“He is the type of guy you would run through a brick wall for,” Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com in her new piece about how head coach Mike Tomlin handled the team in the wake of dual crises: the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the upheaval that roiled the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd on May 25.
Varley recounts a virtual team meeting that took place on June 1, a week after Floyd’s death. During that meeting, Tomlin and his players didn’t discuss football.
On that day the main topic was Black Lives Matter, with players and coaches given the opportunity to speak their mind and share their emotions.
“He gave everybody the floor, everybody that wanted to speak. They could give their opinion and the way they felt,” Steelers LB Ola Adeniyi told Varley. “That was good to have. It was good to hear all the opinions. Not everyone is going to agree on things. Just to know where everyone was coming from [was] good.”
At the same time, Tomlin had advice for those players thinking of expressing themselves on social media.
“He told us if you have something to say, say it,” recalls third-year wide receiver James Washington, who has since been added to the COVID-19 Reserve list. “But don’t lead with aggression,” Tomlin advised. “Don’t let your feelings take over what you need to get off your chest…. A lot of guys used their platform to get something out and say it. Nobody went overboard. Everyone did a good job of saying what they had to say and left it at that.”
Steelers’ Mike Hilton: Tomlin ‘Has Our Back’
According to Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton, Tomlin went on to tell his players that no matter what they decided to do—from sharing thoughts on social media to expressing their feelings in-season—he would “have their back.”
“When your leader tells you he has your back no matter what you decide to do, you feel good about your judgment and what you want to do,” Hilton told Varley. “You won’t be hesitant about what others think about you. You will go with your decision and trust it.”
It’s part of the reason why Tomlin’s players play hard for him.
“When Coach Tomlin says something guys respect it and do it because of that level of respect we have for him,” Washington concluded.
Tomlin’s Playing Career ‘Sharpened His Sword’ For Coaching
Mike Tomlin recently spoke about his experience as a failed college wide receiver and how it has helped him relate to his players—his wide receivers in particular. And how his ‘miserable’ playing career helped him ‘sharpen his sword’ for coaching, which, as it turns out, was his true calling.
Tomlin was named head coach of the Steelers on January 22, 2007, at the age of 34. In the 13 seasons since, he has compiled a record of 133-74-1, taking the team to two Super Bowls, including a victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. He’s now considered one of the top head coaches in the NFL.
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