When Mike Tomlin was brought in as the new coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, he made sure that everyone knew whose team it was. The hard practices and workouts he instilled to take command of his team started to show at the end of his first season with players falling apart from exhaustion. But even more importantly, the tough attitude and hard practices showed in the team's overall performance the next season, which resulted in a championship. Tomlin has toned down a little in his 4th season but is still focused on keeping his team together.
Tomlin respects the leaders in the locker room and is persistent on keeping them on his side to avoid any type of conflict that has split so many NFL teams in the past. The best examples of this are his treatment of veterans like Hines Ward and James Farrior. Both are veterans that are past their prime and he is quick to give them a day off of practice in the season to assure their readiness for Sunday. Farrior is not only the defensive leader, but he also is the signal caller. When letting Farrior walk after his contract was out seemed like the smart idea talent-wise, the Steelers gave him an extension. Even after he struggled last year with playing the whole game, Tomlin has never wavered on him being a starter even with the resurrection of Larry Foote.
Even with the amount of respect he has for the vets on the team, he is very quick to point out stupid mistakes. He and the Steelers lost their patience with Santonio Holmes this spring and made a tough decision to banish him from the team only a year removed after he was the Super Bowl MVP. Holmes will be remembered for a long time as a Steeler for his catch in the Super Bowl, but any chance of him being one of the greatest Steelers ended with his personal problems off the field. Tomlin took a hard stand and has never looked back.
Earlier this year Tomlin handled the the Ben Roethlisberger situation with grace and never put the quarterback in a position that would jeopardize their relationship. Ben has had a lot of respect for Tomlin and that is very important for the future of the team.
The Roethlisberger incident also created additional concerns, including the handling of his position during his multi-game absence. The Steelers brought in Leftwich and made a decision to make him the immediate replacement starter in April. Even with his struggle in the preseason, and Dixon's rise in play, the Steelers and Tomlin have never given any indication that Leftwich would be stripped of his tittle. The number one reason for this may be Tomlin's concern over a split locker room.
Dixon has obviously looked much better as a replacement than Leftwich has, especially in the Preseason. But Tomlin doesn't play the Quarterback game with the two of them and it would be surprising to see Dixon in as the starter against the Falcons to start the year and it might be more about chemistry than overall talent. It took a lot for Maurkice Pouncey to take over the starting position, for now, at center. He could very well be the first rookie to play as a starter for Tomlin and he has looked very good so far.
So it would seem that Tomlin's method of building his team around chemistry has worked so far with three winning season in three years. But the ultimate test for his coaching and control over the team will be tested this season. From the Roethlisberger conflict, to rebounding from the losing streak last year, to the loss of Holmes, Parker, and Colon on offense, a fourth straight winning season would be reflect very well on Tomlin.