Mike Tomlin owes John Harbaugh an apology. Or, at the very least, an explanation.
More on that later.
I’ve championed John Harbaugh’s cause here in Baltimore because I think he’s a very good football coach. His record, here, does all the speaking that needs to be done. Coaches are paid to do one thing: win games. John has done that since arriving in Baltimore in 2008.
That said, I have occasionally nitpicked at Harbaugh for things like an “unnecessary” fake field goal against the Raiders a month ago or the 2-pointer against the Steelers on opening day, 2011, when Baltimore was already pounding the Steelers but felt justified in having Sam Koch dash into the end zone on a fake extra-point to make a blow out even more of a blow out. There was also the time-out at the end of a meaningless pre-season game against the Chiefs a couple of years ago…one that Todd Haley chirped about during the post-game greeting at midfield.
John Harbaugh has had a moment or two where I thought he was bordering on showing-up-the-other-team and I’ve never been afraid to make those assessments on the radio because I always take pride in calling it as I see it, even if that means being critical of my hometown football or baseball team.
That doesn’t mean I’ve been right in doing so, either. In the days following the fake-field-goal-for-a-TD gainst the Raiders, I bought into John’s way of thinking, even though initially I said it looked bad to forego an easy field goal and tack on another four points “just because”. In the end, Harbaugh was right when he said, “Look, if you’re going to basically set up your defense to give us a free run at a touchdown, we’re going to take it and that’s that.” Truth? He was right, even if it meant I had to change my stance on it from my original reaction on Sunday.
But, again, before some unsophisticated goof stumbles in here and starts blabbing about how I’m a homer and I’m just pissed the Ravens lost to the Steelers and all that other Who Struck John?, I’ll remind any and all of you that I simply call it like it is — and sometimes that means I’ve had to take issue with something our own coach has done.
Let’s get back to the Tomlin apology-thing I referenced in the opening sentence.
In his five years in Baltimore, John Harbaugh has never once pulled a bush-league stunt like Mike Tomlin produced on Sunday evening after his Steelers edged the Ravens in Baltimore, 23-20.
Coaches are, in my humble opinion, the most special people in all of sports. I’ve said that for a long time now and the more I’m around them, the more I know I’m right. We throw the word “elite” around all the time when we talk about quarterbacks in the NFL, but the truth of the matter is that there are six of them in the league right now who are of that caliber and the only way to earn that label is by winning a title. It’s different for coaches. NFL head coaches are all elite when you take into account their responsibility, work ethic and dedication to preparation. All 32 men who run NFL teams are, literally, elite human beings.
Unlike the players, who shower, answer a text message or 23, and then head off to Washington DC to party after a home game, the men who coach in the NFL are bound to their job in a 24/7 fashion that I’m confident none of us – including me – could handle with the same grace and dignity.
And that includes Mike Tomlin, he of a Super Bowl ring and a massive amount of respect-appeal from around the NFL.
Mike Tomlin is one helluva football coach. I’ve said and written that a lot over the last five years.
But he committed the most unprofessional of sins on Sunday when he disrespectfully brushed past Harbaugh at midfield as the losing coach stuck out his hand to offer well wishes.
Yes, Tomlin’s right hand connected with Harbaugh’s.
But his eyes didn’t.
For reasons only Mike Tomlin can explain, he eschewed the proper protocol on Sunday night and did his best to avoid any personal interaction with the Ravens coach as the two met at midfield.
Now would be the time for you to check out THE VIDEO OF THE HANDSHAKE for yourself, so you know exactly what transpired.
It was unprofessional.
And, honestly, surprising.
I expected more from Tomlin, truth be known.
Here’s what I know as fact:
Harbaugh has a great amount of professional respect for Mike Tomlin. Without mailing him a Christmas card or anything sappy like that, the Ravens coach has admired the way Tomlin has kept the Steelers together this season with their depleted offensive line, a broken down running game and the loss of star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
That was going to be John’s brief post-game message to Mike Tomlin on Sunday night, win or lose.
Unfortunately for Harbaugh, he had to man-up as the losing coach.
John’s offering would be simple but a high compliment for his rival: “Hey, congratulations. You’ve done one helluva job with your team, Mike. Nicely done. Good luck the rest of the way.”
Soup to nuts, it would have taken four seconds, five if you count the friendly pat on the rump as Tomlin turns to head to the locker room.
That’s what Harbaugh intended to say to Tomlin on Sunday.
(Please see next page)