From Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Mike Tomlin was the most recent guest on the “Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger” podcast. They sampled craft beer in Roethlisberger’s elaborate basement. They ate gourmet food prepared by Evan the Chef. They talked a little about life and a lot about football.
I had one major complaint after watching the 105-minute podcast in its entirety.
I hated that it didn’t go on for 210 minutes.
It was fascinating.
Clearly, Tomlin is relaxed and most comfortable doing interviews with his former players. I saw that last June when he did a podcast with Ryan Clark. I learned a lot about Tomlin in that video. I learned a lot more about him with Roethlisberger and co-host Spencer Te’o.
I learned Tomlin didn’t feel comfortable as Steelers coach until his second season in 2008. His first “lap around the track” was rough, especially his first training camp in 2007. He came in and wanted to set a tone. “We were going to build some collective character through misery,” he acknowledged.
I learned what the Steelers were thinking when they signed Mitch Trubisky a year ago, just a few weeks before they drafted Kenny Pickett No. 1.
“We acquired Mitch so we wouldn’t feel the need to do something stupid,” Tomlin said. “Mitch was a starter-caliber guy. He had been a franchise guy. He was young with upside. Quality dude. It was important for us to do business with him on the front side of the draft.”
I learned that Tomlin considers his 2010 defense the best he has had with the Steelers.
“In terms of physicality, without a doubt, the ’10 group. The ’10 group beat you up. That ’10 group created the player-safety initiative. The powers that be watched them play and said this is not good for the future of football.”
I learned what Tomlin was thinking as James Harrison took that interception in Super Bowl XLIII 100 yards for a touchdown against Arizona on the final play of the first half. He thought Harrison would be tackled as the clock ran out and the Steelers would lose a chance to kick a field goal. The next thing he knew, he was running to Harrison in the end zone.
“The funny thing is he’s down and he’s flat,” Tomlin said. “‘James, are you OK?’ ‘I’m tired, boss,’ he says. That was it. They’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with him and he says, ‘I’m tired, boss.’ I’m like, ‘Bro, it’s halftime. You scored. Get up!’”
I learned Tomlin didn’t question Roethlisberger’s decision to throw the winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes in that same Super Bowl, even though Roethlisberger did. Roethlisberger said he shouldn’t have thrown it because the Steelers needed just a field goal to tie and that the ball should have been intercepted.
“I can’t tell you it scared me. It didn’t,” Tomlin said. “When plays got extended, [you] ate.”
It was fun seeing the back and forth between Roethlisberger and Tomlin. The two had great success on the field but also had a few uneasy moments. It was just last July that Roethlisberger told me he wasn’t sure Tomlin wanted him back for Roethlisberger’s final season in 2021.
That led to a fabulous exchange on the podcast after Tomlin said coaches get into coaching only after they can’t play or no longer can play.
“That’s why I’m not coaching. I can still play,” Roethlisberger said, grinning.
“No, you’ve played long enough. That thirst is quenched,” Tomlin said, also grinning.
Roethlisberger brought up Tomlin’s sideline fiasco in Baltimore during a game in 2013.
“Go ahead, enjoy my misery,” Tomlin said. “I’m down 100K. My kids, their tuition, what have you … ”
It wasn’t all laughs on the podcast, though.
Tomlin became emotional when asked about the horrible night in Cincinnati in 2017 when Ryan Shazier went down with a serious spinal-cord injury.
“I knew instantly it was a real problem by the way he rolled off that tackle,” Tomlin said. “When I got to him, he was so conscious and communicating that I was naïve. I think a significant part of me said, ‘It’s going to be OK. This is going to be some temporary paralysis.’ Because of how he was communicating, part of me thought 10 minutes later somebody was going to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, he’s wiggling his leg. He’s got feeling.’ It became scarier for me the longer it went on and that didn’t happen. By the end of the game, I was scared to death. Obviously, when I got to the hospital, the worst fears were realized.
“It was probably the darkest professional day I’ve ever had. To have a guy laying like that? There is nothing worse as a coach. Nothing worse.”
Roethlisberger thanked Tomlin for stopping by and invited him back for “many more fun stories and beers in the basement.”
Tomlin accepted the invitation.
I just hope the rest of us are invited again, as well.
You can read Mr. Cook’s full column here.
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