PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has plenty of words to describe his ill-timed foray onto the field last week against Baltimore.
Intentional is not one of them.
Tomlin apologized at length Tuesday for nearly interfering with Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones in the third quarter of a 22-20 Baltimore victory on Thanksgiving night, calling it “embarrassing, inexcusable, illegal, a blunder.”
One that is likely to haunt the 41-year-old for the remainder of his career and take a pretty decent bite out of his wallet and perhaps even his reputation.
“There are repercussions of a blunder of that nature and I embrace it,” he said. “With my position comes the charge of preserving and protecting the game of football. … I think my biggest error on Thursday night is not realizing that play jeopardized the game from an integrity standpoint.”
Tomlin was standing at the Pittsburgh 35, as is his custom, when the Steelers kicked off after a touchdown that drew them within six points of the Ravens. As the ball settled into Jones’ hands, Tomlin turned his attention to one of the videoboards at M&T Stadium to get a better perspective of the play as it unfolded. He stepped onto a strip of turf painted white that is meant to serve as a barrier between the field of play and the sideline.
Jones raced through a hole and down the Steelers sideline while Pittsburgh’s Cortez Allen gave chase. Tomlin didn’t move even as Jones closed in — mostly, he said, because he was “mesmerized” by what was happening on the screen.
“I saw myself come into the Jumbotron, it’s a frightening experience,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin actually stepped onto the field with his right foot before jumping out of the way as Jones veered right to avoid a collision. Allen tackled Jones a split second later as a potential touchdown ended as a 73-yard return. Tomlin was not flagged on the play, and he pointed out after the game that standing in the white area was commonplace for coaches even if it was technically against the rules.
He didn’t 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.
“The possibility that my actions could be perceived in that way never crossed my mind,” he said.
Which is why he was a little surprised his sons told him the incident kept coming up during the usual Sunday NFL TV coverage. Tomlin understands his ill-timed two-step created “hours” of fodder.
“I have no desire to defend my character or things of that nature,” he said. “I’ve become comfortable with the fact in these positions you get judged a certain way.”
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.