PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin was “mesmerized.”
He was also, the Pittsburgh Steelers coach admits, out of position.
Way out of position.
Tomlin was so awed by the way Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones raced through the Steelers crumbling kickoff return unit in the third quarter Thanksgiving night, Tomlin couldn’t take himself away from watching it all unfold in high definition on one of M&T Stadium’s video boards.
Only when Tomlin — standing on the white strip of grass meant to separate the playing field from the sideline — saw his black-and-gold jacket and black baseball cap flash across the screen did he realize it might be a good time to move.
As Tomlin danced to his left, Jones edged right to avoid bowling the coach over. Pittsburgh’s Cortez Allen made the tackle after a 73-yard return, a bizarre play that will be remembered far longer than Baltimore’s eventual 22-20 victory.
It’s an ill-timed two-step the 41-year-old Tomlin allows was a lot of things, namely “embarrassing, inexcusable, illegal and a blunder.”
The one thing it wasn’t, he insists, was intentional.
“The thought that it could be perceived as intentional never even crossed my mind,” Tomlin said Tuesday during a lengthy and candid apology. “I realized I fell short of the expectations of my position in being where I was and my actions on the play. I am not one to seek comfort from that standpoint, so I was just going to take my medicine.”
Tomlin was not flagged on the play, and pointed out he was following his normal routine when he stood at the Pittsburgh 35 following a touchdown that pulled the Steelers within 13-7 midway through the third quarter. He prefers to watch kickoffs on stadium scoreboards because it gives him a better perspective on how the play is developing and couldn’t recall a specific time when officials told him to step back.
Still, Tomlin declined to use that as an excuse while communicating with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials Monday. Tomlin said he had no plans to fight whatever disciplinary action the league decides to hand out.
“I don’t know what a just punishment is,” he said. “I have no idea. I’m not acting in a way to preserve my wallet and my money. My wallet and my money is what it is because of the game of football.”
The NFL fined the New York Jets $100,000 in 2010 when cameras caught strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi tripping a Miami player on the sideline. Alosi was suspended by the Jets and eventually resigned after the season.
While Tomlin’s job status is certainly not in jeopardy, he is aware critics believe he was attempting to gain a competitive advantage. It’s why he felt the need to speak up.
“It’s been shocking to me that my actions could have been or have been perceived in any way intentional,” he said.
Which is why Tomlin was a little surprised his sons told him the incident kept coming up during the usual Sunday NFL TV coverage.
“When I realized the integrity of the game became the chief issue in the discussion, it was an opportunity and the time was appropriate to set the record straight,” he said.
Tomlin acknowledged there was a memo sent out by the league last week asking coaches to be more mindful of where they stand on the sideline. He said he might have missed it because the Steelers were facing the Ravens on a short week.
Regardless, he stressed he will do a better job “policing” himself in the future and stay out of harm’s way. He still plans on watching kickoffs on video boards. He just plans to do it from a safer (and legal) vantage point.
As for whether his public expression of remorse could have any effect on whatever fine is coming his way, Tomlin considered it the least of his problems.
“I guess, he said, “we will all make due.”