There have been instances during the course of his three-plus seasons as the Steelers coach that Mike Tomlin has chosen to deal with something in a forthright manner in an effort to get some closure and return the focus to the matter at hand.
And so it was again on Wednesday at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex when Tomlin answered questions from the media about the James Harrison situation in order to get the focus back on the team's upcoming trip to Miami to face the 3-2 Dolphins on Sunday.
"I am paid to deal with distractions. Distractions are a part of this game," said Tomlin. "That's what makes it a professional game, particularly when you're good. We have a desire to be a good team, and so we understand the attention that comes with that. We don't fight it. We embrace it."
To put a chronology on the latest distraction: On Sunday, Harrison was involved in two plays that ended with two Browns players being helped off the field, and by the close of business on Tuesday he had received notification from the league of a $75,000 fine along with a warning that "future offenses will result in an escalation of fines up to and including suspension."
Harrison took that news hard, and in a subsequent interview on Sirius XM he said, "Even if you want to say is was helmet-to-helmet, it really wasn't helmet-to-helmet. His helmet hit my shoulder pad if you slow everything down and look at it. We didn't actually hit helmets. It was the shoulder pad. And he lowered his target area by a good three feet. I mean, there's nothing really else I can do and that's why I'm so frustrated. How can I continue to play this game the way I've been taught to play this game since I was 10 years old? And now you're telling me that everything they've taught me from that time on, for the last 20-plus years, is not the way you're supposed to play the game anymore. If that's the case I can't play by those rules. You're handicapping me."
In the same interview, Harrison said he would start Wednesday by meeting with Tomlin, and one of the things he was considering was whether he could continue to play professional football.
"If I got fined for what is right there on that tape, then I don't see how I can continue to be effective and play this game. I mean, literally, you're handicapping me," said Harrison. "You're taking away what, like I said, I was taught for the last 20 years on how to play the game. I can't go in there and do what it is that I do, that I have been doing, and be effective. So, yeah, that is something I'll have to consider doing. I mean, I'm afraid to go out here and play the game the way I've been playing it. I mean, literally."
About his meeting with Harrison, Tomlin said, "I met with James this morning prior to the official start of the day in my office. We had a conversation, a very productive conversation. At that time I thought it was beneficial to him and to us if I gave him a little time to cool off, give him the day. I excused him at that time. We went on to have a productive (Wednesday) here. I am sure he will be back in the building tomorrow ready to play football. The details of the discussion that he and I had, I would like to remain between he and I, as is always the case when I am dealing one-on-one with players, whether it's business or professional. I think that's the appropriate and prudent thing to do.
"Needless to say this is a very emotional thing for James. He's a very disciplined and regimented guy. He's passionate about the game of football. It bothers him maybe that he's being perceived as a dirty player. He doesn't desire to be. He simply wants to play the game and play extremely well."
During the rest of his time behind the microphone, Tomlin reiterated what he had said earlier – that it was still his opinion that both of Harrison's hits in the Browns game were legal, that he doesn't believe there is any confusion among players about how they're allowed to tackle, and that he favors the conscious effort being made to safeguard players.
Tomlin also made it clear that he asked Harrison to take the day and go home; that it wasn't a case of the player not wanting to be at work. What Tomlin would not do was speculate about a wide range of things, such as Harrison's perceived reputation around the league or in the media, or whether players would rather take a hit on the knee or a blow to the head. Then, it was back to business.
"With (all) that being said," said Tomlin, "I thought we had a productive day today. Got some limited work from Trai Essex coming back from injury. We'll continue on the process of preparing for the Dolphins."