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Saunders: No, Tomlin Doesn’t Care What You Think About Steelers Offense

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Steelers Mike Tomlin

You’ve seen the video clip. You know the one I’m talking about: Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, in a recording of a Zoom call from the 2020 season, iconically answering a reporter’s question with just four words.

“We do not care,” Tomlin said.

That clip came in response to a question about the Steelers then being forced to play games in 13 consecutive weeks after a COVID-19 outbreak on the Tennessee Titans necessitated a change in the Steelers’ schedule.

It could have been in response to just about anything. If there is a defining characteristic of Tomlin’s tenure, that is it. Outside noise, things other people are saying about his team, things that happen to his team that are outside of its control, Tomlin doesn’t care one bit about any of it.

 

In fact, he hears surprisingly little of it. Many coaches give lip service about not reading the papers or staying off social media. Despite his recent foray into Instagram, Tomlin is the rare one that actually doesn’t pay attention to what people are saying about him or his team.

When the Steelers caused a social media stir earlier this season by inadvertently listing Mason Rudolph as the backup and Kenny Pickett the third-stringer on the initial 2022 depth chart, it took the team most of a day to correct the mistake. Why? The only person in a position to make a correction was unaware there was an issue.

When Tomlin was asked about the fans at Acrisure Stadium calling for Kenny Pickett in his team’s hope-opening loss to the New England Patriots in Week 2, Tomlin said he hadn’t heard them. 

“I’ve got a lot going on,” he said.

So the idea that Tomlin is going to make a change — any change — to his football team based on what other people are calling for is absurd. Yet that’s the stance some of my brethren in the media have suggested.

“Does Mike Tomlin hear the chanting this time? He claims he didn’t hear it in Week 2,” NBC Sports’ Mike Florio said on 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday. “This time, it may be even louder. They make want to make sure he hears it. … The fanbase can be fickle at times, and if he waits too long to move to Pickett and they end up having a horrible season, that’s going to be a tough one for him to explain away.”

Tomlin has real problems. Florio went on to highlight some of the others — that there are likely people inside the organization that would prefer Pickett started over Mitch Trubisky and that owner Art Rooney II could decide to interfere with his decision-making process. I’ll add the possibility that the locker room could sour on the decision he’s made and position the rest of the offense.

Those are real problems, not to mention his team’s non-existent run defense, lack of pass rush in the absence of T.J. Watt and sputtering ground game on offense. There are a lot of things Tomlin has to be worried about.

What the fans think is not one of them. If you’re at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday and you want to let the world know that you want to see Pickett, go right ahead. I’m not going to to tell you what to do.

But don’t think for even a millisecond that Tomlin is going to do something — anything — based on what people outside his circle think. 

Fans can be reactionary. It’s their nature. Head coaches should not be, particularly ones that have essentially lifetime tenure if they wish it.

It could be difficult for Tomlin to explain waiting too long to go to Pickett, as Florio said, but he’ll do it and that will be the end of it. Tomlin’s job does not hang in the balance here.

That’s the great freedom of the way the Pittsburgh Steelers operate. They don’t need or want their head coach to manage like his hair is on fire. They value the stability that having just three head coaches in over 50 years has provided.

Tomlin and company came into the season with the plan that they thought was most likely to bring the team success in 2022 and beyond. They’re not going to abandon that plan after three games, no matter how bad, and the offense took steps forward against Cleveland that shows the potential in that path.

“It’s our job to tune out the noise and to remain committed to the path that we’re on and work to get better in an effort to change the outcome of these games,” Tomlin said. “I expect our guys not to blink and to continue to work, so I have to display that as a leader, and I intend to.” 

They’re going to continue to start Trubisky and going to continue on with Matt Canada calling the offensive plays, making improvements within that plan as possible, because they think that’s what’s best for the team.

It seems that most of the fanbase disagrees in one form or the other. That’s fine. Tomlin doesn’t care. He even found a way to turn it into a positive when asked on Tuesday.

“Our fans are not an issue, man,” he said. “We love our fans and the enthusiasm that they bring. We’re not going to make that a negative. They care. And that’s an awesome thing.”

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