Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been fined $100,000 by NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson for stepping onto the field during his team's 22-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night. With 6:26 left in the third quarter of the game, Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones took a kickoff back and had to alter his path because Tomlin had -- inadvertently or not, depending on how you want to look at it -- gone past the sideline boundary. Jones returned the kick 73 yards, but was tackled by defensive back Cortez Allen on the play, and Baltimore had to settle for a field goal on the drive.
In the statement accompanying the fine, the league said that the removal or alteration of draft picks for the Steelers in 2014 could still be in play because the act affected play on the field. The only larger fine ever given to a head coach in NFL history was the $500,000 levied against Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots for his role in the Spygate scandal.
"As I stated yesterday, I take full responsibility for my actions, and I apologize for causing negative attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization," Tomlin said in a team-released statement. "I accept the penalty that I received. I will no longer address this issue as I am preparing for an important game this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins."
In December 2010, the league fined the New York Jets the same amount after a sideline wall established by strength coach Sal Alosi resulted in Alosi tripping Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll. Alosi was suspended indefinitely by the team and resigned in January 2011.
On Tuesday, Tomlin held an extended version of his normal press conference in which he read a long statement about the incident and took questions for about 20 minutes. While Tomlin insisted that he did not intentionally attempt to affect Jones' return, he certainly was contrite.
“I thought I’d break from my normal routine and do what’s appropriate under the circumstances,” he said. “I thought I’d start by outlining the kickoff coverage play from Thursday night, and make a statement regarding my actions and thoughts surrounding that, and then provide you guys with the opportunity to ask any questions you may have.
“My descriptions of my actions on that play are a lot of things -- embarrassing, inexcusable, illegal, a blunder, being many of the things I’d use to describe it. I take full responsibility for my actions on that play. I acknowledge that my actions unfortunately became part of the play. I also embrace that as head coaches, we’re held to the highest standards of conduct, and I realize that that blunder fell woefully short of that expectation. In that vein, I embrace the responsibilities that come with my position, and understand the repercussions from a blunder of that nature. I also understand that with my position comes the charge of preserving and protecting the integrity of the game of football. My biggest error was not realizing that that play jeopardized the integrity of the game from a perception standpoint.”
However, Tomlin's not the only one who goofed on this play, and that's important to note. On the Tuesday edition of NFL Network's Total Access, VP of Officiating Dean Blandino admitted that Clete Blakeman's crew should have thrown a flag on Tomlin's obstruction.
"Any time a player or a coach from the sideline is in this white area, that's a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct," Blandino said. "If they interfere with the play, it could be what's called a 'palpably unfair act.'
"In that instance, the referee could basically penalize the team whatever he deems equitable, which could include giving the Ravens a touchdown. That's not the case here, but certainly coach Tomlin was in the white. He should have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct."
It could be argued that had Blakeman's crew made the correct call on the field, the furor over Tomlin's blunder would have been far less of an uproar. As much as Tomlin failed to keep himself in check, Blakeman and his crew also failed in the most basic charge given to officials -- to keep control of the game at all times. If Tomlin is going to get a heavy fine, everyone on Blakeman's crew should as well.
Last Friday, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said that Tomlin isn’t the only head coach ever to be on the wrong side of the sideline. “Yeah, I’ve been blown up a couple times. There’s one play in particular where I was kind of watching the pass rush of the front and the ball was thrown. I didn’t really follow the ball that quickly and all the sudden the guy caught it and was right on top of me and [I] ended up under the Gatorade bench. Obviously if you’re watching the ball, it shouldn’t be that big of a problem. But if you’re trying to watch something else … Obviously we have to give the officials and the players room to play. Sometimes that just happens where you get guys caught up a little bit on the sideline. But yeah, I saw the play [Thursday] night. I was like, ‘Oh my God, yeah.’ That could easily happen to any of us. It’s a good lesson, I have to be careful.”