Paul Zeise: Steelers' 'Hard Knocks' appearance won't change anyone's opinion on Mike Tomlin

Paul Zeise, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

PITTSBURGH — It appears as if the NFL and NFL Films are going to drag the Pittsburgh Steelers kicking and screaming into the world of "Hard Knocks" this season. And in a new twist, it isn't just the Steelers (these shows have usually focused on just one team), as it is going to be a behind-the-scenes look at the whole AFC North.

That's unfortunate but not for the reason you might think.

I was hoping "Hard Knocks" would go away, as it was once a fascinating, must-see-TV type of show that has long since jumped the shark. It was once a really good inside, behind-the-scenes look at an NFL team throughout training camp, but it has been watered down, cleansed and corporatized to the point where it is a bunch of fluff pieces strung together with some mostly useless banter in a meeting or film room.

I used to love that show, but now I hate it and don't even watch it because there is nothing interesting about it anymore. But now that the Steelers are involved, I will begrudgingly have to watch it because I have to columnize and comment on the team.

That being said, I am getting a kick out of the idea that somehow this "Hard Knocks" show will bring some deep revelations about the Steelers that we already don't know and, more importantly, that Mike Tomlin's popularity will soar after this show because it will show a side of him with his players that we haven't yet seen.

I do agree that Tomlin will come off as the likable players' coach and someone who is able to relate to the modern-day player. I agree that every little instance of him showing this side will be celebrated like he finally won a playoff game by many members of the national and even local media.

But let's be honest and real. For the large majority of people who are Steelers fans and a chunk of people in the media who live in reality, the only thing Tomlin can do that will increase his popularity is win playoff games. And that's really all that should matter at this point, seven seasons removed the last time the Steelers achieved that.

Tomlin is incredibly likable. He is a great role model for his players. He clearly "gets it," in terms of relating to them and respecting them as grown men. I have no issues with any of that, and quite frankly, he has been a good face of the Steelers for almost two decades.

A large reason, though, for his "Teflon Tomlin" status among so many national media members is because he knows how to play this game as well as any coach I've ever been around. He does come off always as the cool kid among the coaching fraternity, and his sound bites are always good. He is more than willing to jump on national shows, and when he does, he is excellent at doing everything in his power to sound like he is really in touch with the pulse of his team and his players and the NFL at large.


He is a great guest, and that is, again, why he has become teflon Tomlin among so many of them and any criticism of him is treated as if it is coming from a place of insanity. And every criticism of his lack of success in the playoffs is met with some form of, "But it isn't his fault that [insert reason]."

As I have said several times, though, the Steelers have not won a playoff game in seven seasons and have only won three of their last 12 since 2010. And there is only one constant through all of that, and that is Tomlin. Let me reiterate that point: In the last seven seasons, the Steelers have changed both coordinators, the general manager, the quarterback, most of the roster, a host of other assistant coaches and even a number of people in the front office.

The only thing that has remained the same is Tomlin, yet somehow he escapes any and all criticism for the collective body of work over seven seasons.

And that's why this notion that an appearance on "Hard Knocks" is going to change the perception one way or another with Tomlin is silly. It won't. All it will do is solidify his standing as a really cool dude who has been a product of bad luck for seven seasons among his apologists, and his critics will still say, "I don't care how much his players love him; he needs to win playoff games — and soon."

Given that Tomlin has been dead set against "Hard Knocks," the amount of actual access NFL Films is granted will be very limited. I can't imagine we will get much more than whatever the minimum required is. That is not much different than what you would see on a show like "Inside the NFL."

Limited access has been a trend for "Hard Knocks" anyway, but I would be willing to bet it will be extreme when it comes to Tomlin and the Steelers.

That is why my expectations for "Hard Knocks" and the Steelers are really low, and it is why I don't think it will do a single thing to change the way anyone — apologists or critics — view Tomlin.

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