With the Steelers losing two of their cornerstone players this offseason, the pressure is on Mike Tomlin to make them a Super Bowl contender.
Culture is one of the most important facets of any team, organization, classroom, etc. Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers got a crash course in why over the last few months.
The Steelers witnessed both Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell misbehave while proceeding to exit Pittsburgh. It appeared from the outside looking in that the Tomlin-run Steelers gave star players more power than warranted.
In this case, whispers turned into screams, and it came back to bite them.
Tomlin is facing his most difficult challenge as a head coach during his tenure with the Steelers. Successful? Yes. Loved by players? Absolutely. His style of coaching has led to numerous playoff trips and a Super Bowl victory 10 years ago.
But as the years have gone on, it’s become evident that Tomlin’s star-driven culture is the great divide between making the Steelers making the playoffs consistently and winning Super Bowls consistently. Pittsburgh is usually more talented than any team it faces in the playoffs, occasionally save the New England Patriots. But Tomlin’s loose culture traded the importance of discipline team-first ideologies for relying on stars to win while catering to them, too. In the end, when the details mattered, the Steelers couldn’t correlate their style to wins.
So here we are, in April 2019 and the Steelers are without Brown, Bell, and have an aging quarterback in Ben Rothlisberger whom’s leadership skills have been put in question. With all eyes pointed at Tomlin, where does he go from here?
When a culture is built on strong foundations such as discipline and hard work, the reigns getting loosened will be an easier transition. However, if a culture is loose and then the reigns get tightened, there is immediate resistance.
Tomlin is a players’ coach. However, it’s possible to be a players’ coach but still implement rules that apply to everyone. Tomlin reportedly struggled with that issue with Brown, allowing his tantrums on the field and his tardiness off the field to triculate throughout the team.
Bell also disrespected Tomlin without repercussion. In 2017, Bell missed the Saturday walkthrough before Pittsburgh hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Divisionals. Nothing happened, and it turned out to be the last time Bell played in the black and gold. If Tomlin wants to see a different result both from stars and his team overall, he has to hold everyone to the same standard.
Tomlin doesn’t have to be shrewd like Bill Belichick, or in your face like Buddy Ryan. However, he must learn to hone in on the details such as punctuality and laying down the blueprint to what’s acceptable as a professional and what’s not.
Pete Carroll learned this quickly with his loud Legion of Boom-era Seattle Seahawks. Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, and Earl Thomas prided themselves on playing with a chip on their shoulder while being vocal on daily issues. But when a story leaked that the Seahawks defense scoffed at the perception that Carroll gave preferential treatment to Wilson, the writing became clear as day on the wall.
In the 2018 offseason, Sherman was released and Bennett traded. Thomas was allowed sign with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason, ending his tumultuous relationship with the Seahawks.
Carroll never changed who he was, but he changed what he would allow. Tomlin must impart the same changes for his Steelers in order to right the ship. He can still be the chest-bumping, emotional coach, but with a clearer vision for what it means to be a Steeler. A clearer vision on how to handle yourself on and off the field. And lastly, a clearer vision on what it takes to be a champion.
Because right now, there are many who believe that he’s a coach on borrowed time. But all isn’t lost for Tomlin. He’s still a great coach and if fired this upcoming season, he would have a job quickly. Yet there’s a great chance Tomlin wants to stay in Pittsburgh. Now, he must improve the culture for that to happen.