Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Tomlin's Message: We Need to Get Better

Todd FlemingAnalyst IJune 11, 2009

PITTSBURGH - MAY 01:  Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers talks with Santonio Holmes #10 during rookie training at the Pittsburgh Steelers Practice Facility on May 1, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

After leading the Steelers’ to their sixth Lombardi Trophy, Mike Tomlin’s most compelling message to date is that the team needs to get better.

And he singled himself out. "I better get better," Tomlin said when discussing the State of the Steelers.

"That's the nature of this thing. And getting better doesn't necessarily mean a better outcome; I understand that. I'm always trying to be the best I can be. I'm as critical of myself as I am of anyone. I think that's appropriate from a leadership standpoint."

"Hopefully I'll do a cleaner, more efficient job of that here in '09."

This was more than an exercise in humility, of which Tomlin appears to have plenty. He was setting the tone for the 2009 Steelers.

He was voicing his recognition that every member of the organization, including himself, must strive to be better in 2009 or the season will not end well.

Does Tomlin really need to get better? In two years as coach, he has already improved tremendously and has a Super Bowl ring to show for it.

He was not always great in key situations during his rookie coaching season. His head scratching decision to go for two late in the game against Jacksonville even after a holding penalty hurt the Steelers’ chances of winning the game.

That isn’t meant as a criticism of Tomlin. All coaches make mistakes early in their careers and all good coaches learn from them.

Mistakes are not decisions that lead to bad results. They are decisions that never should have been made in the first place.   

No doubt every coach who ever loses a playoff game spends plenty of minutes that night second guessing decisions that helped contribute to the result.

Tomlin is a quick study. In 2009, his coaching was much cleaner with few mistakes.

Tomlin set the right tone and was a large reason why the Steelers were the last team standing at season’s end.

It is Tomlin’s tremendous success that is resulting in so many other young coordinators getting serious looks for heading coaching opportunities.

He was the vanguard of a trend just as the Steelers’ success with the 3-4 defense sparked a revival of the defensive formation once thought to be on its way to extinction.

But, Tomlin hasn’t peaked as a head coach. He has plenty of room for improvement and he is wise to recognize that.

His comment is right on the money. The Steelers do need to get better if they want to repeat and, what better way to send that message than to hold yourself up as the prime example?

It’s hard for players to argue against the message when the coach is essentially cussing out himself.

No doubt Tomlin is also speaking to his coaching staff. The coaching, from an offensive coordinator standpoint in 2008, left plenty to be desired at times.

Every season is different. The 2008 Steelers were a great football team but they were far from a perfect football team.

In fact, they were one of the worst offenses statistically to ever win a Super Bowl. Statistics frequently lie and, in the case of the Steelers, gloss over the fact that the offense was at its best when it needed to be the most.

They also mask the improvement in the offense’s performance during the playoffs. But, I’d bet the farm that the Steelers will not be hoisting the Lombardi trophy in 2010 if their regular season offensive ranking buried in the 20s.

With their defense, it is possible, but I think it is highly unlikely.

I fully expect the defense to be even better this year than last year.

They might be the best defense in the history of the game in terms of talent and leadership and this year may very well represent their peak season.

But, expecting the same or better results is asking a lot.

So, Tomlin’s message to the Steelers is to forget 2008 and to strive to get better in 2009. That is the perfect message entering this season.

A team cannot stand still and expect the same results.

That is why so many championship teams suffer monumental letdowns. It is hard not to believe all of the headlines when they are telling you that you walk on water.

It is easy to mouth platitudes about giving 100%, but human nature invariably sets in.

Even the smallest letup in today’s NFL will spell disaster considering that every team boasts plenty of talent. While talent is obviously a huge factor, the difference between teams often comes down to preparation, desire, and heart.

Even championship teams have to win plenty of gut check games along the way. That is the battle that all coaches of championship teams face in trying to push the right buttons.

It is all too easy to take the easy road, to throttle back the level of effort and coast a bit.

That is one reason why Tomlin is a special coach. He recognizes what message he needs to send to the team and then he relentlessly sells them on it. That is what he is up to now.

He has his message. Now he is hammering it home.