Hearing from Coach Mike Tomlin


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. The situation that exists in the final weeks of every NFL regular season, when certain teams may not have anything to play for in terms of standings or playoff seeds, do you see that as just a cost of doing business in this league?
A. To a degree, I do. But I also believe there are things to play for, even when you're not talking about seeding or positioning. I think there is such a thing as momentum in the National Football League, at least for the teams that I've been associated with. I like the way the 2008 Steelers finished the regular season. I thought the way we re-established the run in week 17 set the stage for what happened with us in the Divisional Round against San Diego in some of the things we were able to do. We were not a rusty football team when we played San Diego because of the way we performed in week 17, in my opinion.
Q. The commissioner's office is said to be looking into this situation. Can it be legislated?
A. I think you can attempt to legislate it, but I think there's always going to be elements or facets of the game that are going to be less than ideal for some parties, if you will. If they do find a way to successfully control or regulate the situation or circumstance, there will be something that will be a by-product of that legislation that nobody thought of that will be just as disconcerting. It's football. The teams that do the job and get themselves in that situation deserve to conduct themselves the way they choose down the stretch.
Q. Do you think the decision about which players play and how much they play could be part of a rule that is implemented? Could coaches have that taken out of their hands?
A. I don't see that happening. And not only coaches, but general managers and owners, too. I don't think people want to be told how to run their operations.
Q. As a head coach, what kind of relationships can you actually have with players?
A. It's different on so many levels. There's a professional relationship, there are personal relationships, there are collective relationships that you have with multiple players or groups of players. It's like any other job. When you're put in a position of leadership, if you're legitimately going to lead people, in this case, men, you have to know them below the surface. You have to know what makes them tick. You have to know what their thoughts, concerns, hopes, fears, goals are. I try to get to know these guys intimately, because I think it helps me. I think it helps us.
Q. When you deal with a lot of people, there are some you're going to like more than others. Do you have to be careful about that?
A. I recognize that it's natural. Some people are going to connect on a personal level more so than others. At the very least, I always approach it as there has to be mutual respect between all parties involved. I recognize that they have a job to do, and that is to play. They recognize I have a job to do, which is to lead and coach. If we respect those boundaries, that's a great place to begin.
Q. During the five-game losing streak, you said time and again that the team wasn't making enough plays. What changed during the last three weeks of the season?
A. Just that. We haven't been dominant, no question about that. We desire to be that, but when we're not we need to make timely plays that provide wins for us. In the last three games, those plays have been provided at critical moments, and in the National Football League it's a handful of plays – when teams aren't dominant – that decide the outcomes of football games.
Q. LaMarr Woodley had sacks in the last eight games of the season. Does that show you he's turning the corner as far as becoming a veteran?
A. If nothing else, what this shows me is he is a guy who comes on late in each of the three years he has been with us. You know me, I'm going to try to get him out of the starting blocks a little faster. His rookie year, he came on strong late in the year and ended up with decent numbers as a young man. Of course, what he did last year in the playoffs is well-documented, and he came on strong for us at the end of this year. For me, it's about getting him out of the starting blocks faster.
Q. Did the outcome of the team MVP vote surprise you?
A. Not at all. Ben is well-respected in the locker room. He's a quality quarterback and leader. Guys respect what he's capable of doing and what he does for us, not only inside stadiums but also here at the practice facility and outside of here as well.
Q. Your cornerbacks have not played well through most of the season. Is it because of the fact they're not getting enough help?
A. Like talking about our football team, when you're not dominant you would like to make timely plays, and I think that can characterize our cornerback play. At times we've given up big plays and that's the nature of the game of football – that's why they use scoreboards. That's going to happen, but when it does happen you have to offset that with some splash plays of your own. We haven't had interceptions and we've given up some big plays, and at times that has pushed the performance below the line.

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