'Where we are is unacceptable': Mike Tomlin featured in HBO show on lack of Black coaches

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin meets with reporters after an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

In an interview for HBO's " Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made his first public comments on the NFL's latest hiring cycle, and he's not the only alumnus of the franchise to do so.

Tomlin takes center stage in Gumbel's examination of why there are only three Black head coaches in the league after another offseason in which seven new hires were made but only one was a Black candidate (Houston's David Culley). Much like he has before, the winningest Black head coach in NFL history as of 2020 took a firm stance on the issue in the episode that airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday night.

"You've been in the room at the owners' meetings when this is discussed. I know you hear the right things, but as African-Americans, all of us are used to hearing stuff and knowing bull [expletive] when we hear it," Gumbel puts forth to Tomlin early in the program, which highlights how former Steelers team president Dan Rooney sponsored "The Rooney Rule" league-wide, then hired Tomlin a few years later to replace Bill Cowher.

"I don't know if it is at the time," Tomlin responds, "but I know that the results are, you know?"

Tomlin would also say: "Where we are is unacceptable."

Tomlin goes on to have some other interesting remarks later in the segment, which lasts about 12 minutes. Ironically, he has come to somewhat resent speaking at clinics geared toward diversity coaching candidates, for the simple fact that he believes those types of seminars imply that minority coaches need more seasoning.

That notion also strikes a chord with former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote, now a linebackers coach with the Super Bowl-champion Buccaneers, as well as Ray Horton, who helped the Steelers win their two most recent Lombardi Trophies as the team's secondary coach from 2004-10.

"As a young coach in this league," said Foote, who's 40, "you're going to hurt young coaches of color — just our drive and passion, because we know we topped off. We know we're not going to have a legitimate shot. And when you know that, you don't do your best."

Horton is 20 years Foote's elder, and after nearly 25 years as a coach, he explains why he was content to be out of football this past season and why he might want to just keep it that way. A defensive coordinator for six years after his seven seasons with the Steelers, Horton expresses frustration with never becoming a head coach.

There's plenty more explored throughout the feature, including one current Black assistant saying that nowadays, when a minority name surfaces for a coaching job, it's a common refrain in football circles that: "Oh, he's the 'Rooney'; that's why he's being interviewed."

Tomlin has COVID-19: In a related note, Tomlin said he is dealing with COVID-19.

Tomlin said Monday that he’s experienced “minimal symptoms” and remains in “good health.”

The 48-year-old Tomlin did not disclose when he tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The team sent employees and staff home last Wednesday as a precaution after someone in the facility tested positive.

Tomlin said he expects to be back in the office “soon” and will continue to work virtually until he is cleared to go back to work in-person.