Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday's Interviews: Mike Tomlin

(remarks after presentation of Motorola NFL Coach of the Year award to him): “It is a tremendous and humbling honor to be recognized by the NFL’s communication partner Motorola. As the NFL Coach of the Year, I’d like to thank the fans for their participation and support. I humbly accept this also on behalf of the other coaches and the players on our team. I’d like to say thank you.”

(opening statement): “It’s Thursday for us. We continue with this portion of our preparation, sharpening up some things we introduced yesterday, really moving forward and hitting some situational football today – the beginning of third down and red zone stuff offensively and defensively, and of course we continue to sharpen ourselves in the kicking game.”

(on how a tough schedule prepared the Steelers for the postseason): “If it doesn’t kill you, it strengthens you. These games are fun; they are. I think our team learned a lot about ourselves in the midst of it. I think that we grew, and that’s what it’s about. When you are fortunate enough to win enough of those games, I think it prepares you for January football. I believe we have a team that doesn’t blink in the face of adversity, because we’ve had quite a bit and found ways to see our way through. It also provides opportunities for guys to step up and deliver, and you can’t create or get enough of those opportunities along the way in preparation for what we face on Sunday.”

(on winning the Motorola NFL Coach of the Year award): “It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized as Motorola NFL Coach of the Year. It’s doubly special because it was voted on by the fans of the game. They are the reason why we do what it is we do. I am very appreciative of that, but at the same time I recognize, like I asked all my guys to recognize, that it is the ultimate team game. We have a bunch of assistant coaches, who don’t care who gets the credit, ante up and kick in and are of the same mindset. I like to join them in that mindset.”

(on Hines Ward’s status): “Hines is great, by the way.”

(on what Troy Polamalu means to the Steelers): “It’s special. You learn to appreciate guys with the playing qualities he has, because quite simply he does what you don’t teach. You can’t teach people to play the game the way he plays the game. His intuition, his physical gifts, his perception of the game is very unique. I just learned that if you have a chance to be around guys like that, you don’t harness it, you embrace it, and you appreciate it for what it is.”

(on how much time the Steelers have spent self-scouting, and how important that process is): “That is a continual thing for us throughout the course of the season – quarterly, weekly and repeat opponents. That’s something that we continually do. To a degree we are concerned about it, but also to a degree we’re not concerned about it because it’s our personality at times, and we intend to impose our will on people in regards to that. We look at it for different reasons, but it doesn’t rule our day-to-day decision-making because sometimes we are just going to be the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

(on his relationship with Tony Dungy): “Specifically regarding Tony (Dungy) and what he’s meant to my growth and development as a coach, I learned many lessons from him, but probably more than anything, was just how accepting he was of people who he worked with – their different approaches – to teaching and conveying his message. His willingness to listen, his servant leadership capabilities – those are some of the key things that stand out having had an opportunity to work with him for a year.”

(on how his success fits in with the success of other African-Americans like President Barack Obama and Dungy): “I’m just humbled by the things that I’ve been given. By no stretch do I put myself in the category with President Obama or Tony Dungy. I don’t see myself in that way. Some of the things I get a chance to do, I benefit from some of the roads they’ve paved.

(on being in Tampa for this year’s Super Bowl): “It’s great, but I can’t sit here and tell you that it wouldn’t be great regardless of where it is. Let’s be real, this is the Super Bowl. But it is special coming back to Tampa, where it all started for me in the National Football League. It’s special for my family. We spent five great years here. This is home to my two oldest sons who are eight and seven – this is what they consider home, so they had the opportunity to visit friends and do some of the things they used to do. So from that standpoint, it’s been very special.”

(on how Ben Roethlisberger is effective when plays break down): “He is a competitor. He, of course, has great physical skills, size, strength, agility, escapability, but he’s also very smart and very even-keeled under duress. All of those attributes together allow him to extend plays, make plays as they break down and make outside-the-box plays, if you will.”

(on if he takes into account an opposing coach who has familiarity with his team): “It is very similar to the self-scout question that we had earlier. In some instances you do, and make what you perceive to be necessary adjustments. In some instances, you don’t because you are who you are. Those are some of the decisions we are coming to and make as we prepare for this game. But it’s also some of the decisions we make when we prepare for people we know and we know them – divisional opponents and people who you have a long-term competitive relationship with. It is very similar in terms of how you approach those circumstances. And this one is so unique because there are some people over there who understand the inner workings, who’ve been inside the building, but ultimately it’s going to come down to the execution of the men on the field. I firmly believe that. There is a lot of fluidity in this business from players and coaches, that’s just part of today’s NFL. This is probably garnering more attention because it is the big game, but I imagine every weekend somewhere in the National Football League during the regular season, it’s an element. It’s part of a matchup. So, it is what it is.”

(on how the Steelers are managing their short-yardage troubles): “Quite simply, it’s been difficult because we’ve played some tough opponents. We’ve played some great defenses. We are not going to make excuses for our failures. We acknowledge them for what they are. We’ve been hit in the mouth some. We’ve hit people in the mouth some. Through it all, I think we’ve grown. We found a guy in Gary Russell, who we believe has an aptitude for those situations. I think we’ve had more success since we’ve featured him specifically in those situations. The season itself is an evolution for a football team, and I think that you learn about yourself, you make adjustments, and you formulate roles along the way. I think that was one of the areas in which we were able to grow. I feel like we have grown, and hopefully it’s a weapon for us on Sunday.”

(on how important Ryan Clark is to the Steelers’ defense): “He is an important cog in our defense. He is very highly respected in our locker room for what he does inside the white lines, and for what he does outside of the white lines in preparation for games. He is a legitimate professional, and a very solid football character guy. He’s gotten some attention because of a couple of plays this year, but at the same time, those plays don’t come to mind the moment I think about Ryan Clark. I think about the consistency of performance and the quality play and leadership he provides us on a day-to-day basis.”

(on the criticism of the offensive line, and a reference to it as a work in progress): “It’s just that. We’ve had some turnover on the offensive line here in the last few years. Reputable guys, great players such as Jeff Hartings, who are no longer in the mix because of retirement, or Alan Faneca because of free agency. You couple that with some critical injuries, one to our left tackle Marvel Smith, another one to our right guard Kendall Simmons. It is what it is. We don’t run away from that. The standard of expectation doesn’t change for us. Along the way, we’ve got to find ways to win football games. It might be in the manner in which we embrace, so be it. I think this group has responded to those challenges, held a standard and provided winning performances for us. We don’t worry about the style points. People are going to say what they are going to say. When you have a number-one defense in football, somebody’s got to be the weak link. They’ve been chosen to be identified as that. But we are a team. That doesn’t drive us. We’re not concerned about that. We’re just trying to win football games.”

(on Santonio Holmes’ growth as an individual this year): “I think it started with the offseason. He came in great physical condition, much better physical condition than he was in ’07 from my perspective. I think it produced a great training camp, and he’s had a solid season. This is a guy who has a desire to be great, but more importantly, he’s willing to do what it takes on a day-to-day basis to make that happen. Is he a finished product from that standpoint? No, but he is embracing the challenges of doing that. He is growing as a person. I see it on a daily basis. But there are a lot of those stories on a football team. I think a lot of times people look at professional athletes and they view them as something that they are not. But working with those guys on a day-to-day basis, at times it’s very evident that they are young people. They are 22, 23, 24 (years old), and they are going through the normal things that people in that age group go through. I think that he is doing a nice job of it.”

(on getting Ben Roethlisberger comfortable early in the Super Bowl): “I think Ben is a different player this time around. That’s just the reality of it. His professional experience, what he’s done, his position in the group is very different this time around. He’s not the young guy that could potentially screw it up. He is a leader for our football team. He was voted captain by his teammates. We have a long-term commitment contractually to him as our quarterback. I don’t expect to deal with those issues to be quite honest with you. He’s going to go through the normal things that people go through playing in this football game. But we fully expect Ben to deliver, and deliver big for us. He has to. If we are going to be successful, he is going to be one of the key reasons why.”

(on if he has any notion on how a game might end up score-wise): “I make a conscious effort not to do that. I just always have because most of the time, I’m wrong. There are a lot of elements to the matchup. There are a lot of key matchups in the football game. Some are highlighted more than others. Usually there are some others that end up being central (to the outcome). There is a lot being made out of matchups in this football game, whether it’s their receiving corps vs. our secondary, and our offensive front blocking their defensive front. But anytime you put 11 on the field – 11 for us, 11 for them – someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. We respect all of those things. We take each individual player as an opportunity to win. So with that being said, I try not to be presumptuous.”

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