Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
It’s all but impossible to consider all that is happening in Pittsburgh now and conclude Tomlin, now in his 12th year with the club, has a firm grasp on what’s happening with his players.
“It’s a circus there,” one NFC South assistant coach told B/R, “and Mike has no control over it.
“He’s one of the best coaches of my generation, but the players have too much control there.”
Has Tomlin lost every Steelers player? No, of course not. I’ve spoken to plenty of Steelers who believe he is the best coach they’ve played for—and ever will. And as an assistant coach from Tomlin’s division said, “It’s not Mike’s fault that Antonio Brown sometimes acts like an idiot.”
But would Brown sometimes act like an idiot under another coach?
Most coaches around the sport have great respect for Tomlin, but some of those same coaches will tell you privately that Tomlin doesn’t keep enough control over his players.
Aaron Rodgers doesn’t simply decide to not show up to meetings.
Yet that’s what Antonio Brown did this week. Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Brown skipped work on Monday. That is a massive middle finger to Tomlin.
That was another family unfriendly gesture directed toward the Steelers organization.
It’s surprising when you look at all Tomlin has accomplished, who in more than a decade as the Steelers coach has never had a losing record, won 10 games at least eight times and captured a Super Bowl.
Yet there’s no question, at times, players have shown a startling lack of respect for him. Brown once broadcast a team meeting on Facebook Live, a shocking breach of trust that would never happen in a New England locker room.
Joey Porter, a former player and current Steelers assistant coach, argued with Bengals players during a wild-card playoff game three years ago.
Former linebacker James Harrison, after leaving Pittsburgh, said Tomlin lacks discipline.
“Mike Tomlin is good as a head coach,” Harrison told Fox Sports 1’s Undisputed. “He’s a players’ coach. I think he needs to be a little bit more disciplined. The big thing with Belichick is he’s very regimented, he’s disciplined, everyone is going to be on the same page, there’s not going to be anything as far as someone doing their own thing. I think over there [in New England], their whole coaching staff is like that.”
Harrison added that Tomlin needs to be “more consistent across the board with everything, from your stars to your special teams players.”
Harrison himself wasn’t innocent of stretching the coach’s patience, forcing his way out of Pittsburgh by leaving games early and sleeping through meetings (according to a report by ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler)—more slaps in the face to Tomlin.
With Brown’s latest actions, though, it’s no longer theory or just talk, but truth. Tomlin has lost control of this locker room, and he needs to get it back.
Too many Steelers players see Tomlin as one of the guys. When you’re chest bumping with players, sometimes the line between coach and player, management and employee, gets obliterated.
Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw made this point two weeks ago, and he was criticized for it, but it’s important to note, especially now.
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“I played for a tough sucker, and I was afraid of him, and we played our [butts] off for him because we feared him,” Bradshaw said in an interview on Pittsburgh’s 97.3 The Fan, referring to Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll. “I don’t see that with [Tomlin]. He’s chest bumping and all that. I’m the head of the corporation, I’m the CEO, I’m the chairman of the board, I’m talking to the stockholders telling them here’s how we’re gonna do at the end of the quarter. I’m selling this thing, and I’m not delivering the goods, which is championships. You’ve got to face the criticism.”
Bradshaw’s remarks weren’t the first time he questioned Tomlin’s coaching abilities. He said something similar before on Fox Sports 1’s Speak for Yourself.
“I don’t think he’s a great coach at all. He’s a nice coach,” Bradshaw said. “To me … he’s really a great cheerleader guy. I don’t know what he does. But I don’t think he is a great coach at all. His name never even pops in my mind when we think about great coaches in the NFL.”
When I asked Bradshaw recently to expound upon his criticism of Tomlin, he responded, “I meant what I said.”
Other head coaches and assistants have quietly whispered what Bradshaw said aloud.
There’s little question there has to be a dividing line between players and coaches or you risk chaos. Players should, and do, have a voice, but there’s voice, and then there’s what Brown is doing, which is essentially telling Tomlin to take a hike.
To be fair, when Tom Brady blows up at coaches on the sideline, he isn’t criticized for disrespecting Belichick. It’s framed as Brady being a competitor, even though he’s being as big a jerk as Brown. The difference is that Brady shows up for work all the time. Brady wouldn’t miss a day unless he was missing several limbs. He has too much respect for the game and the organization.
Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, attempted some damage control by telling ESPN’s Adam Schefter that there’s nothing to see here.
Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter
2/3 Rosenhaus: “Antonio had a personal matter. I talked to the team about it. His issue was unrelated to the tweet or his relationship with the team. Third, AB has an incredible drive to win. He just wants to win. That’s all that that is.”
“Antonio had a personal matter,” Rosenhaus said. “I talked to the team about it. His issue was unrelated to the tweet or his relationship with the team. Third, AB has an incredible drive to win. He just wants to win. That’s all that that is.”
The problem with this explanation is that Tomlin did not make it clear at his Tuesday news conference that Brown’s absence was excused.
It’s possible Brown had a personal issue he didn’t want to discuss with the team, but that would have been easy enough to communicate to the team without it becoming a bigger issue. It also seems odd that as of Tuesday afternoon, Tomlin hadn’t talked to Brown about it and Brown hadn’t called Tomlin.
These are uncertain times in the Steelers locker room. Le’Veon Bell is holding out. Brown is not on board for some reason. And the team has yet to win a game. It’s time for Tomlin to do something simple. It’s time for him to gain total control of that locker room.
Because he’s lost it.