PITTSBURGH — After working the halls of a nationwide coaches conference, Mike Tomlin grabbed a chair. Legendary coach Bobby Bowden was talking, and Tomlin, then a younger place coach within the school ranks, sought knowledge to take again to his assembly rooms.

Tomlin’s older brother was alongside him as Bowden delivered the double-take message to the group of 20-somethings about 20 years in the past.

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“He mentioned, ‘I deal with gamers in accordance with how briskly they’re,'” Ed Tomlin mentioned. “We sort of laughed at how sincere that was.”

Mike Tomlin has the Tremendous Bowl cachet to headline these conventions now. He additionally is thought to be simply as sincere about his remedy of gamers, which solely deepens the intrigue for his essential 13th season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Regardless of racking up 125 regular-season wins since 2007, second to the New England Patriots’ Invoice Belichick amongst lively coaches throughout that span, Tomlin confronted scrutiny final season for the Steelers’ late collapse, their propensity for making headlines and a rocky relationship with former receiver Antonio Brown, who many former teammates imagine obtained star remedy in Pittsburgh.

Tomlin remained unapologetically himself by that storm, unmoved by a gamers’ coach label or what he referred to as chatter. He publicly acknowledged he treats everybody pretty however not precisely the identical.

He’s not involved with being misunderstood. Successful rises above that, which is why Tomlin considers himself “prepared for battle” in 2019.

“I formed my repute on this enterprise and this outlook on this enterprise being singularly targeted on the duty at hand,” Tomlin advised ESPN in a sit-down interview from his hometown of Hampton, Virginia, the place he appeared at a fundraiser for the Hampton Roads Youth Basis. “So I would be kidding you if I advised you I had a sure edge due to what occurred in 2018. I simply have a sure edge as a result of I higher have a sure edge. This enterprise that I’m in dictates that I higher have a sure edge, and I embrace that factor of it.”

The group prefers stability on the high, having famously employed simply three head coaches since 1969. What Tomlin does through the Steelers’ 2019 marketing campaign will strengthen the group’s religion in him or check its limits.

With Brown and Le’Veon Bell in new uniforms and the Steelers not a stylish Tremendous Bowl choose, those that know Tomlin imagine he’s at his finest when doubted.

Mike Tomlin has made modifications, however he is aware of outcomes are what issues ultimately. Keith Srakocic/Related Press

His gamers are keen to search out out.

“Each crew besides one crew within the NFL would like to have him,” mentioned Steelers linebacker Anthony Chickillo, making the apparent nod to the New England Patriots, who’ve gained six Tremendous Bowls with Belichick. “His résumé speaks for itself. That is what I need out of a coach.”

Veteran guard Ramon Foster takes that analogy a step additional.

“I am certain in the event you ask all 1,200 gamers on this league which one [of the coaches] they’d moderately play for, he is on the high of the listing,” mentioned Foster, a 10-year starter on Pittsburgh’s offensive line.

The 2016 Steelers had been 4-5, and Arthur Moats noticed an absence of self-discipline in his crew.

That is when Tomlin set a tone with enforcement, from participant fines for tardiness to policing toes on the road throughout sprints. Pittsburgh gained seven straight to safe a playoff berth.

“The crew responded and we went on a run,” mentioned Moats, a Steelers linebacker from 2014 to 2017. “He can do this if he must. Irrespective of the adversity he is confronted, he is all the time discovered a solution to encourage the blokes, to create a plan that works, to make an adjustment.

“Now, with the way in which issues performed out with AB, he can be certain that to keep away from these reoccurrences.”

Those that have referred to as Tomlin too pleasant with gamers had a handy speaking level with Brown, who compelled a commerce after lacking a number of work days in 2018. The notion of a star participant leaving fuels these critics. Former Steelers corresponding to James Harrison have claimed Tomlin must command extra from his locker room, citing Belichick’s disciplinary type resonating in New England.

Participant-coach dynamics are complicated, after all. Micromanaging fines or self-discipline can take time away from getting ready to win video games, Moats mentioned, making a self-policing locker room essential.

Tomlin prefers to concentrate on buying “high quality males who occur to be high quality gamers,” he mentioned. “It begins there.”

Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame coach Tony Dungy employed Tomlin whereas with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001.

“Whenever you win, that’s thought-about a energy. Whenever you lose, that may be the explanation you’re shedding. It comes again to successful. I don’t suppose Mike goes to vary. That’s not who he’s,” Dungy mentioned of Tomlin’s type. “He’s not the kind to babysit with numerous guidelines. He’ll anticipate gamers to be the driving power and set the tone. He is a confirmed chief and confirmed winner.”

The place Tomlin would possibly showcase essentially the most self-discipline is in one-on-one settings. Tomlin is “not a bulls—-er” with gamers, Chickillo mentioned, and plenty of have a personalised story as an example as a lot. Tomlin has challenged operating backs — from Bell to DeAngelo Williams and James Conner — to shed some pounds to maximise outcomes. All of them did, then produced on the sector.

Former Steelers security Ryan Clark remembers Tomlin as soon as telling him extra disciplined play would elevate his profession. Clark finally grew to become a crew captain.

Foster calls Tomlin “that uncle you simply do not need to piss off.”

Mike Tomlin says he’ll meet no matter challenges lie forward in getting the Steelers again to the postseason. Justin Okay. Aller/Getty Photographs

“You already know you might be who you need to be, however in the event you step out of line … he generally is a actual drawback in the event you take him down that lane,” Foster mentioned. “Guys perceive what we now have to do due to the quantity of respect we now have for him and the way he permits us to be males.”

That is why the coach’s brother laughs on the notion that Tomlin is simply too simple on gamers.

“No one is handled the identical, however he treats folks as people,” mentioned Ed Tomlin, who performed soccer at Maryland. “That’s what makes him a terrific coach. Individuals want somebody of their lives to inform them the reality. I don’t know why that’s perceived as a damaging factor. It’s a deed-based enterprise. These are grown males. That [hard discipline] doesn’t fly anymore. He’s a new-age coach who doesn’t rule by concern.”

Tomlin will implement guidelines when mandatory, and prioritizing change — even when refined — can usher the Steelers previous a bitter season.

Tomlin is on document as being open to that — “All of us have to look within the mirror,” he mentioned on the NFL homeowners conferences in March — however his precise plan is unclear. One tangible transfer is hiring defensive assistant Teryl Austin, who will coach from the sales space and assist Tomlin with replay challenges on sport days. The choice appears overdue for a head coach who has misplaced his previous 10 challenges.

Whereas Tomlin would possibly work together in a different way with Ben Roethlisberger versus a special-teamer, sure pointers ought to be universally utilized for Tomlin to maximise outcomes with this crew, Moats mentioned.

“You must have sure issues in place the place, it doesn’t matter what, you’re all the time going to face on,” Moats mentioned. “After we speak about fines, in the event you superb guys for being late, it shouldn’t matter who it’s. Sure issues have to carry extra weight. No matter he decides on, will probably be, ‘Irrespective of who it’s, I’ve to do that.'”

The Steelers can hope the losses of Brown and Bell eradicate distractions and make use of an addition-by-subtraction method. Maybe that’s naive, contemplating their elite abilities. However Tomlin would possibly as effectively have been speaking on to Conner and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster when he advised the media he has two Professional Bowlers to interchange the departed stars; the coach is emboldening them to take huge leaps in Yr 3.

Roethlisberger is coming off a wholesome season with a league-high 5,129 yards on 675 passing makes an attempt. Regardless of taking pictures publicly from former teammates over management considerations, Roethlisberger would be the crew’s central determine in 2019; he signed a three-year contract this offseason. Tomlin has labored exhausting to jell with Roethlisberger, who on the finish of final season cited a friendship along with his head coach.

None of that legwork issues a lot with out outcomes.

“I acknowledge that there are some vital modifications, however speaking about it’s not going to dictate the result,” Tomlin mentioned concerning the 2019 season outlook. “You gained’t hear numerous daring predictions from us. That’s not our type; that isn’t applicable. We all know that we’re judged primarily based on efficiency anyway.”

Now, gamers appear prepared to speak for Tomlin.

“Personally, I do not suppose he must encourage us,” Chickillo mentioned. “We’re already a lot motivated. Not many are believing in us proper now.”

Protection will drive the efficiency. Redirecting Tomlin’s legacy in Pittsburgh would require enchancment from a unit that mixes flashes of brilliance with uneven play. The Steelers have struggled drafting cornerbacks. Not one in all their 5 corners chosen within the 2015-17 drafts are projected to start out in 2019. The discharge of security Morgan Burnett is a reminder that the Steelers’ closely used dime bundle nonetheless wants tweaking.

Together with his weighty affect on that facet of the ball, Tomlin usually urges his protection to “trim the fats” — that’s, run a choose variety of performs cleanly moderately than overload with superfluous choices. However the protection run by Tomlin and coordinator Keith Butler might be troublesome for younger defensive backs, partly due to the pre- and post-snap reads. A defensive again might need three reads as soon as the play begins.

Serving to a rebuilt secondary to play sensible however free soccer might be essential.

“One factor he in all probability doesn’t get sufficient credit score for is his soccer thoughts,” Moats mentioned of Tomlin. “The issues he sees and is ready to talk, it doesn’t all the time work or we are able to’t execute at that stage of element, however the tendencies he’s in a position to choose up on is what makes him a particular coach. Inside that, he is teaching at a doctorate stage, and generally that may be lots for younger gamers. All 11 gamers getting it proper on Sundays is the problem.”

And a problem Dungy expects Tomlin to fulfill and exceed.

Dungy hasn’t spoken to Tomlin lately, however Dungy has a go-to line for him each time he does: “You have obtained nice instincts, so belief them.”

A Steelers defensive again within the late 1970s, Dungy believes the group will assist the coach.

“Issues tend to work out whenever you’re true to your self,” Dungy mentioned. “Like Chuck Noll all the time mentioned, ‘You don’t go away the sport plan.'”