By BOB LABRIOLA
Full Super Bowl Coverage TAMPA – The weather is warmer, the media contingent is larger, and the game is more important. All of that might be different, but Coach Mike Tomlin is the same.
Throughout this season, Tomlin has tried to walk the line between convincing his players that contending for a championship isn't too big for them while also getting across the sense of urgency required to do just that. He has been steady and even-keeled, and nothing about the mania leading up to Super Bowl XLIII is going to change him or his approach.
The Steelers arrived here shortly after noon on Monday, and less than three hours later, Tomlin and a half-dozen Steelers players were posted up around a huge tent that housed the first mandatory media session of the week. The whole tent setup created the feeling of being at a circus, and upon further review, that was apropos.
Tomlin was up first, and he set the tone.
"It's my goal that we embrace all that comes with being in the Super Bowl," said Tomlin. "We're not going to come down here and have the mentality that we're going to resist the obligations we have. We're not going to be resistant of the opportunities we have to visit with the media, and so forth.
"We're down here to play, we're down here to win, but there are a lot of other things that come with that. There are 30 other teams I'm sure would love to have the burden we have this week, and so we're going to embrace it. I've encouraged the guys, not only this week, but also last week … there's going to be joyful lifting for us, if you will, in terms of some of the tasks that go with this football game."
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Tomlin also touched upon a number of other topics during his 15-minute session behind the microphone, including the ways in which he has changed his approach from his first season as the Steelers coach in 2007 to this one.
"I'm always going to be open and willing to change if it produces better results," said Tomlin. "Like every year I've been in this profession, I analyzed the things I've done and how I could have potentially done things better to produce a better outcome. My intentions were to do that last year, and thankfully we're sitting where we are today. I don't know if it's in any way directly related to some of the decisions that I made, but I'll always be searching for the ceiling in terms of putting our team in the best position to perform.
"It was my intention in 2007 to come here and draw some hard lines in the dirt, as a basis and a beginning of forming a relationship with our football team. It's a heckuva lot easier to pull back than it is to put your foot down, so those were my intentions. I'm probably more in my comfort zone this year with the football team than I was a year ago. Not that I wasn't comfortable, but this is more of who I am, and I think they have an understanding of that. All relationships are built based on shared experiences, and we didn't have any experiences to call on. So the relationship was edgy, if you will. That comes with the territory."
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After taking over for Bill Cowher, a man who had coaches the Steelers for 15 years and who had been with this core for six of those, Tomlin came across as someone with little regard for their accomplishments in the past.
Joey Porter was released a couple of months after Tomlin was hired; Alan Faneca didn't get the contract extension he was seeking; and Hines Ward was reprimanded in a team meeting for spiking the ball during one of the first practices of the first minicamp.
Tomlin had his reasons.
"It wasn't my intention to go about breaking through to the team," said Tomlin. "I have a job to do as a coach, and they have jobs to do as players. I knew that just over time we would get to know one another and then we would have a level of comfort. I wasn't going to do that on day 1, day 2 or day 10 on the job. That was something that was going to occur over time, so that was down my to-do list, if you will, establishing the warm and fuzzy relationships. I just knew they would occur eventually, and so I went about the business of the things I need to do on a day-to-day basis to make sure our program was up and running the way I desire it to."