ShareThis Page

Starkey: Tomlin imposter fuels conspiracy theories

| Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, 10:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin speaks to the media during his weekly news conference Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, on the South Side

I didn't believe any of the conspiracy theories until I showed up to Mike Tomlin's news conference Tuesday and saw that Tomlin had been kidnapped and replaced with a doppelganger.

Am I the only one who noticed?

The imposter was nothing like the clipped, defiant and sometimes arrogant Tomlin we see from week to week. No, this guy was funny, open, cordial, inviting, revealing, self-deprecating and contrite. I half-expected him to finish the session by inviting us to lunch and a round of Christmas carols.

People wonder why so many fans don't seem to like the real Tomlin, despite his enormous success? Maybe part of it is the way he presents himself to the media, which by extension is the way he presents himself to fans. Maybe the real Tomlin could take a lesson from his double.

The real Tomlin is liable to finish his news conference by muttering something under his breath — something like, “You guys have too much time on your hands.” The imposter actually solicited more queries when it appeared the session had ended.

Seriously, we'd been talking about the kick return heard 'round the world for a good 20 minutes when the Tomlin doppelganger greeted a prolonged silence by saying, “Anything else, in any form or fashion? Because, again, it is my desire to be completely transparent.”

That was a dead giveaway, because no football coach aspires to transparency. The real Tomlin once said of Ben Roethlisberger's availability for an exhibition game: “We're going to make you come to the stadium to check that out.”

The imposter took full responsibility for the Thanksgiving night “blunder” in Baltimore, though he also said he would “never consider” doing such a thing intentionally. At that point, I wanted to believe that this was the real Tomlin speaking from his heart. But I wavered. I couldn't be sure. I remembered the real Tomlin's team-released statement when Bruce Arians was jettisoned. It ended like this: “I am grateful to Bruce for contributing to our success and wish him nothing but the best in his retirement.”

Thing is, Bruce didn't retire. He was working for the Indianapolis Colts about four minutes later.

The imposter sounded more like the real Tomlin when asked if he'd contacted the Ravens to offer an apology. That would seem like a normal course of action, but the imposter said he had no reason to do such a thing — that those in Baltimore's camp who know him know how much he respects the game.

Jacoby Jones clearly isn't one of them. He believes Tomlin meant to get in his way. Defensive lineman Chris Canty obviously doesn't know the real Tomlin, either, because this is what he told 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore: “Everybody understood his intention, which was to get in the way of Jacoby Jones, and if not get in the way, then trip Jacoby Jones to prevent him from scoring.”

Honestly, I don't know what to believe anymore. I've now seen the return from every conceivable angle: NBC's, KDKA's and the coaches film — “All 22,” it's called. I'm sure cell-phone videos are next. I'm sticking with my theory that the real Tomlin kind of, sort of meant to be obstructive in the white box — rightfully believing he was working within the parameters of where a lot of coaches illegally roam and where he himself had roamed before. What coach, in football or basketball, stays in the prescribed box? Jamie Dixon practically plays forward in Pitt's 2-3 zone.

As my theory goes, Tomlin got too close to the tracks, was surprised at how fast the train was coming and ... whoops! He stepped onto the field. It was an accident born of too much bravado and deserving of a stiff fine, if the NFL ever gets around to adjudicating.

The imposter made a sensible case for the accidental jab step when I asked if it was simply an instinctual move.

“I think if you're standing as straight-legged as I was, it would require some bending and moving to the right in order to go left,” he said. “And I'm not as athletic as I used to be or as those who play. I did see the ‘Soul Train' picture (an Internet creation that photoshopped a sideline-straddling Tomlin onto a dance floor). That was interesting. ... I've heard all the jokes, and I got it coming.”

I liked that part. It was humble. It was human.

Maybe the real Tomlin could take a cue.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.