Kovacevic: Got proof on Tomlin? Let's hear it

Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 10:37 p.m.

This was going to be the day the subject would change for the Steelers.

On this end, anyway.

I was ready, too. Had column ideas all laid out regarding the return of Mike Wallace, the helmet hit on Le'Veon Bell and the playoff picture. Or I could have taken to heart Ben Roethlisberger's suggestion to a pack of reporters Wednesday: “Let's talk about football. Let's talk about that Miami defense.”

Sorry, nope. Not there. Not yet, anyway.

It just felt silly, almost superficial, to try to move past the Mike Tomlin sideline scandal until I'd put real thought and real words behind this one simple yet sensational question: Do people really believe that the head coach of this city's NFL franchise is a cheater and a liar?

Let's not mince words here anymore, OK?

If you believe Tomlin deliberately interfered with Jacoby Jones' now infamous kickoff return in Baltimore, if you believe he intended to affect the outcome of the game, then you believe he's a cheater.

And by virtue of his defense since then, you also believe he's a liar.

A cheater and a liar.

Don't hedge. Don't hem and haw. Don't parse over this angle or that angle only to duck out from the real point you're making if you believe he acted deliberately: You're calling him a cheater and a liar.

So fine. Call him that.

But if you do, you'd better be calling for his firing, too. Because if Tomlin were proven to be a cheater and a liar, that's precisely what he would deserve. Not just that $100,000 fine the NFL levied Wednesday. Not a suspension. Not even the still-lingering possible loss of draft picks. Plain and simple, he would deserve to be tossed out by the Rooneys without so much as a see-ya.

Funny, I'm not hearing calls for Tomlin's firing, are you?

Could it be because, among all the evidence in play, nothing points to his guilt that's even remotely conclusive?

Oh, sure, you can think that maybe he acted with intent, that possibly there's a motion or two he made that could be damning.

But you don't know. I don't know. Only Tomlin can.

At the same time, here are three points that are emphatically and demonstrably known:

• Nothing in the videos conclusively shows intent.

This isn't like that New York Jets assistant jutting out his leg a couple years ago. There's no smoking gun, and only an irrational observer would suggest otherwise. I'll admit I wavered at the first sighting of KDKA's angle, based on a split-second of Tomlin's body language shifting to the right. But neither that nor anything can be called conclusive.

Read anything in that NFL news release Wednesday about intent?

Me neither.

Can you imagine the league's penalty if it had been confident of — or even strongly suspected — intent?

• Nothing in Tomlin's words has been conclusively contradicted, including by the NFL.

He told us that his approach to watch Jones' return was the same he takes with every kickoff, and there's overwhelming video evidence to support it. He also told us he was startled upon seeing himself on the JumboTron, and the timing on the video supports it. Same goes for all his other statements. There's been no gotcha.

• Nothing in Tomlin's history, professional or otherwise, suggestsanything close to the character flaw involvedwith a charge of scope.

This too is indisputable. There's no history of cheating or even a cheating accusation.

Has he been caught in lies or deception related to gamesmanship or keeping secrets from opponents?

Sure, as has just about every other coach or manager in the history of organized sport. But there's been nothing significant outside that realm.

Look, I have a lot of problems with Tomlin.

I think he has become too passive with his veterans.

I think he had the Steelers inexcusably unprepared to open this season.

I think he's stuck in his ways to the dramatic extent that he would fly his team to London so late in the week that they barely had time for tea before kickoff.

I think he has become aloof and arrogant and, to be totally candid, not terribly likable.

I also think he came across as an epic phony in that Tuesday news conference, flicking on the charm when it suited his needs.

But a cheater and a liar?

You had better come with a whole lot more than incomplete conjecture or casual dislike when assailing a man's character.

If not, let's talk about that Miami defense.

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