PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – “Y’all know that ain’t happenin ‘.”
That’s what Mike Tomlin had to say when the subject of Antonio Brown returning to the Steelers came up during his 90-minute interview on The Pivot Podcast.
The Steelers head coach sat down at his home with former Steeler Ryan Clark and his co-hosts Fred Taylor and Channing Crowder for a candid and enlightening chat about all things football, Steelers, and life.
“In terms of putting the helmet on, running out of the tunnel, and playing ball, and stuff like that, he’s moved on, we’ve moved on,” Tomlin said of a potential AB return. “We could sit around and chop that up and pretend like that’s a realistic conversation, but we all know that’s not realistic.”
Despite saying AB returning to the Steelers roster wasn’t happening, Tomlin remembered the nine years he coached Brown fondly.
“I don’t think enough gets said about the will of that dude, about the work ethic of that dude, about the fearlessness in which he played the game – is fear ever a factor in his play?” Tomlin asked the hosts as he recalled his time with Brown. “He wasn’t a goon wide-out, he wasn’t 6-4 two-and-a-quarter, I never saw him blink on the football field. I never saw him shy away from anything uncomfortable on the football field. ”
Comfort was a huge topic of discussion during the sit-down, whether it was coaching philosophy, playing mentality, or just an approach to everyday life.
“I create comfort for my wife and kids, I just lay my head down here until it’s time to go to work the next damn day,” Tomlin said. “I resist comfort. I ask my guys to resist comfort. The guys who play for me can tell you, I have a saying, ‘Don’t seek comfort.’ Seeking comfort is a natural human condition. We all want to be comfortable. I realized that if you’re going to have special outcomes, you got to be comfortable being uncomfortable. ”
That was evident while Tomlin and Clark recalled their relationship as player and coach.
In Clark’s first four seasons in the NFL, he spent time with the New York Giants and Washington. While Clark was effective, he wasn’t quite a franchise player.
It was when he came to Pittsburgh that he began to establish himself as an integral part of the defense.
Despite Clark having 117 tackles in his first four seasons as a Steeler, it never kept Tomlin from knowing exactly what button to push.
“The first time I meet him, I said, ‘Hey man, my goal for you is to no longer be a journeyman, man,'” Tomlin recalled. “I want you when this ball is said and done, I want you to connect with this experience me and you are about to share. You are going to be a Pittsburgh Steeler for life – the journeyman stuff is over.”
So when Clark needed a push – Tomlin provided the push.
“Every now and then, when I wanted to touch him, I’d call him a journeyman,” Tomlin said with a laugh.
“I used to hate that, he’d just go, ‘what’s up, journeyman?’ and I’m like stop playing, “Clark responded with a smile.
“Trigger, that’s the trigger, I just wanted him to know I know, I’m not going to touch it in a real way, but let’s talk about the elephant in the room, right? That dude needed a place to hang his hat , he needed a place to call home, “Tomlin said, breaking down the motivation. “When it’s over and it’s said and done, he had been in many organizations, but what organization was he going to connect with? I wanted him to connect with the experience that we were going to share. I wanted to talk openly about it, and then me and him could go about this business of working together, chasing these Ws. ”
Despite an hour of poking and prodding, Tomlin refused to talk personal legacy.
That was until the topic of Super Bowl 43 and “The Drive” came up.
Pittsburghers remember all too well, and so did Ryan Clark, when Larry Fitzgerald went 64 yards late in the fourth quarter to give the Cardinals a 23-16 lead over the Steelers in Super Bowl 43.
From there, Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes teamed up for what many consider to be one of the most iconic touchdowns not just in Steelers history, but in Super Bowl history.
While the offense went to work, Mike Tomlin was making sure his defense was ready to finish the job of getting the franchise’s then NFL-record sixth Super Bowl title.
“They’re SHOCKED, ” Tomlin recalled what he saw from the defense. “That’s the thing, we go down the field, ‘Ton does his thing, Ben drops the ball in the corner of the endzone,’ Ton does his thing, they’re still shell-shocked, I’m like – ‘Hey, bro, we back up! ‘”
Clark and the rest of the Steelers defense had the swagger but the awareness that they were among the NFL’s most elite defenders that season. The touchdown and potential loss in Super Bowl 43 could’ve dealt a blow to that potential legacy.
“We were on the cover of ESPN The Magazine when the playoffs started,” Clark recalled.
“But I’m like, ‘get the stop, we win the game, and you’re a legendary defense!” Tomlin snapped back. “I’m looking at them all and that’s what it is, they’re like, ‘we’re not a legendary defense.’ Bro… we’re back up! ”
So, legacy and championships aside, how is Mike Tomlin approaching the 2022 Steelers season, the first without his future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger?
“I need to be what this 2022 team needs me to be – that’s leadership,” he said. “It doesn’t mean being inauthentic, it doesn’t mean not being myself, but I better be sensitive to the needs of the group, and I better work to meet them and that’s what I mean when I say I better be what they need me to be. ”
You can watch the full interview with Coach Tomlin on The Pivot Podcast at this link.