Mike Tomlin is a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve, but normally those emotions are that of a fierce competitor, one filled with energy and fire.
Things were a little different, though, when the Steelers coach spoke about tight end Ben Roethlisberger and his decision to retire after 11 seasons with the team.
"It's been an honor and a pleasure to coach him, to watch him grow and evolve and perform," said a subdued Tomlin, his emotions tough to mask as he was not just watching one of the best players he ever coached walk away from the game, but one of the best people.
"To watch him grow in every way. To watch his sons get old enough to come to work with him on a Saturday morning and see those relationships. He is not low maintenance, he has been no maintenance. He has always put the Pittsburgh Steelers first in every aspect of his professional life. I don't know that I can describe that. I don't know if there has been a guy that I have been around that is like him from an unselfish standpoint. Largely and in every instance, we are all human, we all fall short. I don't know if I have ever seen a regrettable moment in him. That just speaks to who he is."
Miller was the Steelers No. 1 draft pick in 2005, two years before Tomlin took over as the team's head coach. But when he arrived, he saw a young player who was mature beyond his years and who continued to grow in ways that helped the team both on and off the field.
"It goes beyond him being the type of person that makes my job easier," said Tomlin, his eyes slightly glassy as emotions set in but he kept it in check. "He is the type of person that I want my boys to be. He has inspired me in that way. When I look at him and think about his body of work personally and professionally, as a dad you think about boy how could I raise my sons to be like Heath Miller, to project the things and values he projects?"
Even after being around him for nine years, Tomlin still shakes his head when talking about Miller's humility, especially in a game were egos are commonplace. Tomlin said he enjoyed hearing Steelers Nation shower Miller with chants of 'Heeeath,' but at the same time knows the quiet Miller shied away from such attention.
"It's funny," said Tomlin. "That is just Steelers Nations way of expressing appreciation for him and who he is. I imagine he resists it in some way. The last thing he probably ever wanted was to be recognized individually.
"Over the years I laugh when I introduce our offensive unit. Coming to know him, it explains to me why he comes out so fast and so immediately after the guy in front of him. It's like he is trying to beat the PA announcer and the crowd's reaction of 'Heeeath.' That's him. He just wants to do his job and do his job in the best way and be the very best low key teammate he can be. I think that is one of the many things we all respect and love about him."
Miller, who finished his career ranked second in team history with 592 receptions and fourth in yards with 6,569, will be missed on the field as he was one of the most dependable targets quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ever had to work with.
"His talent. His commitment. His drive, determination," said Tomlin of what the offense will miss. "The day to day example he set for others. The legacy that is his career will touch us and specifically the tight end position here in Pittsburgh for a long, long time. I imagine there will be guys that reflect and represent his values for years to come. Impactful guys like him always do. The spirit and competitiveness of Hines Ward lives on in the day to day performance of guys like Antonio Brown. We are going to see similar things in terms of the impact of Heath Miller."
And while he will be missed on the field, his impact overall in the locker room, off the field, and in everything he touched with the Steelers organization will be felt even stronger. As Tomlin said, when it comes to Heath Miller, they definitely broke the mold.
"There is no question," said Tomlin. "You don't replace a Heath Miller. You simply do the best you can to move on and understand the attributes of those that follow are theirs and you don't try to look for them to be something they are not."