It was the first question at Mike Tomlin's season-ending news conference today at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, and it typically has been the first question at every Steelers season-ending news conference for some 20 years, or since Bill Cowher changed offensive coordinators after Super Bowl XXX.
Do you expect all of your assistant coaches back next season?
"I don't know where these roads are going to lead," said Tomlin. "Some conversations need to be had. Some contracts are up. Some contracts aren't. I'm not ready to discuss that at this point. Part of gaining that understanding is having those conversations. You'll hear about them as they unfold, I'm sure, if there's anything to be heard. But (we're) not there yet."
There are two kinds of departures that take place when it comes to NFL assistant coaches. There's the voluntary kind, when an assistant leaves for a different/better job, and the involuntary kind when an assistant is either fired or his contract isn't renewed. There's a possibility that Tomlin's staff could experience a little bit of both of those kinds of change, but with nothing official as of noon today, Tomlin had nothing to say about it.
Based on reports, there would seem to be three potential changes to Tomlin's staff of assistants: offensive line coach Mike Munchak already was interviewed once for the Arizona Cardinals' vacant head coaching job and there are reports he will have a second interview; wide receivers coach Richard Mann reportedly said the 2017 season would be his last; and offensive coordinator Todd Haley's contract expired at the end of the season.
The status of Haley's relationship with Ben Roethlisberger has been the subject of speculation for years, and Tomlin was asked about that relationship.
"I'm gathering information on all relationships and things of that nature," said Tomlin. "That's what this assessment is about, so I'm not ready to state opinions about the nature of any of our relationships, whether I'm assessing it in terms of what transpired or what's going to transpire moving forward. That's the process I'm in right now."
Tomlin also wouldn't take the bait when the question was reconfigured to solicit his opinion on the performance of the offense.
"I'm not going to have a lot of definitive answers for you guys because I don't want to provide you with misinformation," said Tomlin. "Some of the things, some of the minute details, whether we're talking about offense or defense or special teams or roles within (them), I have very definitive positions on and information about. Some of it I understand that I'm not privy to all circumstances and information during the course of a journey, so I'm letting others deliver information to me. It's all a good process for me, one I take very seriously. Some of these things I'm quite frankly not going to be ready to talk about in real strong ways at this point."
If there was one definitive area regarding his staff of assistants that Tomlin was willing and able to address, it was the criteria used to evaluate those assistants.
"We're all a product of the end result. It starts there, whether it's players or coaches," said Tomlin. "We are what the record says we are. It starts there, but it's also your will – players and coaches – what are you willing to do. I know what you're capable of, or I have a pretty good assessment of what men are capable of, but what you're capable of very rarely defines you in this business, whether you're a player or a coach. What you're willing to do is what defines you, and what you're willing to do on a consistent basis. How selfless are you? How willing are you to put our goals and agenda ahead of anything that might be on your check-list or to-do list? Those are general things I assess of all people who put their hand in the pile."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We have medical things we need to address. I don't have a lot of details there. A lot of you are aware of guys dealing with ongoing things, some of those things may have been scheduled. One that comes to mind is Tyler Matakevich is scheduled for shoulder surgery on Wednesday. Some of the other stuff is a lot more tentative. We've got to check those boxes as well, and we will. It's important that we do a good job with that, because it really defines the start of the next journey, and really that's all we have because this journey is over."