Tomlin on leadership, guys switching positions


Q. When weather hit the Saint Vincent College campus during training camp, or when there was a threat of weather hitting campus, how did you decide the course of action? Stick it out on the field, or into the gym there on campus, or pack up and move to another location?**

A. We gather as much information as we can gather from the so-called experts, but most weathermen are firmly positioned on the fence. So at the 11th hour we usually go with our gut. John Mitchell, my assistant head coach, has been at Saint Vincent for 23 years now, and so usually he and I will stand in the middle of the field and he'll look at the sky over Rooney Hall and give me his take on whether or not we can get the practice in. Then we go from there.

Q. You are willing to hold practice in the elements. There can be injuries, the wet ball. How do you decide how much weather is too much weather in terms of getting the work done?

A. I'm allergic to lightning; everything else I deal with. Because that's how our game is played. All of those other things could occur in a stadium, and if I run away from that then I'm not doing my due diligence in terms of preparing the group. Often I welcome some of the issues associated with weather. At this time of the year it could be rain, in the latter part of the year it could be cold or snow. Those elements play a part in the outcomes of football games, so I embrace opportunities to prepare within those conditions. It's a great evaluation tool to see who can handle and protect the ball in less than ideal circumstances, as one example. There are a lot of questions about situations that you don't get to answer until you're in them, so I'm always hopeful that we get a number of these types of days that we have to navigate because it reveals things and tells us things about the members of our team.

Q. Who on your staff is your go-to weatherman?

A. In recent years, with all of the hand-held devices and Doppler radar, everybody thinks they're weathermen. Garrett Giemont, our strength coach, is our official go-to guy, but everybody with an opinion usually pulls out an iPhone and wants to tell me their prognosis for the weather.

Q. Your time at Saint Vincent this summer is over, and even though you always say a training camp is judged by the team's results that season, do you have some sense whether or not the work got done?

A. I feel really good about the work that was done. I feel very good about the informal work and the informal moments of team development that occurred up there. This is a legitimately close group, and some of the things you gain by going away to a site like Saint Vincent create an environment for that to take place. I feel that has taken place in a big way, and over the course of a season we'll see the potential benefits of that. That could be called upon at some time to get us out of a stadium.


Q. In talking to the media about the preseason opener, you said there were some good things that happened in the game. When reviewing the video with the team, is it more important to point out the good things, or focus on the things that need to be improved?**

A. I really just focus on truth. If you do that, there's enough sugar and enough of the other stuff to give the group and the individuals within the group what they need to move forward. That's what the evaluation of the video is about – to learn, to set the stage for getting better as we prepare for our next opportunity. I just focus on truth, what's on the video, and there's usually enough positive and negative in that to suffice whatever anyone might need.

Q. You have often said you see your job as giving the players what they need. Do you have a feel yet for what the young players need, the sugar or the stick?

A. Over time it's revealed to me. I don't know that it's something I actively seek. I think it's more important that they figure out what we're after, and what they need to do to accommodate us in terms of seeing what we need to see from them. Over time, if they do that and do that consistently, what they need is revealed to us.

Q. Getting back to the weather. It used to be that coaches loved heat and humidity as a way to get players in top shape, but is that less important now based on the level of conditioning these guys have when they come to camp?

A. It may be big picture less of an issue, but it's still very significant. It just aids in the team development process. There's anxiety associated with these practice settings that aren't a part of conditioning and preparation. That anxiety burns fuel differently. Heat and humidity reveals people with anxiety issues that might cause fatigue to set in on them quicker than with others. There are a lot of useful applications for less-than-ideal weather conditions, and I'm always ready to deal with and see those.

Q. One of the annual team-bonding exercises at Saint Vincent is the home-run derby, which was held after practice on Monday. Do you have any Bo Jacksons on your roster, meaning football players who can swing a bat?

A. Sammie Coates was much better than the rest of them. I say that after acknowledging that Ben didn't participate, and usually whatever Ben participates in, he wins. He is the defending champion, and he decided to turn it over to the rest of the field and see what they were capable of. Sammie Coates really distinguished himself from the rest. He was the only guy out there with any kind of baseball potential whatsoever.

Q. A couple of current examples are Terrelle Pryor in Cleveland and Rosie Nix here. I'm talking about guys switching positions to play at the NFL level. Why is that such a rare occurrence in the NFL, because these guys usually are exceptional athletes in the first place?

A. In general in today's era of sport, there is such an emphasis on specialization. People specialize and they make commitments to games, to sports, to positions within those games at such a young age that there's a natural resistance to change. Guys who view themselves as football players first are usually more open and receptive to trying new things, and they aid themselves and increase their chances of making it because they have an attitude that's geared toward trying other things.

Rosie Nix is an example of that for us. A little over a year ago I mentioned to him about playing fullback, because the lines were long at linebacker, we had unique depth at inside linebacker. I said, you give yourself a better chance of making our football team if you potentially explore fullback. He didn't bat an eye, and his attitude largely dictated the course of events that occurred after. It has allowed him to improve with each passing day, and it has allowed him to be the above-the-line fullback that he has become.


Q. As a coach, do you have time to wait for a guy to transition from quarterback to receiver, or linebacker to fullback?**

A. It depends on how you identify the beginning or the potential end of the transition. None of us are finished products. We're continually working and improving. But if I think a guy has an aptitude for the change, you see signs of that aptitude very quickly. We saw signs in Rosie Nix very quickly, that he had some things, traits that would lend itself to the position. Then you go about developing consistency in terms of technique, and the understanding of the nuances that go into the position. He'll spend the rest of his career ironing out some of those things, but the core significant things that define the position, that are going to allow him to be a guy at that position, you see often and you see early on in the transition process. And if you don't, you move on.

Q. What's the difference in your mind between what you have referred to as position flexibility and what is happening with Pryor and Nix, what happened some years ago with Antwaan Randle El?

A. Really there is none. It's about what the team needs. If you're position flexible and the team need you to be position flexible, then great. If the team needs you to move wholesale to another position, a position flexible guy is capable of that. In some instances it just might be – in the case of Chris Hubbard – playing center, guard, and tackle; in some instances it might be like Rosie Nix moving from linebacker to fullback permanently. Really, it's just based on the needs of the team whether it's a wholesale positional change, or whether it's a guy just displaying position flexibility.

Q. When you came to the Steelers 10 years ago, one of the go-to leaders in the locker room was James Farrior. What made him so special in that way? Is there any James Farrior in Will Gay?

A. James wore leadership very naturally. It's something that he was, and not something he became. It was not something that he consciously worked on. He was just a thoughtful, caring dude who really took pride in helping the young player, and he was a good teammate. All of those things can be used to describe Will Gay. The way he leads and how he leads is a very natural thing for him. I think he just does it. I don't know that he consciously makes a decision to do it, and those are your best leaders.

Q. Is Gay a unique guy in that respect?

A. He is. He's capable of removing himself from his helmet and seeing issues as they relate to other people. He can remember when he was in the position that some of these young people are in now, and it does take special traits to remove yourself from your present state and your present issues and see things from other peoples' perspectives to aid them in their journey while you're still navigating yours.

Q. As the head coach, can you take advantage of those kinds of guys, and how can they help you?

A, I take advantage of those guys daily. And you need to. If we're going to be the type of team we need to be and grow in the ways we need to grow, then we're going to need every capable man to help others. I have many formal and informal conversations with guys who lead, whether it's Will Gay or Maurkice Pouncey or Le'Veon Bell or any of the other guys you can identify as stable leaders for us. We're going to need their contributions formally and informally, on the grass and off the grass, as we grow and develop as a world championship caliber group.

Q. Do your expectations for individuals and the team as a whole change the deeper you get into a preseason? Is it different tonight than it was last week? Will it be different next week than it is tonight?

A. My expectations about people evolve, but my expectations or my vision of the group remains unchanged. I'm somewhat uncompromising in terms of what we need to be, and our goal is to be world champs. We have to push forward toward that daily. There's very little compromise in my mentality in regards to that. Now, who does what, and how we navigate that journey, that is shaped daily by what transpires around me. How they perform, how they ascend, how they descend, and the decisions I make in regards to those things or in reaction to those things ultimately determine maybe how smooth or how rocky this process of developing into a world championship outfit is.

Q. Now that camp is over, what do you like about the group you brought back to Pittsburgh?

A. It's a highly conditioned group. They do a good job of communicating. They appear to have the makings of a group that's legitimately close, and by legitimately close I mean it's beyond spending time together being friends. It's about challenging one another, telling each other the truth, being accountable to one another. I saw many positive signs of that development, and that's as critical a part of our team development as becoming good fundamental tacklers and protectors of the ball on offense or any of the other things that are central to team development.

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