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Kovacevic: Why coaches rarely admit error

| Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, 11:00 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shares a sideline laugh with coach Mike Tomlin during the second quarter at Heinz Field Thursday, August 30, 2012. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle hangs his head after walking from the mound during the eighth inning Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. The Cubs won, 4-2. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The Penguins selected defenseman Derrick Pouliot with the eighth overall pick of the first round in the NHL Draft on June 22, 2012, at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

Mike Tomlin has suffered far lousier losses than the one Sunday to the Chargers, but never has the man made more of a fool of himself than in the 48 hours that followed.

Not in scope.

Not in sensibilities.

The issue, as anyone within earshot of talk radio or within bloodshot eyes of Twitter can attest, is why the Steelers didn't go for a two-point conversion when down, 34-16, with only six minutes left. Conventional wisdom — common sense, really — dictates going for two because the team then needs only two touchdowns and two more conversions to tie. It's the only plausible path to a comeback.

The Steelers, as you know, kicked the extra point and were left needing three scores.

Huge mistake.

But one that might have been dismissed or at least downplayed with a sprinkle of candor.

You know …

“I blew it.”

“Head coach's responsibility.”

“We all had a bad game, myself included.”

Instead, Tomlin tried this after the game: “Until we stopped them, it was going to be insignificant. I was holding the two-point plays for that reason only. Now, we still have them in our hip pocket. Those specialty plays, we didn't want to put on tape unless we had an opportunity to close the gap.”

The Steelers wanted to preserve the playbook?

Staggering, huh?

But wait. Tomlin brought out the shovel at his Tuesday press conference and kept on digging.

“I thought we had a better chance to sneak back into the game,” he said of not going for two. “If they went into a chew-the-clock mentality in terms of running the ball, I thought we could get the quick stops necessary to get back in the game. I thought if we started going for two, and particularly getting them, that they would leave their playbook open. And obviously with the way they started the second half converting five or six third downs, I didn't like our chances.”

Um, “sneak back?”

So the decision was founded on San Diego coach Norv Turner basically forgetting the score?

Tomlin was asked to clarify if, at that time, he didn't think it was viable for the Steelers to get two more touchdowns and two-point conversions.

“It was bleak at that point, yes.”

But if it was so bleak, why were Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu still playing?

Was Turner supposed to sleep through that, too?

Look, Tomlin's job is tough, especially now. He's dealing with injuries, inconsistencies and now idiot running backs not showing up for games. I think we all can respect that.

Thus, if I had to guess, Tomlin and staff just flat-out failed to process the score and its implications. Some coaches still carry the Dick Vermeil cheat sheet, a mathematical if-then listing of when to go for two compiled by the former NFL coach. Others just wing it. This was a mistake. It happens.

So why not own up to it?

The simple answer is that head coaches and managers in professional sports seldom do. It's just not the culture.

Oh, they're big on sweeping statements such as “We were outplayed and outcoached,” but I'll bet you can't count on one hand the number of times you've heard or read of a coach or manager take the fall for a specific failure within a game situation in this calendar year.

Flash back to Sept. 10, to the Pirates' crushing 4-3 loss to the Reds. That was the night Clint Hurdle stunningly yanked Wandy Rodriguez in the seventh inning even though Rodriguez had been dominant to that point with a pitch count of just 89. Enter Jared Hughes, and Cincinnati began teeing off.

Hurdle, like Tomlin, has taken broad ownership of losses, but he stumbled to explain his role in facilitating this one: “Wandy was probably only going to get one more hitter, anyway, so I decided to make the move now.”

That made no more sense than any of what Tomlin's been selling this week.

The Penguins' Dan Bylsma was no different when asked to address his penalty-killers' epic woes — with no visible strategic adjustment — against the Flyers in the last Stanley Cup playoffs.

“Our penalty-killing is just going to have to win us a game,” was all Bylsma said then.

Coaches hate fessing up to specifics. That's partly out of ego, partly because it can be all that people remember, but mostly because they fear it makes them look weak in front of the players. They don't see the benefit in that.

Sorry, but I do. At least once in a while.

The Pirates' players grumbled about that Rodriguez hook for weeks, and I can't imagine the Steelers' Antonio Brown will be tickled to hear that Tomlin called him out for repeated mental lapses in the same press conference where the head coach clumsily denied one of his own.

We're all human. Man up and move on.

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