, which is only fitting.

The first personnel move he made based off game action was signing long-snapper Jared Retkofsky after Jeff Reed's extra-point attempt was blocked against Green Bay.

Retofsky was brought in to "push" incumbent Greg Warren, who snapped the ball adequately on the blocked PAT, but may not have moved quickly enough to his left to impede an onrushing Green Bay lineman.

Since Retofsky was released before the final exhibition game against Carolina, it's safe to assume Warren was never in danger of losing his job.

That isn't to say Tomlin is giving lip-service to special teams.

Asked about some of the Steelers' special-team errors in the fourth exhibition game against Philadelphia -- a shanked punt, along with a fumbled punt -- Tomlin said to imagine what the performance of his special teams would be like without so much practice time.

Gotta like that moxie.

Point two: Tomlin is a "player's coach."

All of which means that even though Tomlin didn't play in the NFL, he still understands what buttons to push on each player.

Consider the relationship between Tomlin and cornerback Ike Taylor.

Taylor is your prototype shutdown corner who struggled at times last season. Former coach Bill Cowher saw fit to sit Taylor, a starter on the Super Bowl XL championship team, without so much as an explanation to the player.

Despite Taylor not playing a single game for him, Tomlin publicly praised Taylor from the moment he took the job and freely mentioned Taylor and the Pro Bowl in the same sentence.

During training camp, Taylor confidently re-established himself as the No. 1 left cornerback, as well as the best cornerback on the team.

What his players seem to like best about Tomlin is that he doesn't try to act like a head coach -- gruff, omnipotent, above-it-all.

"He's the head coach, and we are players. But he doesn't put himself on a pedestal," Taylor said. "He puts himself like 'We're all human, we're all grown men regardless of if I'm the head coach. We all make mistakes.' It's hard getting that from a guy at that level."

It is also Tomlin who commissioned new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to open up the offense -- or at least give the appearance of opening up the offense.

But it's also Tomlin, who at the ripe/wise old age of 35, understands full well that you can know your Xs from your Os, but that you must physically whip the other team.

Hence, Tomlin's Steelers had more physical practices in training camp than they did under Cowher.

Yet, I never once recalled Tomlin raising his voice in four weeks at St. Vincent College.

At this point, Tomlin can do no wrong.

He hasn't lost a game, or made a bad coaching decision or a poor personnel move.

He's golden.

In fact, things are going so good, he should retire right now while he's ahead.

(Just kidding.)

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Old 09-02-2007, 09:26 AM   #3
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Default Re: A man of letters, a leader of men

I heard he's walked across all three rivers and turned water in to gatoraid.

"We're not going to turn our backs on him," Ward said. "We're going to treat him like our brother. We're going to accept him back and be very supportive of him and help him get through this. In this locker room, he's still our quarterback."
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Old 09-02-2007, 09:34 AM   #4
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Default Re: A man of letters, a leader of men

Both of those articles were nice reads. Thanks for sharing 83.

"Football is a physical game, or at least it used to be" -Mel Blount
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Old 09-02-2007, 12:49 PM   #5
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Default Re: A man of letters, a leader of men

Just gave me the chills reading this. Tomlin and the Steelers are a match made in heaven. I was skeptical during hiring process at first because i'm already knowing we were only a year removed away from the Super Bowl and didn't want wholesale changes. You know, getting caught up in the media hype if Tomlin's hired we are going to cover-2 defense and things like that. One of the first things he does early on the job was retain Dick Lebau. That was impressive to me. Great hire by the FO. This guy is letting the best players make the team and play. No more hitchhikers (ex. Sean Morey a special team ace) making the team.
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Old 09-02-2007, 01:49 PM   #6
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Default Re: A man of letters, a leader of men

I don't know if other teams that just hired new coaches recently (cards., jets,saints) were as excited as steelers fans are about Tomlin. When the interveiws were going on and I heard the they were giving some guy named Tomlin a second interview I thought the F.O. had lost their minds. I was one of the Russ Grimes guys. I didn't think there was anyway they were going to let him go let alone for a 1 year cordinator. I am at this point happy to say I was wrong and pretty glad that I was.
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Old 09-02-2007, 02:12 PM   #7
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Default Re: A man of letters, a leader of men

I have a good feeling about Tomlin as well. Now we'll see how he handles real action come the 9th. His first challenge as a head coach: Winning in hostile territory against a division rival. Cleveland is full of confidence, the stadium will be rocking, the atmosphere will be electric, The Clowns would want nothing more than to beat the Steelers to start their season. I really hope Tomlin has the team prepared for the game. I don't care if it's the Clowns. Now it's time for the Tomlin-Steelers to show what they got as a team.

Here's to instilling reality back in Cleveland September 9th. Cleveland sucks.
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Old 09-02-2007, 02:14 PM   #8
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After 15 years w/Cowher who's definitely a HOF'er, it was time for a new regime and I'm glad we chose Tomlin. Man I know i'm a die -hard who sometimes drink a lil too much Kool-Aid, but I honestly believe Tomlin's gonna get a couple of Super Bowls soon. This team has dynasty written all over it. I stated it back in our 15-1 year that we are capable of getting 3 of the next five Super Bowls. We are built for the long haul believe that. Young QB in Big Ben, young stud RB in FWP, Hines is still a beast but i expect his number's decrease as Holmes and Washington start making more plays. Line has questions but we are alright there. Defense just got younger and it's already stocked up w/young studs. Polamula, Hampton is good for another 5 years. Plus we just picked Da Wood, Mr. Timmons the youngster and Anthony Smith AKA Mr. Hitstick. We are ready now and will be among the elite teams for years. Believe that.
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Old 09-02-2007, 02:51 PM   #9
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Default Re: A man of letters, a leader of men

Originally Posted by 83-Steelers-43 View Post
"He had my respect the day Mr. Rooney hired him," cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "That's my leader. If he tells me to run through a wall, I might look at it for a while, but I know I've got to do it sooner or later."
Life as a Steeler in a nutshell. My agreement with Deshea hits a fork (or Chrysler) in the road though. Mr. Rooney would never suggest running into a wall riding the fastest street legal motorcycle on the planet.
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Old 09-03-2007, 12:30 AM   #10
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Default Re: A man of letters, a leader of men

I must admit wheneever I hear quotes stories or interviews with Tomlin I get fired up for Steeler football. He seems to speak with passion about the game. I think Cowher had that for a while but was lost the past season.

Heres to a great year under our new leader !
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