Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday's Interviews: Mike Tomlin

Mike Tomlin had an extended session with the media during which he outlined his plans for the weekend, how being a head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers was really a fallback plan to something else, and Ben Roethlisberger's health and well-being.

(on the team’s schedule for Saturday and Sunday leading up to the game): “Really it is going to be the way Saturdays and Sundays have been for us all season. We will have a final walkthrough on Saturday morning, and guys will have free time after that to get some final things and adjustments made in terms of taking care of their families and personal business. We will rally in the evening, go to an undisclosed location and go through our normal night before the game routine in seclusion. We will get up on Sunday morning and have chapel service – things guys need to do and routines they go through to prepare themselves for the game, like message therapy or what have you. We will have a pregame meal, board buses and go to the stadium. We will approach the locker room time in the same way that we always do. It has been a pretty good formula for us. We are going to try to move as close to normalcy as we can. The kickoff time is somewhat obscure, but it’s not like we had a bunch of 1 o’clock kickoffs this year either. I don’t expect it to be very different at all.”

(on the developing culture of the veteran players with rings encouraging the players on the team without rings): “I think that is one example of the way our team motivates one another. I have an accountability group. We have great leadership. They apply pressure to one another to deliver, and that is just one of the many ways that they do it. The guys that haven’t been there and done that want to know what that feels like. We have some guys that play significant roles on our team that weren’t a part of a world championship. They hear the stories, and they want to be a part of those stories in the future. I am talking about significant guys like Santonio Holmes who wasn’t on that Super Bowl team a couple of years ago. He was in college. LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, and the list goes on and on. It is just a motivation tool that our veteran players use to get the best out of the guys that haven’t been there.”

(on getting out of coaching and going to law school): “It is true. Like a lot of other young people, I considered things that other people thought were appropriate for me as opposed to what I thought was appropriate for me. I knew right away that coaching was something that I was meant to do – something that I wanted to do. But, I didn’t give some consideration to law school. It didn’t require much bribing from coach (Rip) Scherer to pull me in that direction. As a consolation prize, I could tell my parents that I was going to graduate school, so that’s how I ended up at the University of Memphis.”

(on thinking back how he felt the moment he was hired from the Steelers): “It is an interesting story. When I found out I got the job, I was in Minnesota playing foosball with my sons. I got off the phone and they were interested in finishing the game, so we did. Really, that is the approach I have taken to it. Pressure is something that I embrace. I love the competition. I love the feeling that pressure gives me. Some people are built for those things and I always have been. I am a competitor. In regards to building relationships with the veteran players, that is old hat for me. Those are things I have had to do in every stop for me. I approached this stop no different. Truth be known, whether it was in Tampa when I had to coach John Lynch, who of course was older than me, or dating as far back to VMI when I coached three receivers that were my age – they were three seniors. It’s old hat for me.”

(on Tony Dungy, Dick LeBeau and the Rooney family’s input and guidance in his young career): “It is very significant. Let’s be real, you don’t get into the position that I am in without great influences and mentorship coming from some of the people you mentioned. One thing that I am is, I am sharp enough to realize when people can help me and I listen. I pride myself in trying to do that. Those people have always provided great advice and opportunities for me, but there are many others along the way as well who are as equally deserving as those people who are not a household name as some of those people are, but they are just as meaningful to me.”

(on the injury status of WR Hines Ward and QB Ben Roethlisberger): “Like a lot of the situations that go on with Ben’s medical status, I don’t know where that report came from. Ben is fine, he is going to play. Hines looked pretty good yesterday. We will see where he is at today and continue to push forward towards Sunday. As for the mentality regarding Hines, it has not changed. He is intent on playing in the football game. I have been here with this guy before under these circumstances through the injury he had to deal with last year in the playoffs. It was questionable whether he could perform in the game. We didn’t win the game, but he went out and played great football. I have a level of expectation for him to deal with this situation. It is not going to be an excuse for us, it is not an excuse for him, and I really expect him to be Hines Ward on Sunday.”

(on if his team playing in the Super Bowl was part of his goals when he first took the job as head coach): “It was, and I think that every head coach in the National Football League puts together a four-month calendar with this in mind. I don’t see myself any different than anyone else. I put this plan together last year, I wasn’t successful but the plan was put together. I think that is the mentality that all of us share when we go to training camp and build our football team to be the one at the end of the thing to say they are world champs. Thankfully this year, things came together for us and we are at the brink of that. Of course Sunday is going to determine the outcome of that. That is always my mentality. That was my goal a year ago, and it will continue to be my goal as long as I do what I do.”

(on if he is pleased with his team’s preparation this week, and if he has any concerns going into the game): “You know, performance always defines preparation. I can trick myself into feeling good about it. The reality is, if we play well on Sunday, it was great preparation. If we don’t play well on Sunday, then it wasn’t good enough. I feel good about where we are, and I think the guys have dealt with the things that have been presented to them this week really well. When we are by ourselves and doing what we do to prepare ourselves for this game, it was very normal. That is encouraging but ultimately, how we play on Sunday will define that.”

(on if he has heard from any of his former players or coaches): “No I haven’t, and I think because of that rich tradition, they understand that I am somewhat unavailable. Some of those guys I consider good friends and I have had the opportunity to form a great relationship with those guys in the last two years. They know what comes with this territory, we know that we have their support, but they are also sharp enough to know that we are extremely busy.”

(on coaching a team with such a large national following): “As far as the national fan following, that is not a problem at all, that is a problem we would all like to have. I embrace that. Steeler nation drives me on a day-to-day basis. They are why it is that we do what we do. We appreciate it. There is nothing like going into a hostile environment and seeing so many faces, rabid friendly faces, so that is something that is a pleasure to be apart of. I think that everybody that is in our organization has been a part of another organization appreciates it differently than people that have only had that exposure. A lot of time, talking to guys that were drafted into our circumstance, they have an understanding of how special it is because all it takes is some time in another organization. I think you develop a better appreciation for the relationship we have with our fan following.”

(on if he will stick with the same style of play that made him successful thus far): “I think one of the reasons that we have had consistent excellence over a long period of time in our organization is because we are under the leadership of Dan and Art Rooney. Their vision of what Steeler football is about is very clear. I think I have my job because my vision is similar to what their vision is. I have learned more about their vision since I have been there, so of course, I am going to play to it.”

(on what affected his decision to go into coaching instead of law school): “You know, coaching was ‘Plan B’ for me. Truth be known, I thought I’d still be playing. I thought I’d be playing on Sunday. That’s something that all players, I think, go through. When I was younger, I was just focused on playing the game. Coaching was something that came to mind as it became evident that maybe I wasn’t going to play anymore. That’s why we coach; we coach because we can’t play. Either ability dictates that we can’t play, or age dictates that we can’t play, but that’s a common bond that all coaches share. We love the game, we can’t play it, we do the next best thing which is we instruct, help and get a chance to be close to those that do. In regard to the law school thing, it was just on the radar. It was something, again, that I thought I was supposed to do. Maybe the people that were around me and the people that were influential in my life wanted to see me do great things, my mother being central in that. But I think in hindsight, she likes what I’m doing right now.”

(on his relationship with the team as a young coach and on the role of faith in his life): “I believe that we have a great relationship, talking about my relationship with the football team. I think it’s in the process of getting better because I think all relationships have an opportunity to do that over a period of time. We’ve had shared experiences to call on: successes, failures, work. I think all those things forge great relationships and friendships. That’s not something that I shy away from; That’s something that I embrace. I don’t let it rule me. What I mean is that we have tasks in front of us – challenges and things that we need to do – and you understand that those relationships are forged along that way. That’s been as fun as meeting the challenges specifically themselves. As far as faith, faith is No.1 in my life. It’s central to who I am. It allows me to keep all the things that I’ve been blessed with in complete perspective. I realize that coaching is what I do; it’s not who I am, and it’s because of that.”

(on cautioning players this weekend): “Like a lot of things, when things come up or situations arise, you often get asked how you deal with it. The reality is that if you wait until these moments to address those issues, you’re extremely late. For someone in my position, it’s part of our culture, it’s part of what we do. I wouldn’t disrespect a preseason opener. I wouldn’t treat it any different than I’m treating the Super Bowl in regards to where we need to be mentally, preparation, distractions, etc. It’s part of our culture. It’s things that are instilled on day one. It’s things that are talked about continually, so I don’t have to push the panic button as I stand here today, and we’re getting ready to play in the Super Bowl and trying to play catch-up.”

(on preparing his final message to the team): “I haven’t. I make a conscious effort to wing it. I think that’s real. I think our guys relate to that. It’s that way that I deal with them, for the most part. This week has been tougher than most in terms of trying to keep those thoughts out of my mind because there’s a lot to say. But at the same time, I’m intent on doing that (winging it). I’m going to just walk in and communicate with them like I always do. I never prepare for the night-before-the-game speech.”

(on preparing to play coach who knows the team as well as Ken Whisenhunt): “Really, we prepare like we always do. I’ve fielded questions along those lines a bunch this week, and the reality is that in today’s NFL there’s a bunch of that. There’s a bunch of fluidity in coaches and in players. I understand that this situation is getting a lot of attention because it is the Super Bowl, but I would imagine every week in the National Football League there’s somebody playing where there’s a significant coach who has a first-hand relationship with the people they’re playing against. That’s not the first time that’s happened for us. It won’t be the last. It’s something that happens all the time because there is a bunch of movement in our business, so it’s not as groundbreaking a situation as one might think it is or it may appear to be. It is because this is the Super Bowl, but we’ll deal with it as we always do.”

(on if he can learn anything from this season’s Colts game): “I hope the outcome is a little different, I’ll start there. There are some parallels that you can pull from that game and really, we had complete clarity about how that game could unfold as we prepared for it. I talked to our guys about how we could not miss opportunities against a quarterback with the capabilities of Peyton Manning. (I said) that when we had opportunities when the ball hit us in the face, that we had to deliver the goods. If we didn’t, then he was going to kill us. And that’s how that game unfolded. We had some interception opportunities that we dropped. One went through our hands and turned into a 65-yard touchdown. The other one, he produced a touchdown as the drive continued. You can draw the same parallels when you’re playing a guy like Kurt Warner - that when you’ve got him, you better get him because he’s going to come back and get you. That’s where I draw the parallel when I think about that game, but every game is different, particularly when you’re talking about two different teams. They’re a different team than the team in Indianapolis, and really, we’re a different team than the team that played against Indianapolis. That’s just football.”

(on what advantage the Steelers might have because of how many of their players have played in a Super Bowl): “I think that if there is an advantage, it is in the week leading up to the game. I think the people who have been here before help the guys with some of the things that go along with game: taking care of personal business, taking care of family members, not letting those things be a distraction and helping them stay focused on what it is we need to do in terms of playing. In terms of the game itself, I would imagine whether you have been in it before or not, it’s going to be pretty big. Some people are going to be nervous, and some people are going to be more nervous than others. If they were nervous in the first game, I’m sure they are going to be nervous in this one. The game itself is the game that is going to play out. If there is an advantage, I think it’s in the preparation leading up to the game and in dealing with some of the things that you have to deal with leading up to the game.”

(on what it means to him to be the youngest head coach in Super Bowl history): “You know, I feel extremely blessed. I haven’t spent a bunch of time dwelling on that, truth be known. Those things are nice things to talk about, but I imagine that won’t be a topic of discussion for long. Maybe next year at this time, there will be guys like (Denver Broncos head coach) Josh McDaniels or (Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach) Raheem Morris standing up here, and you won’t be talking about me. That’s football.”

(on how much the impact the running game will have in the game): “It’s going to be significant. Without giving you the specific game plan, we desire to run the football. We want to do that because we want to win by attrition. We want to impose our will on the people that we play. We recognize that is how we play. When Willie (Parker) is successful, the probability of as a team being successful goes up. We keep it in perspective, but at the same time we’ve also won games when we haven’t run the ball effectively. The issue for us is, has been and hopefully will continue to be doing what is required for us to win.”