Steelers’ Mike Tomlin Reveals ‘Dark’ Admission to Ben Roethlisberger

Getty Mike Tomlin stands with Ben Roethlisberger on the sideline.

Mike Tomlin has had a lot of great days since entering the NFL coaching ranks in 2001: His first Super Bowl as defensive backs coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers comes to mind and, of course, his first as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It hasn’t all been sunshine and lollipops, but there have been more ups than downs.

On December 4, 2017, a decade into his tenure with the Steelers, Tomlin experienced the most trying moment of his career. During a Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Shazier suffered a devastating back injury after a head-on tackle. The hit left him unable to move his lower body.

“It was probably the darkest professional day I’ve ever had… there is nothing worse as a coach,” Tomlin shared on the March 13 edition of Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger.

“I knew it was really serious instantly by the way he rolled off of that tackle, the way the play came to an end, it was an unnatural look.”

The Moments After Ryan Shazier’s Spinal Injury

Though he was afraid for Shazier and understood the gravity of the situation, Tomlin had an inkling that he would come out okay on the other side of this. Shazier was speaking clearly, which he said offered a false sense of hope. “When I got to him, he was so conscious in communicating that I was naive. I think a significant part of me said it’s gonna be okay because he was Ryan. Because he was articulating so well, it led you to believe this might be some temporary paralysis. When I got to him, he was communicating with me. That created probably an unrealistic and inappropriate comfort in me in the big picture of things.”

“[Shazier] got to the point where I was focusing some of my energy on some others — like Vince Williams was inconsolable,” Tomlin said.

As a coach, it was Tomlin’s duty to maintain the composure of his men the best he could, but the longer the struggle went on, the weightier the situation became. “I had an expectation that somebody was going to give me a tap on the shoulder and get me some positive update that I could share with the guys. That’s what I’m thinking when he left the stadium. The longer it went on and that didn’t happen, the initial fear I had returned. By the end of the game, I was scared to death.”

After stabilization, Shazier was taken to the hospital while everyone in the Steelers organization, the Bengals organization, fans and the entire NFL world waited for answers.

“After the game, my whole deal was to get to the hospital and when I got there, the worst fears were realized,” Tomlin said.

The next morning revealed that Shazier had sustained a spinal contusion and was paralyzed below the waist. Later that day, he tweeted a message of hope.

On December 7, Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery to secure the injured section of his spine and aid in recovery.

Former Steelers Linebacker Ryan Shazier is a Walking Miracle

It would be an arduous journey, but Ryan Shazier eventually saw the light at the end of the tunnel. It was an inspiring comeback, to say the least. One that he wrote a book about in 2021 aptly titled, “Walking Miracle.”

Less than five months after his injury, on the arm of his then-fiance Michelle Rodriguez, he walked onto the stage at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall to announce the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-round pick of the 2018 NFL draft, safety Terrell Edmunds.

Four months after his draft appearance another miracle took place. Shazier attended Steelers training camp practice in Latrobe, Pa., and walked for the first time publicly, completely unassisted without a cane.


Three years later, on September 9, 2020, Shazier announced his retirement from the NFL. Nearly six years removed from the devastating night, the Steelers have yet to find a linebacker of the sheer talent that Ryan Shazier brought to the team and the league.