Robinson: Tomlin good with Qs, not always with answers
The times are easily remembered by any astute Steelers supporter — weekly appointments that can't be missed for almost any reason: 1 p.m. on Sundays, noon on Tuesdays.
Sunday is kickoff time — at least it was until the Steelers became one of the NFL's favorite choices for primetime games. Tuesday is the Mike Tomlin news conference, the one opportunity for a fan to peek inside the Steelers' South Side offices and gain the same information from the head coach that reporters are gathering.
But sometimes there isn't very much real news generated when Tomlin sits at a podium for 20 or 25 minutes, and don't think that's not by design.
Tomlin wants nothing made public that the Giants or Chiefs or Ravens can use against him, so his answers to questions about strategy, personnel or officiating (coaches can be fined for any critical comments about officials) often are terse and anything but insightful.
To NFL teams, any real-time information on an upcoming opponent could be helpful in designing a game plan; if the Bengals, for example, know by Tuesday that Troy Polamalu isn't playing, they might not need to devote any practice time to preparing for him.
The problem is, in this age of Twitter and Facebook, social media and 24-hour-a-day news cycles — something even Tomlin's predecessor, Bill Cowher, didn't deal with — it's harder for teams and coaches to control the message the way they did during Chuck Noll's time.
Occasionally a player will blurt out news — inadvertently or not — in a 140-character message that's instantly available not just for friends and family but the entire wired universe. The Steelers don't ban their players from using Twitter because they often disperse news about their public appearances and charitable activities.
Tomlin isn't about to offer internal intelligence, so his weekly message often is information-sparse by design.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace said the Tomlin that fans see during the news conferences is the same Tomlin the players get in private. He is straightforward in all matters with them, and a lengthy explanation isn't always attached.
“Coach T is Coach T,” Wallace said. “Whatever you see with Coach T, that's the same thing we see. ... He's going to give you the facts, he's going to give it to you raw and uncut — this is how it is and we go from there.”
What's uncommon about Tomlin's weekly visits are exactly that — they're once a week. Tomlin might be the only NFL head coach who has only one scheduled news conference per week.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, for example, had four news conferences in advance of the game against the Steelers. Giants coach Tom Coughlin had a conference call rather than a press conference Monday because of Hurricane Sandy, a news conference Wednesday and two other post-practice sessions with reporters. Even the always reticent Bill Belichick has four regular weekly news briefings.
While most coaches hold Monday news conferences, as Noll did, the Steelers shifted their coach's news conference to Tuesday — the players' day off — during the Cowher regime to generate news on what previously was a closed-to-the-media day. The tradition stuck, especially after the news conference began being televised, and the schedule hasn't been adjusted since.
Tomlin sometimes holds a post-practice briefing if there is significant news, although that is infrequent.
Coughlin, who first gained respect for Tomlin when he was an assistant coach in Tampa, doesn't doubt Tomlin has any trouble getting the word out even without the benefit of a news conference.
“He's never at a loss for some challenging words, whether it be officiating meetings or whatever,” Coughlin said. “He's very respectful of it, but he's not about to stifle himself in terms or asking and inquiring.”
On Tuesdays, it is those asking and inquiring who are the challenge to Tomlin.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.