Instead, he only got the “Congratu” out before the Pittsburgh coach quickly shifted left and stomped off like a 12-year old who just found out the community pool was closed for cleaning. As he was finishing with “lations”, Tomlin was nearly long gone.
It was then, realizing that Tomlin was giving him the brush-off, that Harbaugh reacted accordingly and yanked the Pittsburgh coach back in his direction to reaffirm the message.
“Hey, I said congratulations” said Harbaugh, with some force.
The Steelers coach threw in a snarky, “Yeah, thanks, nice job” and then bolted for his locker room.
There’s just no other way to critique it.
Anyone with an athletic background knows there are certain things in sports that are non-negotiable.
When a player gets injured in a game and is unable to leave the field without medical supervision, everyone takes a knee and offers a silent thought or prayer. There’s no giggling. No laughing. No discreet fist-bumps for the guy who laid the big hit. While the injured player is down, everyone forgets about football for a minute.
You never criticize your team owner in public. It’s just not something you do. Reason? He pays you. You like your job. So, no matter what, you always talk about how much you “love” the owner, even if you’ve never met the man for anything other than a handshake on the sidelines during a pre-game warm-up.
And the other non-negotiable element that comes to mind?
Professional coaches, those elite men who work harder than anyone can ever imagine, have this amazing inner-code that prohibits them from ever criticizing or disrespecting one another publicly.
Let’s go back to this season’s Week #5 in the NFL. The Ravens traveled to KC to take on the hapless Chiefs, who couldn’t beat an egg the first ten weeks of the season and were laughably inept at home against John Harbaugh’s team. But there he was in the press conference afterwards, starting off the proceedings by reminding everyone in the room that – quote – “That’s a good football team we beat over there today (pointing to the Chiefs locker room). They’re a well-coached, tough group of players. They’re going to figure out a way to win a bunch of games.”
Almost none of that was true, of course. The Chiefs stink. Well coached? Eh, maybe. With the talent they have, their record should be better. And no, they’re not winning a bunch of games, unless you add up their total wins from this year and next, perhaps.
But, as he was taught to do by his father, I assume, Harbaugh took to the podium after that 9-6 win and talked about the Chiefs as if they were the second coming of the ’72 Dolphins.
That’s what coaches do for one another.
And do you know why?
Because they know how hard the other guy is working.
John Harbaugh – and anyone who makes their Faith an important part of their daily routine – knows all too well the great saying: ”There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Every coach of a 7-2 team who just beat the snot out of a 2-7 team knows for certain that one year later, it could be his team at 2-7.
Harbaugh and Tomlin have no past “midfield history”, that much I know for sure.
I wondered that on Monday and did some sniffing around, only to find out that all of their other encounters have been occasionally light and friendly but mostly professional and respectful.
I don’t expect them to give one another gift cards to Bed, Bath and Beyond at midfield after a game, unlike their players, who fight and scratch and spit on one another for 60 minutes and then gather at game’s end to pray next to the guy they just kneed in the family jewels under the pile in the fourth quarter.
It doesn’t have to look like a family reunion at midfield when the two coaches meet, but it has to be respectful — and the guy who wins shoulders the burden of making sure the handshake isn’t impersonal or perfunctory. That’s the unwritten rule that every coach knows. ”If I’m the one fortunate enough to win today, it’s my job to carry the handshake and the greeting and make sure the losing coach knows I respect how hard he and his staff worked to prepare for this game.”
There, but by the grace of God, go I.
Tomlin forgot that on Sunday night. Why? I have no idea.
Hell, for all I know, maybe he had to take a leak.
Perhaps the magnitude of the moment got to him, snapping his arch-rivals 16-game winning streak and all.
It could be a lingering bee-in-his-bonnet over that aforementioned two-point conversion in September of 2011 when the Ravens stomped Tomlin’s Steelers 35-7 and tacked on an extra point just for good measure.
Or , maybe, the winning head coach was just being a prick because the moment allowed for it.
No matter how or why, Mike Tomlin was completely out of line on Sunday.
It was – amongst coaches anyway – the lowest of the low-class gestures from one guy in the business to the other.
(Please see next page)