PITTSBURGH — One is loud. One isn’t. One speaks his mind. One doesn’t. One has a Super Bowl title as a head coach. The other’s still in search of one. But don’t tell Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin that he’s not like New York’s Rex Ryan. The Steelers coach actually thinks there are similarities between the two.
Tomlin isn’t the type to brazenly predict his team will win the Super Bowl. And he doesn’t figure to ever make use of a weekly press conference to point out that the upcoming game is “personal,” as Ryan famously has during this postseason.
Tomlin also works for an organization that would, in all likelihood, politely decline allowing HBO cameras to document the team’s training camp, as the Jets did this past summer for a reality series.
But throw all that out for a second. During his weekly press conference Tuesday in advance of the AFC championship game between his Steelers (13-4) and Ryan’s Jets (13-5), Tomlin implied that if someone were given that kind of behind-the-scenes access to his team, they’d discover that the Jets and Steelers aren’t that far apart.
“Our styles are probably more similar than you would imagine,” Tomlin said. “Rex just has more fun with you guys (in the media).”
What’s more, just as Ryan had several kind words for his counterpart the day before, Tomlin reciprocated the mutual admiration society Tuesday, offering a sincere, “I love Rex” when first asked about the former defensive coordinator of Pittsburgh’s rival, the Baltimore Ravens.
Tomlin said there’s a lot more depth to Ryan than just the sometimes-brash, wise-cracking, jovial coach who appears to be so much at ease in the spotlight standing behind a podium.
“When you see past all of those things, this is a great football coach,” said Tomlin, who is in his fourth season with Pittsburgh. “He has the pulse of his football team, and he does a great job of motivating them. He’s very sound schematically in all three phases, and his glass is always half-full. I appreciate that.”
While some might say they’re growing tired of Ryan’s mouth, it’s working. The Jets are in their second straight AFC championship game, and Ryan has a chance to match Tomlin’s feat of winning a Super Bowl in only his second season as a head coach.
Plus, the case could be made that Ryan’s occasional over-the-top antics are good for the game. After all, the Jets’ win over the New England Patriots on Sunday was the most-watched divisional playoff game in history, and it’d be naive to suggest the buildup Ryan helped create in the week leading up to it wasn’t part of that.
Still, Tomlin — like his players did the day before — chose not to engage in any trash talking. Not the Steelers way, of course.
“We’re in the AFC championship. Likes or dislikes really are irrelevant,” Tomlin said. “I think they’ve been pretty consistent about stating their intentions all year, which is to be world champs. I think we’ve been pretty consistent in stating ours. So you know where that’s going to lead us — that’s two trains on a track.”
Tomlin flashed his trademark, cool persona when asked whether he believed Ryan’s antics benefited the NFL.
“I think he’s great for the Jets, and I think that’s all he’s concerned about being great for,” Tomlin said. “He’s got them in the AFC championship game. I’m sure he’s not concerned about the National Football League.”
Ryan’s Jets were one of only four teams to beat the Steelers this season, a 22-17 victory Dec. 19 at Heinz Field. But Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, of course, did not play in that game due to an Achilles injury, and Pro Bowl tight end Heath Miller also sat out because of a concussion.
Both have returned, and Polamalu wasted no time showing why he is a league defensive player of the year candidate. On the second play from scrimmage in his first game back Week 17 in Cleveland, Polamalu intercepted Colt McCoy. The Steelers scored on the ensuing play en route to a blowout victory that secured the No. 2 seed.
Still, Tomlin isn’t the type to suggest the absence of its top playmaker left the Steelers handcuffed in the loss.
“We weren’t,” Tomlin said. “We’re not going to use his presence or lack of presence as an excuse for anything. We have one standard and that standard is winning. The last time we played the Jets, they beat us.”