What started as an unassuming rumor about Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has suddenly ignited a firestorm of controversy, and everybody wants in on the action.
On October 26, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Tim Benz offered Tomlin an opportunity to put to rest weeks-long speculation from former players and ex-NFL executives regarding interest from Tomlin in coaching vacancies at the college level. Would he ever have an interest in leaving the Steelers to take a college job? Was there any truth to it?
Just when it seemed Tomlin’s tirade was done, he tied a pretty bow on it. “Anybody asking (New Orleans Saints coach) Sean Payton about that? Anybody asking (Kansas City Chiefs coach) Andy Reid stuff like that?”
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On ESPN’s October 27 “First Take” segment, controversial ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith said he was proud of how Tomlin handled the situation but took exception to Benz’s line of questioning.
“[Tomlin] emphatically knocked down any assertions, any rumors, any allegations about him wanting to go to the college ranks, that’s a plus. But then, by asking the question that he asked about Andy Reid and Sean Payton — be very, very clear, he wasn’t being disrespectful to them in any way. What he was doing was pointing out what we all know he was pointing out it’s a bunch of racist ass people out there.”
“I’m not talking about the reporter that asked the question,” Smith clarified, “that’s not what I mean by that.”
Smith pointed out that Tomlin has never had a losing season in 14 years, unlike Reid or Payton, yet Tomlin is the one on the hot seat when his team is underperforming.
“When you’re black, it behooves you to have [a resume] because the second they get a chance to diminish what you’ve accomplished, what your cache is, they’re going to take advantage of it.”
Smith went on to say that it’s insulting to think that a coach of Tomlin’s caliber, with a Hall of Fame-worthy resume, would even consider taking a demotion. “You’re damn right there’s some racial connotations to it,” Smith said. “Because as [Tomlin] basically said, ‘You ain’t askin’ none of them white dudes with my that question.'”
Benz has stated that his query never had a racial connotation behind it. Instead, it was merely a reporter asking a question seeking an answer — “Which is somewhat inferred as part of my job description,” Benz wrote on October 27.
Where It All Began
The rumor didn’t really start gaining national traction until retired NFL quarterback Carson Palmer connected his alma mater, USC, to Tomlin on the October 25 “Dan Patrick Show.” But where it all began was locally, in Pittsburgh, the week before.
Doug Whaley, Steelers former director of football operations under Tomlin, told Pittsburgh’s “The Fan Morning Show” that two institutions with newly-vacant head coaching positions were interested in Tomlin.
“Six letters for Steelers fans to be very concerned about…LSU, USC. Think about that. Both institutions can out-pay the Rooney’s. Their alumni base has enough money to give Mike Tomlin whatever he wants.”
“The Fan Morning Show” producer Matt Koll noted that Whaley began the conversation and his thoughts “took everybody on the show off guard.”
The next day, on October 21, one of Tomlin’s former players, Ryan Clark, got in on the action on ESPN 104.5 in Baton Rouge. Clark added his two cents connecting Tomlin to the head coach gig at his alma mater, Louisiana State University. “People don’t pull stuff out of thin air” and “This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this. It’s the first time I’ve heard of it publicly like this,” Clark said.
The ESPN personality and former safety then said LSU should offer Tomlin a contract so big that it “would make him disrespectful to Lord Jesus Christ to turn down.”
Clark later apologized for playing a role in triggering Mike Tomlin.
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