Mike Tomlin wants to use this offseason to beef up his staff. But beefing up his deflated culture may be the better alternative.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been granted plenty of opportunities to become newsworthy the week and a half. Unfortunately, none of them have been for good reasons.
They missed the playoffs, which was followed by a public spat with Antonio Brown. Brown was disciplined by the Steelers, in which he was suspended for the final game of the regular season. His crimes? Throwing a football at Ben Roethlisberger during practice, and missing ensuing practices and team meetings. Now, he is demanding a trade, which naturally has become a talking point.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has fallen under a lot of scrutiny for his handling of Brown this season. He has also drawn the ire of many over the years for the culture he built. But he has instead taken the high road, with his focus on rebuilding the Steelers from a coaching personnel point, while possibly adding another full-time assistant.
Tomlin can fire, replace and add on as many assistants he wants. But if he doesn’t change how he operates, then the Steelers will continue to have issues with player conduct.
Antonio Brown’s behavior is a reflection of the culture Tomlin promotes: Players are seen as his equals. But, as documented with Urban Meyer at Florida, this can lead to a lack of respect for the head coach as an authority figure.
This has led to Brown’s tantrums, Le’Veon Bell not playing this season and Roethlisberger routinely throwing teammates and coaches under the bus via the media.
If Tomlin, who is a good football coach, wants to reach the heights as the New England Patriots, it starts with emulating how the New England Patriots run their franchise.
There, Bill Belichick operates the team with an emphasis on team and culture first. Once things get out of whack, then the culture of the team will naturally take care of it. With Tomlin, his player-led culture has led to the Steelers underachieving. And no matter what coach he hires, he must realize that culture beats strategy.
So Tomlin can beef up his coaching staff and hire the best teachers of the game there is. But it won’t matter until the culture he created, is transformed for the better.