‘He’s Selling Himself Short’: Alejandro Villanueva Explains Why He Sometimes Gets ‘Pissed Off’ At Mike Tomlin

You can’t drop a quarter in Pittsburgh without it landing on somebody who’s pissed off at head coach Mike Tomlin. That’s just the way the Steelers fanbase is, particularly those who are solely results-based, and, well, his playoff winless streak is hard to ignore.

But players? You don’t often hear a bad word said about the man from anybody who has actually been anywhere near him. Yet former Steelers Pro Bowl left tackle Alejandro Villanueva finds himself annoyed at times at Tomlin, for the best possible reasons.

“Mike Tomlin is one of a kind. I think sometimes I get a little pissed off when I see him because I know that he can have a much bigger role in society than being a head coach”, he said on the New Heights podcast with Jason and Travis Kelce. “He’s got incredible leadership skills, incredible charisma”.

Villanueva has had great love and admiration for Tomlin for quite a long time. A lot of that is personal, no doubt, for what Tomlin helped to do for his career, from first catching sight of the giant defensive end on the Eagles’ sideline in the preseason to everything that followed.

But so much of it was just from the conversations that they had, the ones that had nothing to do with football. The ones that had to do with life—all walks of life. About leadership, something Villanueva could very much relate to as an Army Ranger with people under his command.

“100 percent, he’s selling himself short. 100 percent. That’s for sure”, he said of Tomlin, speaking to his belief that the Steelers’ head coach could have a greater impact upon society at large in another sector rather than limiting himself to a locker room in sports.

“I think he sees people for where they’re from. He appreciates and values when coaches have been to college because they’ve been able to coach a player when they have no one else”, he said. “He believed in being a part of your success story. For me, obviously, I can attest to that”.

Of course, Tomlin has been careful about which lines to tread over the years and has tried to use his words judiciously, aiming to unite first and foremost rather than divide. He’s spoken on why his words outside of sports tend to be limited and selective. I would like to quote at length something that he said back in 2020, because I think it’s worth everybody reading, or reading again for those who read it the first time:

I’m a guy that tries to live my life by doing as opposed to saying. Being proactive in action in terms of reactive. I’ve always kind of had that agenda for the better part of my adult life. I just want to live in that consciousness. So I’m hesitant to make statements in reaction to what’s transpired, because I’m hoping that I live a life that displays my position, not only in the subjects that we’re talking about in this instance, but on a lot of subjects. And I hope that my position is displayed not in my words, but in my actions and how I move and how I live.

I’m very emotional about the current circumstances, and when I’m emotional, I don’t eloquently express myself. My message gets lost. It dulls what I intend to say. And let’s be honest, in this climate, no matter what people like me say, it’s in some way gonna be politicized and used against us, or used for some agenda that may have nothing to do with what we’re saying.

Villanueva has been through the storm with Tomlin before, during the kneeling saga in 2017 as well, which was a hot-button issue here as much as it was everywhere else in the football and political world. And the way Tomlin carried himself through that left a big impact on Villanueva—one of the reasons he volunteered to hold a press conference to shoot down any misunderstandings.

“For me it was an amazing, amazing, amazing time to be able to spend time with somebody as remarkable and as fascinating at Coach Tomlin”, he told the Kelce brothers. it’s something he’s said unwaveringly for a number of years. Now retired, there’s no incentive for him to keep saying it if he doesn’t mean it.

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