Mike Tomczak, Steelers Quarterback, 1993-1999, Power OC, 2012:
First, what made you decide to take on the role of offensive coordinator of the Power – what makes this a good fit?
It happened quickly. I knew Matt Shaner – the Power owner – we live in the same community so I had a connection with him. To make a long story short, he asked me if I would come into practice one day and act as a consultant – to watch the team and give some feedback. The practice was Thursday evening. After the home game that Saturday, he called me and told me they were making some changes and asked if I’d be interested in the offensive coordinator position.
I always wanted to get into coaching. It didn’t work out in Pittsburgh market – geographically the opportunities weren’t there. So this opportunity got me thinking and I decided to go ahead and do it. I called Matt that Sunday – so after 48 hours I had the job. And here we are, sixteen days into it.
I’m excited. We have good athletes and good character guys.
Having been there for a short while and after having seen film and gotten a couple of games under your belt, what are the primary areas you’ll look to address to improve the offense – what changes do you expect to make?
Coach Stingley has a better pulse on the changes need – he’s been with this team much longer than I have and knows the personnel better.
My offensive philosophy right now is to focus on the fundamentals – the proper reads at quarterback, executing what’s called and protecting the football. You have to know the situation on the field. If you do all of those things you have a good chance to win.
Versus Arizona, we controlled things that were controllable – I felt good about the game minus our two turnovers. We put out a lot of effort. If you give great effort – that becomes contagious. I see it in practice. These guys are grown men that love the game of football. It just comes down to execution and fundamentals.
As for personnel changes, maybe in a couple of weeks as I learn the personnel we may make changes. But the key is keeping it simple so they can play faster.
Having created a 16-year career for yourself after having been an undrafted free agent, how do you think this helps you and your rapport with AFL players that are looking to use the AFL as their own means to get to the NFL?
I don’t have much dialogue on my career. That’s done and gone. I may individually sometimes when I’m talking to a player.
You have to be on the field. Your resume is out there and on video when you play. I encourage players to be fundamentally sound. That’s the key.
With expanded NFL rosters now, that opens up 320 new opportunities in the NFL. You have to get lucky by working hard and being prepared.
I have some connections in the NFL due to my playing days – some with scouts and even coaches. But the NFL does a great job already of spanning the country looking for talent – looking for the one guy no one else knows about. The Steelers built their dynasty that way – finding guys from small schools no one else knew about.
Work ethic and fundamentals – those are the priorities.
Who were some of your greatest coaching influences during your time in the NFL and what aspects of those coaching lessons do you try to apply most to your approach in coaching?
I learned from lots of coaches – from grade school, high school, where my dad was the coach…he was a great influence on me.
I had many former players as coaches and had great teachers. Ed Hughes was my offensive coordinator in Chicago – he had a great impact on me. Greg Landry and Lindy Infante, and Belichick in Cleveland. Earhardt in Pittsburgh knew the x’s and o’s so well.
The coaches treated you as a professional and encouraged you as a quarterback to make plays. So I took something from everyone. Zorn was my last coach in Detroit, and he was a stickler for fundamentals. That impacted me a great deal – things like playing lower so you have a good base.
I’m not a yeller and screamer – I’m not a believer in that. You teach in the film room. That’s where you correct and identify ways to improve.
You signed with the Steelers in 1993 after playing in Chicago, Green Bay and Cleveland. What made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh and what are your greatest memories of playing there?
It was really the opportunity to play. I played in Cleveland twice versus the Steelers the year before and maybe that made an impression on the coaches. I know Bubby Brister said some things that didn’t sit well with the coaches and they were looking for a new backup for Neil O’Donnell…
All the teams I played for were ones rich in tradition. The fan base was knowledgeable. I remember my rookie year playing versus Pittsburgh in the third preseason game. We’re all trying to make the team and I and the offense had a pretty good game. In my mind I was thinking that Pittsburgh wouldn’t be a bad place to play. I was fortunate to end up playing there for seven years.
I enjoyed playing for Cowher and the Rooneys. I was also active as a player rep and was able to give others advice on things like player benefits and how to terminate agents.
What made you decide to take on that role?
I believed in the union. The veteran leadership I had when I was in Chicago – there were a plethora of leaders like Singletary, Suhey, Wilson and Payton. The Strike of ’87 solidified the fact that this was your profession. We had to stand firm and united. I saw that the team leadership kept us together and it made me want to get involved.
With that mindset, what are your thoughts on the player issues in the AFL right now?
It’s still all new to me – I’m still understanding the AFL thing. It’s been going for twenty-five years.
The guys don’t get paid a lot. There’s got to be rights for players. Injuries happen too frequently. I believe in protecting players – through salaries, working and living conditions….Many of these guys have second jobs – they don’t make a lot.
I don’t understand all the intricacies yet, but I do hope it’s all resolved after the season. I know the team sat out for one game, but I really haven’t had time to focus on that stuff – I’m still trying to get up to speed.
What is the culture of the Power team at the moment – how close-knit is the team and how is that closeness fostered throughout the organization – by coaches, players and the front office?
This team has solid character-minded individuals. The guys have impressed me with the respect and welcoming me openly. It’s not easy to do with a new name coming in mid-season. I expected it but I see they love this game and I do too. They’ve all played football a long time. My job is to help their process along so they get as far as they can get in the sport. For many, this is as far as they’ll get. But it’s a professional team and they are showing off those skills.
Humor plays such a big part on many football teams cultures. Who were some of the greatest characters you played with in Pittsburgh, and what made them so? Any examples?
Well, there’s not much of a locker room with the Power (laughing). You basically just drop your shorts, change and get ready to go.
In Pittsburgh, McAfee was a comedian – like Eddie Murphy and Matthew Lawrence. He was a happy guy – the kind every locker room needs. You need that levity. It’s not always perfect – you try to be, but once you all see that game video on Mondays, there’s a lot of humility.
Kirkland was the judge of the Sunday best wardrobe contest. He was the fashion police – gosh, I remember once he wore this salmon colored suit like he just fished it out of the water. Once he came in with a lavender suit and top hat – he must have had a date….It all helps t break up the monotony.
Josh Miller and Norm Johnson both also had wisdom and wit. I know many guys don’t talk a lot with the kickers, but they were both very witty.
I think there should be a sitcom on tv – just on the dialogue in the locker room. Just typifying an average day. There are sixty bodies – all from different backgrounds. All have issues – at home, with playing time, in the locker rom…
I’ve seen some heated discussions and guys with egos. Guys like Kevin Green and Greg Lloyd who were competitive at such a high level, trying to prove their masculinity in the locker room. They both had chips on their shoulders – they’d look at themselves in the mirror like fifty times before kickoff….
How difficult is it to adapt your NFL experiences to the different sets of rules the AFL offers, and how do you do so?
It’s not extremely difficult. Ten percent of the rules maybe I don’t understand yet, but will. There’s no punting – I like that you have four downs to get ten yards. I also like that the clock keeps running except under one minute – it makes the game more entertaining.
I traveled overseas for preseason games. A lot of the spectators were not used to the slow pace of American football. With the twenty-five second clock, there’s a lot of action now in the AFL. The play calling happens quickly – you have to know what you want to call one play ahead. Quick decisions are needed.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Football is a great game – it teaches life lessons. Only so many make it in sports to the professional level. You have to enjoy it for as long as you can.
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: