ShareThis Page
Steelers

Kevin Gorman: Steelers a reflection of Mike Tomlin's culture

Kevin Gorman
| Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, 7:12 p.m.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stands next to Ramon Foster during a game against the Browns on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stands next to Ramon Foster during a game against the Browns on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, at Heinz Field.

Mike Tomlin sat key starters and still led the Steelers to another single-digit victory in a season of them.

Tomlin wasn't worried about the New England Patriots or the AFC playoff seedings before the season finale. Those were merely more distractions in a season of them.

Tomlin believed the Steelers could beat the Cleveland Browns with Landry Jones, Stevan Ridley, B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler and Tyson Alualu instead of Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Cameron Heyward.

And he was right.

“What matters is the culture that Coach Tomlin has on the team,” left tackle Alejandro Villanueva said. “The standard is the standard, all the cliches and whatnot, I think it means something to everybody.

“When you're in the meeting room, and you're around coaches that are correcting the starters and correcting the guys that are playing, you absorb all the coaching and it's indifferent whether the starters or the backups are playing. Everybody has a standard they have to meet. It speaks volumes about what Coach Tomlin and the organization have done.”

That the Steelers are a reflection of their coach is why they beat the Browns, 28-24, on Sunday at Heinz Field, why they finished 13-3 instead of 5-11 this season.

Some Steelers fans never have warmed to Tomlin, seeing him in the same vein as Terry Bradshaw: nothing more than a cheerleader.

Well, the victory over the Browns was Tomlin's 116th, trailing only Don Shula for the most by an NFL coach in his first 11 seasons.

The Steelers played in 10 games decided by six points or fewer and won eight. They won in the final minute four times, yet will be remembered by some for the game they lost in the final minute — to the Patriots.

Along the way, Tomlin didn't allow distractions to sidetrack the Steelers from their Super Bowl aspirations, whether it was sitting out the national anthem in Chicago, Big Ben wondering if he still had it after throwing five interceptions against Jacksonville, Ryan Shazier's spine injury or the benching of Martavis Bryant or the suspensions of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marcus Gilbert.

“We've tuned most of that stuff out and thought, ‘Let's just get back to playing football,' ” Heyward said. “That's our safe haven. That's where we do work. That's what we're paid for. We have goals in mind. If it's not about our goals, then it's not with us.”

That James Harrison is no longer with the Steelers is a sign of how Tomlin dealt with another delicate issue. The 39-year-old outside linebacker displayed his displeasure with not playing a pivotal role, and Tomlin made a difficult decision by releasing a team legend.

It could have torn the Steelers apart. Instead, the players bonded over the departure of the franchise's all-time sacks leader and set a single-season sacks record against the Browns.

Tomlin proved wise to rest his best players, giving them two weeks off to get healthy for their AFC divisional playoff game.

“I didn't want him to reward me for that, but sometimes, as much as I want to be hard-headed, he has the final say,” Heyward said. “He understands what we're chasing is a lot more than just one game. He understands the big picture. You appreciate that. I think we have to reward him back for that. The guys that were out this game have to be even bigger in the next game.”

Tomlin has to be at his best for the next three games. That's how the Steelers are looking at the playoffs, simplifying it to a three-game winning streak to win their seventh Super Bowl. Tomlin already addressed the elephant in the room, predicting they would meet the Patriots again.

Tomlin has learned from his experience, even if he wouldn't discuss it in detail.

“We're all products of our previous experience, so I don't make a big deal out of that,” Tomlin said. “We better be getting better, me included. That's what life is about. That's what this profession is about.”

Tomlin knows he is only as good as the Steelers' last game. Tomlin also knows if their last game is against the Patriots, it's not good enough.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com 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.

click me