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Mark Madden

Mark Madden: A few simple rules for Mike Tomlin to fix Steelers culture

| Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, 6:30 p.m.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin speaks to the media during his last news conference of the season Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin speaks to the media during his last news conference of the season Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

If social media and talk shows provide an accurate barometer, there never has been a bigger outcry for the Steelers to fire Coach Mike Tomlin.

Going 13-3 doesn't matter. Going 0-1 in the playoffs does, especially to conclude a season that had far more promise.

But Tomlin won't be fired and shouldn't.

Tomlin has never had a losing season. He has the second-highest winning percentage among active NFL coaches. Tomlin has made the playoffs eight times in 11 years. He's guided the Steelers to two Super Bowls, winning one.

You can't fire Tomlin.

But Tomlin's team is a mess.

Ownership and upper management are catching on. That's why the Steelers took care to select high-character players in last year's draft.

If the Steelers keep doing that, their discipline problem will solve itself organically within a decade or so. But with Ben Roethlisberger's career tight on time, a quicker fix seems prudent.

This space has mooted the possibility of ditching Le'Veon Bell as well as other lesser lights that are more trouble than they're worth.

But regardless of roster composition, Tomlin can start fixing things by going back to ground zero: establish rules, require that they're followed, then practice accountability.

Be on time.

If you're late for practice or meetings, you're sent home. If you're late for the walk-through or tardy on game day, you don't play.

That's extremely basic. It's also a good place to start. It serves as the bedrock of disciplinarians like Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin. (Their teams played in the AFC championship game Sunday.) Punctuality is the foundation upon which focus and credibility are built.

Tomlin has zero credibility in that regard. His assistant coaches show up late.

Ban use of social media.

Poor judgment in using social media has caused problems for Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and others. Not much good comes from social media besides fun. But pro football is work, not fun.

Just 72 hours after the Steelers got eliminated by Jacksonville, JuJu Smith-Schuster was on Twitter asking fans to vote for the Steelers' "hide and seek" celebration in an NFL.com poll to determine the best TD celly.

Not a good look.

Outlawing social media has nothing to do with a free-speech debate. It can be made a condition of employment.

Tomlin says the key is learning proper execution of the medium, noting that his teenage sons use social media.

Not relevant.

Tomlin can parent his kids any way he wants. He needs to be more of a boss with his players. The Steelers too often have been rash or stupid on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. So ditch social media.

These are small steps but significant if minimizing shenanigans is your goal.

But it's not all about rules and not all about Tomlin.

After the Steelers lost to Jacksonville, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster and Cam Heyward expressed dissatisfaction with the Steelers' attitude prior, specifically looking ahead to New England.

Please note: That started with the coach.

Please also note: Complaining after the fact does no good. Call out your locker room when it can help. Be noisy or be quiet. Do it individually or address the group.

But lead. Don't grouse after losing. Lead before the season is wasted. Leadership clearly has been lacking.

But it's tough to lead when few follow. Some recently retired Steelers leaders would agree.

Straightening out the culture of chaos won't be easy.

That's especially true when Tomlin likely will do none of the above.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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