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Coach Tomlin's Press Conference: January 5

Posted Jan 5, 2010


HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN'S PRESS CONFERENCE
TUESDAY, JANUARY 5, 2010

Coach Mike Tomlin: Good Afternoon. I probably would much rather be addressing this group in regards to preparing to play this week but that is not the case. What we are here talking about is what we’re doing at this moment, as a staff, as a team, as an organization. The evaluation of our ’09 performance is kind of in its infancy, but I’ll give you a little background in terms of what’s been going on to this point. I met with football team yesterday. It’s always a somber meeting. I haven’t been in one of those meetings that isn’t, unless you’re preparing for a parade, of course we aren’t, but we talked very directly about some of the things that had us a brought us to that point. The central point that I made to the football team in regards to evaluation of this season if you will, this thing is going to have so many layers, but first and foremost, we’re a team that was 2-4 in our division. To me, to us, it starts there. That is the only guaranteed ticket to this dance that we’re not participating in. If you want a team to be championship-caliber, it starts with division dominance. We weren’t that by any stretch, we’re 2-4 in our division, we were 0-3 on the road in our division. If you’re going to be a world championship-caliber team, you’ve got to be able to go into hostile environments versus known competitors and win. We weren’t able to do that. You could talk about the 0-5 stretch that we had, well I look at that 0-5 stretch as I sit here today and we were 0-3 in the division during that stretch. More disturbing than the 0-5, you know the importance of division play. We weren’t, so we’re watching. There’s a sting that comes with being on the outside looking in, particularly with the way guys fought back over the last three weeks, but that’s the reality of our business. We’re not going to cry over that spilt milk. We’ really were blessed to have a fighting chance if you look at it in Week 17. I think back to what New England did a year ago, they were 11-5 on the outside looking in, so 9-7 is us, we’re on the outside looking in and we accept that. What I’m doing today and over the next couple of days is meeting with everybody on our football team individually from captain to practice squad player to injured/reserved player. Information-gathering, directing, reviewing what happened, looking ahead towards the future with those guys individually, when I get done with that, I’ll begin to process and do the same thing with the staff. One of the things I’ve learned about this job, the longer I have it, is information-gathering is big, reviewing is big. It kind of provides insight in terms of moving forward, so these are very valued meetings that I’m having right now and will continue for the greater part of this week. Other than that, very little to say, I sure there’s a bunch of questions, I’ll be happy to field them.

 
You often talked about championship-level football, that didn’t happen, but talk about the three wins at the end of the season, talk about the experience of that for players coming back.
From my perspective, you learn more in failure than you do in success, I acknowledge that. I learned a lot about a lot of men that I worked with, watching these guys fight back over the last three weeks and giving ourselves a chance, I did. That’s a positive. In terms of a winning record and things of that nature, I think I was pretty clear after the game in Miami that my mentality is singular in that I want to be World Champs each and every year. That’s what we work toward, I have a tough time acknowledging levels of success shorter than that. That’s just how I’m wired, I think that’s how you need to be wired in order to be a consistent competitor in this league. That’s the mentality I want this football team to have and I believe that they have that, so I acknowledge that it probably measures a feel-good or what have you in regards to how we finished this thing, but the reality is that we’re not where we desire to be. So we’re going to make appropriate adjustments with that in mind as we prepare and push forward toward ’10 and we’ll have a singular focus in ’10, which will be the team that the confetti falls on.
 
How important was it that you finished strong despite making the playoffs?
I don’t know, I’m not one to believe that any kind of momentum or what have you carries over from one year to the next, I think there’s value in that, I learned a lot about the guys, their mental makeup, their willingness to fight, their willingness to stick together, I think that is useful. I think that’s something to build upon in that the guys that you continue to work with, you’ve got a better intimate knowledge about what they’re capable of in the midst of adversity, but to assume that’s going to carry over in any form or fashion in ’10, I think would be naïve and I don’t want to be that.
 
James Harrison said there was an attitude problem that needed to change and that some players were playing for more individual goals than team goals, are you worried he said that? Did you notice that?
Everybody has an opinion and I respect that. I’ve always believed that when pressed in the midst of losing, you say things maybe that you think people want you to say or you look for reasons why you lose, I tend to focus solely on winning. Anytime you’ve got a collection of men, I’m talking about 53 players, practice squad players and  staff, there’s going to be issues and things of that nature, there’s going to be personal agendas and so forth. We had similar issues when we won the Lombardi. Anytime you’re working with a large number of people, it’s going to be very tough to have a pure environment, a utopia if you will. I’m a realist, I recognize that some of those things, selfishness, is part of putting together a football team, shoot, it’s part of putting together a basketball team and usually it’s 15-18 guys on those teams. Selfishness is part of it, it just is, it always will be, but wins and losses are black and white and it’s pure, it’s purity. I didn’t think it was anything uniquely different with any team I’ve been involved with, I didn’t think it prevented us from winning, I didn’t think it was abnormal if you will.
 
I’m sure you do this every year, examining what you do and how you do it. Is that ratcheted up in a season where you were not as successful as you’d like and looking at some of the things that you do and thinking that they might be getting a little stale, doing some things a little too frequently?
Sure it is. I think that’s natural. But I’d also like to think that I have that same mentality in the midst of success. I think I had that mentality at year ago, as I sit here today. Of course, it wasn’t very effective, but that’s what this part of the year is about for me and for us and for everyone. I wish that it started maybe a month from now, but it’s not. It’s the process of breaking down what it is that we did and how we did it and how we can make appropriate changes to improve it and increase our chances of being that singular team in 2010. So it is refreshing. That’s why this job never gets stale for me. I quickly transition into a different mentality and I really do the same job in a different way this time of the year. And really, I’m excited about doing that.
 
More specifically, I’m sure if you had to sit and talk about on the field issues you could talk for hours about it. But focus on the situational aspects of third down offense, the red zone offense, and the third down defense which slipped and whether that’s a particular area of all of them where Troy’s [Polamalu] absence was felt.
Situational football defines us. I’ve said that a lot in good times and in bad. It’s no surprise to me that we were below the line at times in that area because we’re sitting here today. That’s why I put the emphasis on it that I do. It’s the difference between winning and losing. When you’re good, you dominate those moments. When you’re average, you sometimes dominate those moments. And when you’re bad, very rarely do you dominate those moments. We’ve had our moments, not good enough, not championship caliber. The presence of Troy, or the lack of presence of Troy, is what it is. I think I’ve been pretty clear in regards to my mentality with that. Injuries are as much a part of football as blocking and tackling. We are paid to adjust, to improvise, to overcome, to still find winning formulas. We didn’t do that enough. There were times that we did it. We did it in Denver, when Troy didn’t play. We did it very less frequently after that. Such is life. It’s not a problem or an issue that’s singular to us. Troy is a unique kind of a player, I acknowledge that. Baltimore played a lot of football this year without Ed Reed, and they’re preparing to play this week.
 
James Harrison also mentioned that he thought there would be major changes. Is this a team that needs major changes that you foresee making?
I don’t approach making major changes in response to our record or anything. I like to use the term “appropriate change”. And those aren’t knee-jerk reactions, those aren’t quick decisions. It’s built over time as you evaluate what it is that we put on tape. It’s a process, starting yesterday. We’re at the infancy of that process, if you will. My mentality is and always will be to make appropriate changes, so big changes are not something that I necessarily buy into. Appropriate changes are.
 
Do anticipate coaching staff changes?
Again, I have yet to meet with our staff individually. I acknowledge in today’s NFL that’s potentially part of it. I know that Ken Anderson is retiring. He and I have already had that discussion. I appreciate the work that he’s done here for us. He’s an awesome guy, an awesome coach, and been in this league 40 years. I guess it’s okay to go play a little golf, if that’s what he desires. More power to him. I don’t have any hobbies like that. Maybe one day, my mentality will change. But Ken is retiring, that is one change that I know of. I have yet to visit with other people, so, like I said, in a lot of ways the evaluation of this season and the process of moving forward for 2010 is in its infancy as I sit here today.
 
If there are coaching changes, how does that process work? Is it your decision, or is it a collaborative effort between you and Kevin Colbert?
It’s primarily my decision, but it is a collaborative effort in a lot of issues. But I believe there will be an appropriate time to talk about that. We’re just trying to get our feet on the ground and start this process as I sit here today.
 
When did Ken tell you he was retiring?
It was a discussion that he and I had as early back as last offseason, the potential of. And then of course, once this season came to a close, we quickly had a discussion and he made that decision.
 
When you sit down to have these individual meetings, is there a lot of give and take, or does it just depend on who you’re speaking to?
It depends on who I’m speaking to. In order to have give and take, both parties have to be willing. Sometimes, I sit across from guys and they want to tell me what they I think I want to hear. Some guys tell you the truth. I quickly try to decipher what I’m working with and try to make the meeting as productive as I possibly can. It’s a natural process for me. It’s something that I enjoy, and it’s something that, more importantly, is necessary.
 
The guys whose contracts are up, these meetings now, is there any discussion about that or is that further down the road?
More review than looking forward, but you acknowledge that there are certain guys that that is an issue and something that you want to address and begin to process, if you will. I met with Casey Hampton yesterday and talked about what’s going to happen over the next couple of months, or what’s potentially over the next couple of months, with him. But it is a process. It is in its infancy.
 
How soon do you meet with Kevin Colbert and other members of the organization and begin to evaluate the free agency situation?
Yesterday (Monday). Yesterday morning at about 9:01. That’s where we are. It’s one of the things that I enjoy about the offseason, about how closely Kevin and I get to work together, to share ideas and to begin the process of building this thing. Of course, he’s much further down the road than I am with regards to the draft and things of that nature. But I enjoy it at times, that we do what it is that we do and try to put together a winning formula.
 
What sort of vibe did you get from Casey? Where is his head as far as coming back to Pittsburgh?
I think he’s been pretty clear that he would like to be here.
 
Did the word “franchise” come up?
“Infancy” is my catch phrase of the day. Do you guys get the gist of that? It’s in its infancy.
 
What are your thoughts on the year that Casey had and would you prefer to have him back next year?
It was Pro Bowl-quality. I think his round-trip flight to Miami is indicative of that. And I’m interested in Pro Bowl-caliber guys that happen to be great guys and great teammates.
 
Can you talk about Troy? The injury was obviously more serious than you initially thought. And also, moving forward with him, do you sort of have to proceed with the idea that, with the way he plays the game, he’s going to miss “x” number of games?
I’m not ready to proceed with that assumption. Everybody saw what happened to him. They’re freakish things, things that come with playing this game. He initially got hurt trying to recover a ball on a blocked field goal. And in the scrum, somebody came down on his leg. That’s football. When you play football, things happen. It’s out of your control, to a certain degree. It’s the hazards of the industry, if you will. So I’m not ready to proceed with that assumption. I think that if it was something that was a non-impact or a non-contact injury, if he was just running and it happened or something, that maybe I’d have a different approach. But somebody jumped on the side of his leg in the scrum trying to go after a loose ball. No matter who that was, they would’ve been injured. From the second injury, he didn’t respond as quickly as we’d like. Don’t have control over that. All I can do is follow the expert advice of our medical people. They provided it, we weren’t able to stay in the fight long enough for him to fight his way back. The shame of it is is that he looked better and better as the week wore on, moving around a bit. But that’s football. That’s life.
 
How is Ben [Roethlisberger]’s shoulder and is it anything serious that he’s going to need off-season surgery for?
No, I don’t think that it is, but I don’t have specific, detailed information regarding it. But I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to require a medical procedure of any kind.
 
During the five-game losing streak, it seemed like even the players had trouble putting their fingers on it. You mentioned a moment ago liking the fight that you saw in the last three games. Even if it was because of the uncertainty as to what was happening, during that streak, did you have a sense that that fight might not have been there consistently?
Really, the only time that I was legitimately concerned about our level of fight, I thought that our level of energy in Cleveland was below the line. I thought that we got out-hit and out-hustled in Cleveland, and that was a concern. In the other games, I thought we were out-executed at times, I didn’t think that we made timely plays at significant moments. Ultimately, and really, this is kind of a mantra, if you will, what you strive for- we look to be dominant. We want to win decisively. Very rarely in this league are you going to be able to do that consistently. I understand that. When you’re not, you have to make timely plays. We weren’t dominant during that stretch, we didn’t make timely plays during that stretch, and it created that stretch. But within that, I thought that was the only game where it was below the line from a getting beat to the punch standpoint.
 
How do you account for that? Given the circumstances, you would think that a division opponent would be the most desperate.
Short week, hostile environment, bad weather-all of those things are excuses to me. It’s irrelevant. The reality is that we put it on tape. Discouraging, disappointing, hacks you off, however you want to describe it. But again, as much ownership as we have to take over that stretch and that performance, we take ownership over all the games and the complete body of work and performance. And give them credit, I like the way they responded and played over the last three weeks, even though the performances weren’t dominant. And I don’t want to get away from that, because that’s what we desire to be. But the performances were timely. We made enough plays to be victorious in those games and keep ourselves in the hung, if you will.
 
All your losses were close. As you go through and evaluate things, do you get find you’re being deluded because you were this far away on so many games?
No, that’s the National Football League. Look at how many of our victories were like that. This is a fragile thing. It is. There’s a fine line between being 12-4 and 9-7, or 7-9, for that matter. That’s why you desire to be dominant. The more dominant you are, the more you keep yourself out of harm’s way of a play here or a play there. That’s what we desire to be first and foremost. I don’t know that we were dominant enough in ’08, but we did make timely plays and significant gains to keep us alive and give rhythm and find that dominance at stretches, particularly in January. We weren’t able to do it this year.
 
Is there an update on Limas Sweed and his situation?
None.
 
You talked about this earlier today, are you as confident in your schemes and your philosophies? Or is that something that you wipe clean and re-acquire?
It really kind of gets wiped clean, if you will, as part of the evaluation process, reviewing, and moving on. It’s the nature of this thing.  This game is in continual evolution. It is, from players to personnel, schematics, how it’s legislated and officiated. It’s organic. That’s ever-changing. So that’s why I have the mentality that I have.
 
Do you expect any more retirements? Not only from coaches, but also any players?
Again, I don’t know. I acknowledge that that’s a potential or a possibility. It will reveal itself over the upcoming weeks or months.
 
Unlike the uncertainty at times with Troy, you knew for some period that you’d be without Aaron Smith. Can you talk about the response of the team without him, schematically, execution-wise, and what you expect with him forward?
I thought the guys that played did a nice job. We played a bunch of guys, and at times Brett Keisel wasn’t in there. I thought that Travis Kirschke gave us quality play when called upon, Nick Eason did the same. Travis missed some time; it created an opportunity for Ziggy Hood to play some. I think his pedigree is obvious; the arrow is pointed up on that young man. So I’ve focused more on the contributions on those that played as opposed to the loss of Aaron Smith. Injuries are part of it. He’s a special guy. When you lose him, it hurts. But that’s football.
 
Do you anticipate him coming back?
Yes.
 
You used the word “special” to describe Aaron, “unique” to describe Troy. Are they so “special” and “unique” that the system as it currently is aligned is too reliant on them?
No. Guys, I’m not going to sit up here and make excuses about guys that miss stretches of games. I’m so over that. You guys know me. I don’t care about guys that are hurt. Guys are going to get hurt. Guys that play are capable of playing above the line. Anybody have any questions about anything other than guys that miss stretches of games?
 
Can you update us on possible offseason surgeries and maybe how some of the guys who have had surgeries are coming along?
We’ve had some guys who have had some procedures even way back. I just met with Sean McHugh today, he’s doing well. Guys are in the process of looking at some medical issues. Nothing that jumps out at you, but I’m not denying that over the fact that people will get some clean up surgeries here or there. I’d rather them have them sooner than later. I’ll get some clarity on those things here over the next couple of days or week or so, if you will. But nothing that jumps out at me at this point.
 
Aaron’s coming along okay? Darnell Stapleton, coming along okay?
Yes, and yes.
 
Do you think age was a factor on the defense not being as dominant as it was, and do you need to get younger on that side of the ball?
I could see how you could assume that. But I think our lack of dominance had more to do with lack of quality play.
 
Your quarterback continues to take more hits than any other quarterback. Is that something you just have to live with moving forward, or are you looking to rectify that?
I’m looking to rectify that.
 
Is this a team that needs much to compete for a title next year?
How much is much? We’re in the process of discovering that and finding that out, or reviewing that. I’d like to think that we had enough good, quality people and top-notch players and coaches that we’ll perennially be in the fight. That’s my feeling. But I’m going to let the tape talk to me and guide me as we prepare for 2010. One thing that I acknowledge is that, like I always say, is that things rarely stay the same and you have to proceed with that assumption in mind.
 
I was just curious if there are areas in the draft that you’re looking at?
I don’t know enough about the draft as I sit here right now. I’m still coming to grips with the fact that I’m not preparing to play somebody this week.
 
How much of what we see on Sundays is you? How much of your stamp is on what we see, or are you of the theory “I’ve hired my staff, I’m going to let them do what I hired them to do”? Or are you going to say “No, I don’t want it that way, I want it this way”?
I accept responsibility for everything that’s on tape.