On halftime, adjustments, paranoia
Throughout the 2009 NFL season, Coach Mike Tomlin will provide his insight and observations to Steelers.com on a variety of topics pertaining to the team and the National Football League.
Q. Do you think your success as a head coach has started a trend toward hiring younger guys throughout the NFL?
A. I personally don't believe that. I believe that things in this profession go in cycles. A few years ago, 5-6 years ago, there was a push to recycle veteran coaches and pay them big money. That didn't necessarily yield positive results, or the results those owners were looking for, so now they're trying something new. And it happens to be cheaper.
Q. There is a lot of romance associated with it, and maybe it all started with the portrayal of it in the movie "Knute Rockne: All-American." What really goes on at halftime?
A. It's really kind of mundane. You have roughly 12 minutes or so. Coaches come together, compare notes, look at some issues and areas where you're deficient, some areas where you could potentially make some splash plays in the second half. And that discussion is usually pretty quick – three-to-four minutes. During that same time, players are cooling down, getting attention from the trainers if they need it, going to the bathroom, if you will. Then after that, they come together as an offense and as a defense, and then they address the adjustments or the potential adjustments they need to make in the second half. That goes on for roughly five minutes. I call them all up, and give them one final thought that captures everything we need to do as a collective group. Usually that's about 30-to-45 seconds, and then we're out of there.
Q. It always seems that if a team plays poorly in the first half and better in the second half, well that's because they made the proper adjustments. If something happens to a team in the second half and it loses the game, well that's because it failed to make the proper adjustments. Is that what's really happening?
A. I really think it's about making a collective decision to impose your will on the game, or gather yourself if it's not going your way. I think that has more to do with it than anything else. It's about the guys having an opportunity to come together, look at one another in the eyes and make a decision about how we're going to finish this football game, regardless of what happened in the first half or what happens in the second half. Most of the adjustments are made between series – in game. If you're experiencing a problem in the first quarter, and you wait until halftime to fix it, it could be too bad by the time you get into the locker room. That's just the reality of it. Most adjustments are made by units in between the series.
Q. How does a lot of that game-day coaching happen? Does it come from things seen from the coaches' box, or from the sideline, or from talking to the players, or from the still-photos teams are allowed to take at the snap on each play?
A. More important than the still-photos is the feedback from the players, because their in-helmet perspective is different from the press box perspective. When you sit in the press box, you see it all coming, and you see it coming a mile away, but that doesn't matter, because the guys play inside the helmet. So the better you dialogue players and feed them information from an in-helmet perspective – or get information from them from an in-helmet perspective – to me that's the key to making adjustments and coaching and rallying and thinking on your feet on game day.
Q. Do you have go-to guys, maybe veterans, when you're looking for information, or do you simply talk to whomever is in the middle of the action?
A. Sometimes the questions are unit questions, or group questions. In those cases you go to your point man, a veteran player you know who sees it the way it is. Sometimes issues are very player-specific, and there's dialogue with each individual player.
Q. Coaching in the NFL can be a very paranoid business. What's your level of paranoia?
A. I wouldn't consider myself paranoid. Anything that I do in terms of keeping information close to the vest is done so because talking about it doesn't help me. I always have the mentality that if it doesn't help me, why do it, or say it? Mine is geared more toward that than paranoia.
Q. So you're not looking up at windows in buildings adjacent to the practice field for guys standing there with binoculars?
A. No. Not at all. I believe the game is played between the white lines. It's a technique-oriented game, an execution-oriented game. Although at times, information or the ability to gather information is helpful, I never think it's significant enough to determine the outcome of a game.