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Hearing from Mike Tomlin


On quarterbacks coaches, hiring new assistants

As the Steelers get set to navigate free agency and prepare for the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft, Coach Mike Tomlin will provide his insight and observations to on a variety of topics pertaining to the team and the National Football League.

Q. Is the job of quarterbacks coach different at the NFL level?

A. Yes and no. Quarterback is a very technical job, one that requires a great deal of maintenance technically. I think a great number of things can creep in on a professional quarterback just like they can on a quarterback at any level. It's different in that a lot of the things a quarterback at this level is asked to do for an offense, for a football team, are more and different than what quarterbacks are asked to do for teams or offenses at other levels. In some ways, the job of quarterbacks coach is the same – I'm a fundamentalist in that I always believe you coach and emphasize technique, and I think you get what you emphasize in that area – but there are some things that come with playing quarterback at the NFL level that are different.

Q. Would an NFL quarterbacks coach be doing more work on aspects that can be described as mental, such as talking about things, recognizing things, work that's done mostly in a classroom setting?

A. Absolutely. Not only the way in which quarterbacks look at things, but also the volume of things in which they look at is different – and more – in this league.

Q. You had to make some changes to your coaching staff for the first time since being hired by the Steelers. How do you decide a change has to be made, and then what is the process for finding a replacement?

A. I've always been one to believe that if you're thinking about a change, then you should make one. Really, change is inevitable, change is a part of this business. If you're thinking about it, it probably should happen. The hiring process for me starts with information gathering: Talking to people you know and respect in the industry about potential candidates, or just talking about people who are on-the-come in the profession, if you will. Videotape is a part of that information gathering. Some of the names you hear, some of the reputations you hear – the next thing I do is to look at tape to see if the tape matches some of the things I hear in regards to them. Lastly, it is the introduction, or the process of getting to know them professionally and personally. What they're about, what makes them tick, what their goals are, what their core beliefs about football are. Are they capable of working in and fitting into this environment? Is this a place they want to be, genuinely? There are a myriad of things, but the process usually runs along those lines.

Q. In other professions, getting fired can be a real detriment in finding another job, but that's not the case in the NFL for coaches, is it?

A. I think it's similar at the top of any profession. The guys who coach the game in this league are not the only guys in the world who coach this game. There are guys at the collegiate level, the high school level, the junior high level, little league level – all consider themselves coaches. All of them call the vocation of coaching their profession. So, what can be perceived to be failure at this level is just the natural competitive spirit that the top of any profession entails. I believe that.

Q. When teams hire new assistants, there usually is one of two ways they choose to go: either, as you said earlier, look for the up-and-comers, or take a guy who has been fired at one level and bring him on at a lower level, such as a coordinator to a position coach. Do you have a preference? Do you get more bang for your buck hiring someone who has held a better job, or do you prefer up-and-coming people?

A. It depends on the situation. It depends on how that person is going to fit into your work environment, your division of labor. How are they going to fit into the group? Those are things you pick up in the interview process, in the conversation process. Usually people have gotten jobs as head coaches or coordinators because they were good at other jobs – a great quarterbacks coach, a great secondary coach. Whether or not they're capable of doing those jobs is less of an issue, because usually their resume speaks to that. But more importantly, it's what are they looking for at this point in their careers, and do they fit in the big picture in terms of what you're doing.

Q. When you assemble a staff, do you use some of the coaches to teach players how to play the game and then use other guys who are more involved in the strategy and forming game plans?

A. Sure. I think a good staff is one that works well together and has a good understanding of the division of labor. A good staff has people at different points in their careers, who bring new and different things to the table. One assistant coach might be good in terms of adding things from a strategy standpoint, while another assistant coach might bring energy, simply from the fact that he's excited about the opportunity on a day-to-day basis. There's value in all of those things, and a nice blend of guys who are at different stages and bring those varied attributes to the table is helpful.

Q. During the hiring period for coaches at the end of every season, there are some teams that refuse to give permission for their coaches to interview for other jobs. Where do you stand on this issue with regard to the guys on your staff?

A. We handle it on a case-by-case basis. Usually if it's an opportunity for a career advancement for an individual, we're open to granting him an opportunity to look at that. I think that's fair, but at the same time I don't pass any judgment on how people choose to do business. People have contracts for a reason; they're binding.

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