The day that no NFL coach wants to arrive did arrive for the Steelers on Monday, and Mike Tomlin admitted he wasn't and still isn't totally prepared to deal with the end of the 2022 season.
"Larger picture, obviously, it comes to a screeching halt," said Tomlin during his news conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "It does for us. It does for a lot of others. I asked my team to be singularly focused, and I'm willing to live that out. I stand before you today with kind of a lack of preparedness for this. To be quite honest with you, I was preparing to prepare to play a game."
The Steelers took care of what they needed to do during Week 18, which was defeat the Cleveland Browns, but since the Miami Dolphins defeated the New York Jets on a 50-yard field goal in the final minute at Hard Rock Stadium, they finished eighth in a playoff field with only seven spots. And so, instead of meeting with the players on Monday to begin preparing for Wild Card Weekend, the subject of the Steelers meeting was the procedure for the start of the business of an NFL offseason.
"We'll meet (Monday) afternoon with our team, talk about some end-of-the-year things and acknowledge some calendar related things moving forward," said Tomlin, "(including) exit interviews and exit physicals being a component of those things. It's important that we do a really good job of wrapping a bow around what is the 2022 season. There's some physical work to be done. There's some planning to be done."
Tomlin said his procedure is always to put the players before his staff, and so they will be the first to go through the exit interview process, which includes meetings with their position coaches, with coordinators, with athletic trainers, with strength coaches, with Tomlin.
Some of those meetings might combine staff from a couple of those groups at once, but Tomlin made it clear it will take as long as it needs to take, and he explained the process will look forward as well as backward.
"The attention that we gave the journey, we need to give the exit process," said Tomlin. "In a lot of ways, it tees up the beginning of 2023, particularly if someone needs some medical work done, because it's better to sooner address that than later, to do a good job of making sure that we're addressing any ongoing medical issues people might be dealing with."
"It's important to get a snapshot evaluation of what has transpired with them, give them a window of maybe what might lie ahead and the work that might be required of them in an effort to get better."
Going all the way back to the hiring of Chuck Noll in 1969, the Steelers have been a franchise uninterested in doing things quickly, making maybe rash decisions. As Joe Greene once said of Dan Rooney, "I never forget him saying that when you have big decisions to make, let it soak. Think about it." And so the Steelers have, and they will operate that way in 2023.
"We'll proceed methodically through this," said Tomlin. "We'll probably move a little slower than most of our peers, but we don't worry about the Joneses. We've got a business model, one that we believe in, and we'll be thorough in doing so and in assessing what transpired in an effort to tee up our next opportunity, and at the appropriate time we'll start work in that area."
An area of interest with every NFL team is the coaching staff, and the first day of every offseason is known among NFL employees as "Black Monday" for a reason. Already there is "news on the street" regarding the Titans' list of GM candidates, the Browns requesting interviews with Brian Flores and New England's Jerod Mayo for their defensive coordinator job, the Cardinals looking for replacements for fired GM Steve Keim and Kilff Kingsbury, and the Falcons setting out on a search to replace retiring defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
Tomlin was asked his opinion of offensive coordinator Matt Canada's 2022. "I thought he got better, just like our team got better. I'm not going to speculate about him or anyone as I stand here today. Just as I mentioned, we fight, and that fight has come to an end. I'm just beginning the process of transitioning in terms of wrapping a bow around it and looking and seeing what 2023 looks like. I'm just not there. We've got some work to do. But largely, I thought he got better in the ways that we got better, so it was encouraging."
During the 1998 offseason, following Kordell Stewart's first full season as the starting quarterback, Coach Bill Cowher solicited Stewart's input during the search to replace offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who had become head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. That process resulted in the hiring of Ray Sherman, who lasted just one season before being replaced in 1999 by Kevin Gilbride.
Kenny Pickett just completed his first season as the full-time starting quarterback, and the issue was raised of his potential input in the offseason evaluation of Canada.
"I'm not going to delve into the dynamics of my decision making. It doesn't serve me or us in any way to peel back that curtain," said Tomlin. "I have intimate conversations with everyone. Kenny being our quarterback, that's going to happen. But the nature and the details of those conversations and how that leads to decision-making will never be discussed in a forum like this."
Tomlin did offer this assessment of offensive line coach Pat Meyer when asked specifically about his role in the development of his unit.
"He's a good communicator, good teacher. He challenges the guys," said Tomlin. "He does all the things that you want a guy in that space to do, formally and informally in terms of the growth and development of an individual and a collective. He's been really solid. I'll tell you this: Probably the most significant thing about the development of our offensive line is the availability of that group. The continuity required to grow is a major component of it, and we're thankful that not only did we have really good consistent in-game performance with that group, but just good practice ability and consistency in that area from that group. It starts first with availability and then the work, and (Meyer) did a good job shepherding that work."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"I think (Pat Freiermuth's knee injury) can be characterized as an MCL sprain, non-surgical, so that's exciting for him."