Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin admits he's disappointed that Bell, Brown no longer Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin speaks to the media during the NFC/AFC coaches breakfast at the annual NFL football owners meetings, Tuesday, March 26, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Rarely do coaches look back.

That’s especially true when the recent past is kind of ugly.

So Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin isn’t spending a lot of time reflecting on losing star running back Le’Veon Bell to the Jets in free agency, or standout wide receiver Antonio Brown in a trade to Oakland that Brown basically forced.

But he admits to being disappointed they no longer are Steelers.

“But that’s life and that’s business,” the veteran coach said. “I think we as an organization have moved on. I think they as professionals have moved on. And so we’re excited about the formulation of our team for ‘19.

“Obviously, we appreciate the contributions that they gave us when they were a part of us. But the reality is that they’re no longer that. And so we’re focused on the guys that we work with.”

Tomlin didn’t flinch when asked if this was a case of addition by subtraction. Brown had become a distraction, to put it mildly, in the locker room, and his unhappiness affected the Steelers’ performances. Bell sat out the entire 2018 season after being given the franchise tag for a second straight year.

“We’ll see,” Tomlin said of the effect of losing two stars from the offense. “I know that we’ve got some plays that need to be made. And so somebody’s got to make them. I know that we had a Pro Bowl wide receiver that was on our team last year that’s still on our team (JuJu Smith-Schuster). And we have a Pro Bowl running back that was on our team last year that’s still on our team (James Conner). They’d better make plays. And we’d better acquire and develop people to a system into making plays.”

Supporting Big Ben: In the wake of a few ex-teammates and a handful of national commentators piling on Ben Roethlisberger for his leadership qualities (or lack thereof), Tomlin has come to his franchise quarterback’s defense.

“I have no problem with his play or his leadership,” Tomlin said Tuesday, according to ESPN.

Roethlisberger’s leadership was called into question by Brown and Bell after the two All Pros each left the organization earlier this month. Also, former little-used backup running back Josh Harris posted on Twitter that Roethlisberger once fumbled on purpose and indicated that was representative of his character.

Tomlin would not directly address any of the accusations – “I have no reaction to former Steelers and things of that nature,” he said, per the video provided by ESPN. Tomlin mostly only would only speak in generalities regarding Roethlisberger, saying only he would speak to him about improving in 2019 – as all of the Steelers need to do coming off a 9-6-1 season.

“Not in response to any criticism from the outside or anything of that nature,” Tomlin said.

Asked if Roethlisberger and him had spoken about what he can do better, Tomlin said this wasn’t the time of year for that, with both men busy and not sharing the same work space on a daily basis like they would in the summer and fall.

“I don’t think he’s devoid of leadership skills and talents,” Tomlin said Monday from Phoenix, according to ESPN. “I think he’s more than capable as a quarterback. I think he’s more than capable a a leader. But yes, do I expect growth and development? Certainly. I expect growth and development from all of us. I expect growth and development from myself from a leadership standpoint based on the experiences that we’ve had.”

The Associated Press and the (Greensburg) Tribune-Review contributed to this report.