Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin holds his weekly press conferences every Tuesday. Each week, we will take a glimpse at what stood out from coach's comments about the previous week and heading into the Steelers next game.
Good afternoon. Obviously, this is not our usual business. Definitely did not anticipate standing here and having an end-of-season press conference this week, or specifically today, but there are reasons for that that I will outline some of that and talk about some of the things moving forward so that we are not here in this position at this time of year. Obviously, there is big disappointment that comes with this but before I get into some of that I do want to work within the normal framework and outline this past week and that game, the performance and so forth.
It was a unique week for us. We had to do our business in-stadium and also some other dominos had to fall. We talked openly about it last week in terms of us having the ability to focus and do that. It was challenging, guys did what was necessary and won the game but within the game there were some things that were problems for us that had been problems for us. We had a big turnover in the first half, I thought that was the significant play in the first half of the game. The guys continued to fight to make the necessary plays. We were juggling some people and so forth from a role standpoint. Can’t say enough about Matt [McCrane], the kicker we acquired last week. He came up big, we awarded him the game ball and appropriately so contributing to our efforts in the ways that he did.
Also, just kind of leading up to the game and since the game I know there has been a lot of speculation and discussion regarding A.B.’s [Antonio Brown] participation, or non-participation in the game. I want to re-outline that, what transpired up until the time we talked on Friday and then what transpired after that. I’ll start, last week I met with you guys Friday after practice, I outlined what transpired with A.B. to that point, all of those things are very accurate, I’ll re-outline it for you.
He came in on Wednesday and expressed soreness in his lower body, feet, ankles, knees specifically, a knee. It was no big deal from that perspective, it happens some with veteran players. I give them a day off, I work younger guys, it’s not only about their protection and preservation but it’s also about the growth and development of younger guys. I’ve done it at the quarterback position routinely this year just about every week, very rarely does Ben [Roethlisberger] work on a Wednesday. I do it at the center position with Maurkice Pouncey. I do it at the guard position on Thursday with Ramon Foster, to name a few. I’ve done it at the wide out position in the past when A.B. was young. It was a big day for him because it wasn’t a big day for a guy like Hines Ward so that was not a big deal for us.
We came in on Thursday, he expressed he continued to feel that discomfort. Again, given the fact that this was the Cincinnati Bengals, a second time a divisional opponent in terms of the familiarity again, it wasn’t anything to ring the alarm bells about. We work younger people. I listed him on the injury report that day with the knee he described. On Friday, Friday is kind of the witching hour. Situational football and things of that nature in terms of readiness for the game. When he came in and expressed discomfort in his knee on Friday, and the fact he would not be able to participate on Friday, that is when we sent him to get an MRI. At that time, I instructed after he gets the MRI to go home and get off his feet and low lay and that I would communicate with him Friday evening and we would plot out our course of action from there.
Again, under normal circumstances guys that [don’t] participate in Friday’s practice that essentially potentially removes them participation in the game unless they are a veteran guy who we have great deal of comfort in in terms of execution and detail like A.B. and we have an opponent that we are familiar with, second time around like a divisional opponent Cincinnati.
So, wanted to leave the light on in terms of participation. That was the nature of our conversation. That is what I outlined to you after practice, that is why we listed him as questionable for the game. Then, after Friday’s business was done, it became difficult to communicate and catch up with him. I was not able to communicate with him Friday evening or Saturday morning so when we had our Saturday morning mock game or walk-through, and we hadn’t communicated with him, then it became something altogether different. We decided to focus our energy on the guys that were working and prepared to work and present. So, those are the guys that we prepared to play in the football game.
Woke up Sunday morning and got a call from his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Drew expressed that he was feeling better and we would potentially be able to participate. I outlined to Drew that decisions weren’t made like that, but I would be interested in visiting with him in person at the stadium prior to the game but playing wasn’t on the menu so Drew relayed that to him. I met with A.B. prior to the game, he asked what he can do, I said the best thing he can do in terms of helping us win the game is be there in support of his teammates. He agreed to do that. We had a general conversation about his overall health. I sent him to the training staff to visit with those guys who obviously were at the stadium readying people for play and that was the last conversation he and I had. I subsequently saw him in the bowl, in-stadium during pre-game warm-ups, things of that nature. But as the game began to unfold, obviously, I get occupied with the things that are at hand. I hear that he left the stadium, I don’t confirm that because again I was concentered around the guys that were performing in-stadium and things of that nature.
So, that’s an outline of what transpired from my perspective, our perspective.
I just wanted to add some real teeth to that discussion and outline it for you. I am sure there are subsequent questions, I would be happy to address those, but I just wanted to outline that in reference to the Bengals game because obviously it was an element of evaluating last week and preparation and I’ll also add that there were a lot of things going on regarding player availability in preparation for the game.
We experienced a kicking change that I described and outlined with Bos [Chris Boswell] dealing with a groin. He dealt with a groin on Sunday in New Orleans, he was able to get treatment and perform. His next significant day after that was Thursday. He performed but didn’t have a level of comfort, we didn’t have a level on comfort, we had worked Matt [McCrane] so we got Matt in motion. That was ongoing and obviously Matt’s infusion into the process and overall readiness and on Friday and Saturday getting a sense of what it is he needed to perform became dominant in terms of some of our side discussions. What hash he would need the ball on, what were his capabilities, how could we offset some areas of his play that needed to be offset with coverage, etc.
James Conner was fighting to get back and with some positive and negative results on the way his availability was not determined until a pregame workout. Sean Davis was another guy that was fighting. It became evident that Sean [Davis] was not able to participate after the result of Friday’s workout when he came in on Saturday, the result of that work was not a positive thing. Oftentimes when we’re in this setting we talk about work leading us to play but also the result of that work, he’s an example of he came in on Saturday morning and you could just tell the arrow wasn’t moving up in terms of his availability.
So, there were a couple availability things going on significant availability things, the Antonio [Brown] discussion was not one that was transpired in a vacuum. More than anything, if I could describe it, there was a lack of communication and I was an active participant in that to be quite honest with you because I was singularly focused on those playing the game, the health of those that were preparing to play the game and overall readiness as we push forward toward the stadium and specifically in the last 24-48 hours, some things relative to the kicking aspect of the game. The things involving Matt [McCrane] and his accumulation to us.
Now largely I’ll take a step back and talk about the season. Extremely disappointed, I think that’s the assessment of it. The fact that we are actually standing in this room says it all. It’s not what we intended to do, it’s not what we embrace, it’s not what we accept. We better work our tails off to ensure that we are not having this conversation. I know those were our intentions, but intentions are just part of it. Actions, planning, and changes are all apart of addressing circumstances such as the circumstances that we are in. Being in this position affords us a lot of opportunity in terms of time to assess.
Oftentimes when you go deep into the playoffs you are getting onto a moving train, whatever it may be in terms of 2019, the acquisition of coach and talent, the look at free agency and draft, so forth and that nature. Well we’re out at the first exit so we will have additional time. We better utilize that time. We met this morning as a staff, I talked openly about dwelling in it, being where we are, doing a really good job of being accountable and assessing what has transpired and analyzing what has transpired.
Before we even get into the task of plotting out ‘19 and the things that come with it, just not going to be bashful about that. When you lack success, when you fail, change is a part of it. We talked about it, as a staff we talked about it, as players, and in an exit interview, our exit meetings, that’s just our business. You can look around our business and see and recognize and it breaks that element of it. That’s why it’s great scarcity, that’s why these moments are what they are, that is why we have to live them to the fullest.
So, yes, change is going to be a part moving forward. What those things will be, we are in the process of gathering information and plotting out a course. We are not going to be resistant to change in any facet. We’re not going to be resistant to accountability in any facet. We are not going to be resistant to taking ownership over what has transpired because that is not conducive to us moving forward and we will do that at the appropriate time but part of moving forward is just waddling in it right now to be quite honest with you. We are going to waddle and meet, talk, plan and perceive. Part of that plan of perceiving and so forth, health is an element of it. We’re just kind of scratching the surface in terms of some of those things as well. There are potential surgeries, or pending surgeries, and assessments from a medical standpoint.
That will be on-going in subsequent days and weeks. We have to proceed appropriately and aggressively in those areas because you can’t allow surgeries and the recoveries and so forth to negatively affect the foundation or preparation of 2019 when you can avoid it so we are doing some things in that areas, but we are doing things in a lot of areas. There are a lot of irons in the fire, appropriately so, associated with wrapping a bow around 2018 and laying a foundation for 2019 so that’s the framework.
Have you spoken with Antonio Brown and how do you resolve it?
I haven’t spoken with him since I had the meeting with him prior to the game at the stadium on Sunday. Obviously, I am going to address it. We are going to address him and the circumstance. But to be quite honest with you we are going to information-gather and use all the time at our disposal in which to do so. I was hopeful that time would be more of an essence in terms of dealing with him and his circumstances. I was hoping that we would be working this week, but we are not and because we are not we are going to information[-gather] and handle it like we do in all circumstances. We are going to deal with it appropriately, we are going to handle it in-house and I am sure you will hear about the intimate details. But because we are not playing a game this week it hasn’t been addressed to this point.
Do you view this petulance from Antonio Brown?
Like I said last week, the circumstances being what they were and the amount of things we were going through, there wasn’t a lot of communication there. Obviously, we take his lack of communication, his lack of presence, particularly on Saturday prior to the game, to be something that is significant and be handled appropriately. So, I am not going to speculate on trades and things of that nature. We haven’t formally received a request in that regard, so I am not going to speculate. I am not going to speculate in terms of where the discipline might go and things of that nature, just know it is going to be addressed and will be addressed and it needs to be addressed for obvious reasons.
Re: Please clarify Antonio Brown’s absence from the game:
He was absent due to injury and lack of information. When he did not show up on Saturday, and I didn’t know the extent of his injury, I made the decision at that time, regardless of how he felt at any point, that we were moving on and getting singularly focused on preparing to play the game. When he woke up on Sunday and felt better and Drew [Rosenhaus] reached out and expressed that, I expressed to Drew that playing was not on the table because we had to draw a line in the dirt in terms of getting our group ready to play and make the last-minute preparations and so forth. So, it was about his health, or lack of information relative to his health, in terms of determining his availability. That’s why he was listed on the injury report. That’s why he was listed on the injury report in the manner of which he was listed.
Is that behavior acceptable enough that if Cleveland won the game, Antonio [Brown] would be playing this week?
Again, I would be addressing it in the timeframe in terms of urgency differently than I’m addressing it right now had we been playing, and that’s all I’m going to say on it other than that because when you’re not under time constraints, then you approach things in a very different approach in terms of how you address the information that you gather and the extent of which you discuss it.
Did he go through with the MRI?
He did not. On Friday he did not, but again, when I talked to you guys on Friday, I was not aware of that.
It was scheduled, he just didn’t go through with it.
What was your reaction to his agent being the one getting back to you instead of him?
We had a game to play, and so I was focused on the guys preparing to play the game. I wasn’t wasting a lot of my time assessing that element of it. I knew there would be time for that on the other side of the game and I was hopeful that I was going to be dealing with that in a very aggressive manner because time on the other side of the game was going to be tight. But as we played the game and things unfolded in which they did, then it became evident that unfortunately, time was not going to be an element of addressing it and so subsequently, that’s why I stand before you with less answers in regard to that scenario.
Can you envision a trade of Antonio Brown?
Again, I’m not going to speculate in terms of things that I can envision. I’m just not.
Do you have any reason to doubt the veracity of him saying he had soreness in his knee?
Given that Antonio didn’t have communication with you on Saturday before the game, how challenging would it be to depend on him going forward?
Again, I’m not speculating on what life is going to be like going forward. What I am going to do is address the circumstances and then move on from there.
Things seem to keep popping up with A.B. [Brown] even outside of this building. Does it reach a point where he’s more problematic than usefully?
Was there any issue with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio at practice that you are aware of?
I’m sure there are situations and conversations and disagreements that go on, professionally speaking, all the time, but not anything of any significance that would produce the conversation that we’re having or something that we’d need to overcome in the manner in which we’re discussing.
In the wake of this, your players have talked about a lack of trust, a bond of trust being broken, letting your brothers down, mending has the be done – is this the proper context?
Absolutely, when we’re talking about our darkest hour, we’re talking about playing to win a game and needing other dominos to fall for us to be in the tournament and a guy not communicating, that is a real element of discussion, certainly.
Did he quit on this team?
You know, you can describe it in whatever ways you want to describe it, but there was a lack of communication there that can lead to thoughts and things of that nature that can go in many directions. The bottom line is we were playing a significant game and he didn’t do a good enough job of communicating, of being available in the hours leading up to that performance, so we needed to make decisions pertinent to getting prepared to play in that performance. I’ve been really clear about outlining what transpired, the level of communication and things of that nature, so obviously there are some things within that that you can infer.
Many players talked at length about a lack of chemistry. What role do you play in fostering that?
Man, I accept responsibility and I foster and develop every aspect of our culture. That’s this game. That’s leadership. You embrace and respect and honor all aspects of that, certainly.
Is there a point where you have to step back and look at the way your coaching your team and be more of a disciplinarian?
Certainly, I think that you’re always taking a step back, and when I’m talking about taking a step back and wallowing in it, I’m not only talking about those that play and those that coach in there; I start with the thumb. Most certainly, you’re not going to routinely do the same thing and expect results to change. The fact that we’re having this meeting, this press conference today, tell you that that line of thinking is very necessary for all parties involved and starting with me.
What was it like dealing with more distractions this season, especially towards the end?
You know, distractions and things of that nature are part of the job, particularly in today’s NFL. I don’t run away from it, as a matter of fact, I embrace it. I never use those things as an excuse in terms of our performance and things of that nature. That’s just not how I’m wired. So, I don’t talk a lot about that during the course of the journey. Is it challenging? Certainly. Am I appropriately compensated for those challenges? Certainly. When you get tired of those challenges, when you wear the whistle and you stand at the podium, you need to find a new line of work. I just don’t have that sentiment. That’s why I embrace it in the ways that I do, not that I like it, not that it’s enjoyable. It’s not, but I’m not running, and I’m certainly not seeking comfort in those things relative to our performance because when we’re good, you find ways to overcome them, you minimize, you make them less of a story. When you lose, they become the story, but they may be ever-present. I’ve been in this thing long enough to understand that – that nature of it, that component of it, and that’s why I’m never paralyzed by it. I don’t dwell on it too much. I focus on what I need to focus on and that’s keeping this group moving, improving and winning because that’s our business.
Just to be clear, are you aware that Ben and Antonio had any kind of a disagreement that would have caused Antonio to leave practice abruptly?
Are you making changes to your staff?
Again, like I outlined, change is a part of this, particularly when you’re having press conferences like today. I don’t run away from that. Our staff doesn’t run away from that – the evaluation process, the reviewing process, the things that we’re going through as we wallow in it today. I acknowledge that change is a part of where we’re headed and that I’m open to it because I’m not open to repeatedly doing this.
Was Antonio supposed to be here yesterday and didn’t show up?
Do you know where he is? Have you had any communication?
Like I mentioned, I haven’t talked to him since prior to the game on Sunday. Again, I wasn’t here yesterday.
Was he supposed to be here yesterday?
I wasn’t here yesterday.
Was he supposed to be here today?
I wasn’t here yesterday. No one was required to be here yesterday, so I don’t know what the reference to yesterday is about. He wasn’t here on Monday, and I didn’t talk to him on Monday. I didn’t talk to him after the game on Sunday. I talked to him prior to the game on Sunday, and to be quite honest with you, I wasn’t looking for conversation with anyone in a professional way yesterday.
While you’re still in the process of gathering information of how to change things going forward, when you consider the Antonio Brown situation, do you consult players on that? Will you want your veteran players to give you their thoughts on whether they want to play with him?
Most certainly, I don’t hate perspective. I don’t care where good ideas come from. You can’t have that attitude when you’re singularly invested and focused on being better and winning which we are.
Does it bother you that Antonio is on Instagram now sending out messages while you’re hosting this press conference?
Guy, social media and stuff like that is a part of our world today. I think I’m really consistent in here when I don’t give it a lot of credence and I don’t respond to it. I understand it may be a part of your world and elements of it may be a part of your world when convenient, but I’m just not getting into that. I don’t, man. I’ve just got too much respect for this venue, this space, this profession and the level at which we do it. I don’t care about some of those things that may seemingly, when appropriate be important like social media and people’s participation in it.
When you do communicate with him, what would you like to hear him say?
I’m not going to frame any anticipation and things of that nature. We’re going to have a conversation I’m sure. I want to get around to it, but I’m doing things, obviously, with a lot of people within our organization professionally in terms of assessing what transpired and why. So, it will occur. I’m sure it will occur in the upcoming days.
Inside linebacker was a questionable position at the beginning of the season. Do you think Jon Bostic and Vince Williams stepped up and played well enough?
I love what they were willing to do, the way they approached it, but I’m not ready to assess or evaluate any element of play in a significant way in this setting. We’re just beginning the process of evaluating and assessing. So, I can give you a canned answer. I can give you something of that nature, but legitimately assessing it and framing it in the ways in which it needs to be framed, I’m not going to get into that today. I’m looking at a thorough review of all components of our team, and obviously inside linebacker is a part of it. I appreciate the contributions of those men. They had their moments; they really stepped up and delivered in a lot of way. But I’m not ready to assess, and particularly assess, in the ways that would lead to laying a foundation for ’19 and talking about needs and things of that nature. We’re just not there, and we’re not going to be there because of the things I’ve outlined to this point regarding where we are and how we need to look at time specifically in the short term.
What would you need to see from Antonio to know that he can be a reliable member of this team?
Again, I’ll cross that bridge as we begin to address that circumstance. What I wanted to do with you guys was outline in great detail what transpired with transparency and why we did what it is that we did relative to his availability and the listing of the injury and things of that nature and what’s transpired subsequently. Obviously not a lot of information and things have transpired since the game. I wish that was a significant issue for him and for us, but that would include us being prepared to play a game this weekend, and obviously we’re not.
Do you have any plans to negotiate with Le’Veon Bell, or is that relationship over?
Again, like I outlined to a question over here, we’re just in the process of assessing and reviewing what happened in ’18 and appropriately so, and we’re going to pause before we start talking about the development of ’19 and that includes any and all potential free agents and things of that nature from a personnel standpoint, from a coaching standpoint. I just don’t have a lot of those answers as I stand here today and really don’t want to speculate a lot because if you’re legitimately open to doing what’s necessary, that we’re not here next year this year, then you better leave it open-ended and we intend to do that.
You’ve been Antonio’s coach his whole NFL career. Does this affect you personally at all?
You know, there’s disappointment, there’s no denying that, but on a personal level, I’ve just learned over the course of time, man, forget my personal feelings about things or the challenges that come with the position. I don’t spend a lot of time focused on that. I better not. I better focus on issues and the people that I serve as a leader and the group and making sure that we’re positioning ourselves with being the best. That’s why I hesitate when you ask that – because I don’t know how to answer it because I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling or focused on that.
Transcript provided by the Pittsburgh Steelers.