Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Dec 2013

Mike Tomlin Fined 100K, Steelers May Forfeit Draft Pick

The NFL has fined Steelers coach Mike Tomlin $100,000 for walking on the white stripe hugging the field during a Jacoby Jones kickoff return. The Steelers reportedly may also lose a draft pick for Tomlin's actions.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 04 Dec 2013

71 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2014, 11:55am by Cheap Snapbacks Free Shipping


by nuk :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 4:46pm

Wow - seems like if they want to punish this behavior, they should flag it during the games. This is not tiny compared to the spygate punishments.

by Andrew Potter :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 5:01pm

I'm disappointed that he wasn't at least penalized and ejected from the technical area or whatever it's called, given the potential impact of that interference.

Potential forfeiture or adjustment of a draft pick seems an odd penalty for this action.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 5:17pm

I would have liked to see a penalty for palably unfair act. I'd think that one would be the holy grail for an NFL ref. The guy had it happen right in front of him and didn't throw the flag.

In any case, the punishment HAS to be big. For one thing, Tomlin is a head coach, and he's on the competition committee. He has to be held to the highest standard. The NFL also has to establish a precedent that will deter this from happening again. Sideline personnel cannot be on the field during a play under any circumstances.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 11:54am

I'm of the opinion that the first thing that should have happened is him being removed from the competition committee.

by Hummingbird Cyborg :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 7:51pm

That's already happened. At least I read that somewhere.

by turbohappy :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 11:59am

This isn't even the first time the Steelers have done this. I'm surprised that it was dealt with so harshly this time in the regular season when it was completely ignored in the playoffs before. I still contend that coaches on the field caused Harper to cut back in the 2005 playoffs (the Roethlisberger tackle), you could clearly see feet not just in the white, but in the green.

by Jerry :: Sat, 12/07/2013 - 4:16am

You got me to pull out the DVD. Harper never got outside the numbers, and the feet you see aren't close to the play.

by Dice :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 4:56pm

As a Ravens fan, kinda heavy handed. Was it as egregious/deliberate as the coach/trainer with the Jets a few years ago? I haven't watched any replays of it and only vaguely remember him walking/running down the line when Jones was close, and then he sorta skipped back.

by Kyle D. (not verified) :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 5:08pm

You're a Ravens fan and missed this? Missed Jones changing direction to avoid running into him? Missed the fact he stuck his entire leg onto the field?

by Hurt Bones :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 5:24pm

No it wasn't as egregious, but the league handed out a stiff fine then. I guess with the thought that sort of thing would never happen again and it did. To make it worse it was a head coach not an assistant or player, so a very heavy penalty was in order.

by Ben Stuplisberger :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 5:22pm

Disclaimer: I'm a Steelers homer.

I think Tomlin did it on purpose, and I also think it was hilarious. It would have been even funnier if Jones ran him over.

$100,000 fine seems legit. Taking draft picks would be extreme.

by PatsFan :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 5:31pm

Only the most homertastic of Steeler homers could say that wasn't on purpose.

Tomlin is looking over his shoulder the whole time. Not to mention the ****-eating grin caught on video afterwards.

Jones should have held his line, blasted Tomlin into next week, and thus forced the ref to actually call something.

by Hurt Bones :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 5:40pm

"looking over his shoulder the whole time" really only toward the end. He's really looking at jumbotron. At one point he can obviously see the officially racing up on his left, so he slides his left leg toward the field and out of the way of interfering with the official, of course that only increases the final interference with Jones.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 6:25pm

This may be the only time in my life where I say I'd have no problem with the player leading with his helmet to make contact.

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:37am

I can't believe it was on purpose. Has the guy got that much balls? So much foresight? And acting ability? Did he plan this weeks or months in advance? When Jones took the left sideline, did he quickly jog to his position, turn his back to the play and start casually strolling? Nah. If you see the PFT fan video that supposedly buries Tomlin, you'll see he was walking away from the action in the middle of the white stripe with his back to the play before the ball was even fielded.

And why would he go to all that machiavellian trouble when the most likely outcome is a TD gets called against his team, he gets expelled, and then face disciplinary action on top of it. And that's only if he managed to be so persuasive in his performance that it didn't look like a blatant act, when he and his team would really be in for it. He'd have to be absolutely nuts to attempt something like that on purpose.

In any case, I agree Jones should have run straight into him or even pretend to be tripped by him. Then the refs would have to award a TD and maybe expel Tomlin from the game. Jones didn't think on his feet.

The man with no sig

by Theo :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 2:51pm

I think that he acted to the situation.
... explains that he didn't see such a punishment coming. Explains his laughter afterwards.
I think he knew he was standing just a little too close and I think he knew it would distract Jones to jump away at the last second.

I'm a coach myself and I wouldn't even consider interfering with the players. It's beyond unsportsmanlike.
I think Tomlin should be suspended for 2 weeks and the Steelers should hand in a 4th rounder.

Yes, I'm a Steelers fan.

by RickD :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 3:42pm

So he chose to stand at that position on the sideline knowing that a kickoff return would be coming his way 10 seconds later?

Certainly he stood there on purpose. But I don't think he interfered with the play on purpose. He was staring in the opposite direction. Though, FWIW, I don't think intent matters here. Measuring intent is very difficult.

Gotta wonder where Goodell comes up with these numbers. And the mulling over a further penalty is bad form. Either dock the Steelers a draft pick or don't.

by Jerry :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 7:37pm

Reports I saw today are that a draft pick is involved only if the lost points impact the Ravens' playoff position, which would require affecting net points tiebreakers.

by Kyle D. (not verified) :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 5:47pm

But draft picks are the only thing that would really send a message. Fines mean nothing. Even if Tomlin had to pay the whole amount himself, it's still under 2% of his annual salary. (And I'd bet that in many cases the team finds a way to help out with the fines, if they have any desire in keeping the coach happy.)

A suspension would be best, but only because in this case it was somebody important. What would happen if the assistant to the assistant to the assistant tackled somebody? Fining the team is meaningless, they could throw the guy out of the league forever and that'd still be meaningless to the team... draft picks would be the only way to really penalize it.

by RoninX (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:29am

I agree - the punishment has to be extreme. I've often wondered what would happen if a team simply deputed its 6th CB to be an "emergency stopper" and simply be prepare to run onto the field and stop/interfere with any long return/run. Hopefully Tomlin's act is the closest we'll ever see to this (and it could have legitimately and directly effected the outcome of the game). Anything less than suspension and loss of draft drafts picks (or salary cap penalty) will be letting off Tomlin and the Steelers too lightly.

by RoninX (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:37am

nevermind about my "emergency stopper" point. I see officials are empowered to award a TD in this case.

by Goats (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 11:19am

They are empowered, but would they, especially the first time it ever happened? Bear in mind they were empowered to flag Tomlin's blatant penalty here and did not do so. I would bet the odds are very high they would not award a TD. It would be worth it to a team to try versus a guaranteed touchdown, although of course terrible sportsmanship.

by RickD :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 3:44pm

I'm pretty sure Tomlin will miss $100k.

by CBPodge :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 7:09am

Also hilarious: Joe Flacco's comment that "he stole my move", after Flacco took some hits for suggesting that in the Super Bowl, if the 49ers broke a long play, he'd have run on the field and tackled them.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 10:50am

I know this was in jest, but it brings up an interesting question -- what if Jones had run into him? At a minimum, the refs would have had to throw the flag, possibly awarding Jones a TD. How long has it been since that penalty was called, like 60 years? That would have been a huge story, because it's such a rare penalty a lot of fans probably don't even know it exists. Tomlin almost surely would have been suspended for some length of time as well. He might have lost his seat on the competition committee, and in a worst case scenario, his job. And that's saying nothing about whatever injuries he and/or Jones might have suffered in the collision. Tomlin is incredibly lucky that Jones saw him (at least he wasn't watching the Jumbotron) and swerved.

That's why I'm puzzled when someone says the penalty was too light. He's a head coach. He wandered into the field of play during a play. Not just the white part, but the green part. A) that's dangerous for both him and the players, and B) he affected the play. The NFL absolutely has to come down hard on that. My $0.02 is that the penalty was far too light.

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 11:03am

In fairness, Jones couldn't have hit Tomlin without running out of bounds, but he should have at least ignored him completely and gone to the ground if he succeeded in making the least contact.

The man with no sig

by RickD :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 3:45pm

Tomlin did put a foot in bounds at one point. And it's certainly possible for a person standing out of bounds to make contact with a person running near the sideline without the runner going out of bounds.

by JMM* (not verified) :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 6:00pm

This Steeler fan thinks it was not purpose. It was, in every sense, over the line. Had Jones run into him,I would expect the ref to declare a TD and eject MT from the game as a result. The extent of the infraction didn't change the outcome of the game, maybe not even the play. Its an in-game foul. MT not the team should pay the price.

Also, it isn't the only time a ref crew missed a potentially significant call this season, week, game...

by RoninX (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:35am

The point is that is was a grossly unfair act deliberately interfering in the field of play performed by the *head coach* of a football team. To me the totality of this circumstance makes it worse than stealing signs, taking adderall, or throwing a punch. Though I'll probably be in the minority in this opinion.

by dirge (not verified) :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 6:29pm

It doesn't really matter if it was intentional or not.

The refs should have awarded the Ravens a TD on the play (as the rulebook instructs). You don't want to create a situation wherein a team is better off cheating, even if they get caught. Tomlin would probably gladly lose $100k in certain cases to prevent touchdowns. Take away a couple opponents' TDs and the Steelers could be in the playoffs.

by Boots Day :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:47am

Yeah, it's mind-boggling that a flag wasn't even thrown on this play. If the refs had awarded the Ravens a touchdown, which seems both equitable and justified by the rules, the whole issue would be moot. And that would be much more of a deterrent than a $100,000 fine.

by RickD :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 3:47pm

Where were the officials? Running at least 20 yards behind, I'd guess. And they can't throw a flag based on what they see in a replay.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 6:49pm

No, actually, the official was right there. Tomlin very nearly jumped into him when he jumped away from the play.

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 12:30pm

Tomlin didn't enter the field of play, nor did his distraction affect the result of the play, so I don't see how you could award a touchdown.

by Steve in WI :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 3:49pm

After watching the replay over and over, it sure seems like awarding a touchdown when the runner was clearly going to be tackled no matter what is actually less fair than not flagging him at the time.

Also, isn't it already illegal for coaches to be standing in the white (though they do it all the time), and couldn't/shouldn't the refs be throwing flags for 15-yard penalties for that? Seems like that would make it safer for the refs running down the sidelines and eliminate the chance of a controversy like this ever happening...since a coach who ended up on the field during a play would clearly have done so intentionally.

by young curmudgeon :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 6:50pm

I do not think this was an intentional act--could he (or any other coach) really think quickly enough to come up with this as a scheme on the spur of the moment and then place himself in the right position to carry it off? And if not, would he have enough foresight to think "well, in case a opposing kick returner is coming up our sideline and our guy is closing on him but isn't going to catch him, I'll devise a strategy to surreptitiously interfere with his progress by drifting onto the field."

Conspiracy theorists aside, sometimes the most likely explanation is that a guy blundered into a stupid act, not that he is a malin genie trying to pull off a brilliant stratagem.

None of this suggests, BTW, that punishment is not warranted.

by Kyle D. (not verified) :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 8:03pm

It's farfetched either way. The idea an NFL coach who stands on sidelines for a living would accidentally end up on the field of play precisely as an opposing returner is running by him is also pretty hard to fathom. And that he'd continue to watch the Jumbo Tron when it was clear the action was coming right at him is also beyond strange. Before this I don't think I've ever seen a coach with his back to the action as a ball carrier ran right by him.

by Jerry :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 1:21am

How often do you watch a coach watching a play?

by RoninX (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:23pm

Its pretty often shown on replays of big plays, and I too have never ever seen a coach deliberately keep his back to a play even to watch the jumbotron.

by Jerry :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 9:01am

I assume you're talking about the tight shots of the coach's face as he watches the play unfold. If he's not facing the camera, there's no shot.

A useful answer to all this would require someone with more time than sense to go through the All-22 on Game Rewind to see where each head coach is on kickoffs and whether or not he watches the video board.

by Sisyphus :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 9:07pm

Figuring out if it was deliberate or not really is beside the point. If he knew where he was or not he is responsible to know that, period. He is not allowed to be where he was, it affected play. He should have been flagged and the touchdown awarded. The refs screwed up massively on the field and this really does not correct that fact in any way shape or form. In the case of a coach the fine is rather meaningless, if you are going to punish him for this and deter someone else from engaging in this type of ploy in the future suspend him for a game. The draft pick thing would be appropriate if their was a more universal issue, involving multiple members of the coaching staff or front office staff/ team policy types of issues.

by morganja :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 10:47pm

I think they should have fined Belichick for this. I know he was behind it somehow....

by MJK :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 1:08pm

morganja, today you made me smile. :-)

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 11:29pm

Tomlin already owned up to making a stupid mistake,right? Fine him, suspend him for 6 games and stop arguing about it.

by Basilicus :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 2:17am

I've lost a ton of respect for both Tomlin and the NFL Network. Trotting out every mouthpiece to insist that this couldn't possibly have been intentional on Tomlin's part because he's just such an aw-shucks, gosh-darn, good guy...ugh.

It doesn't feel genuine in the least and it makes the league seem untrustworthy when they're covering up such a flash-in-the-pan incident as this one. Certainly makes it seem like they've had practice on something bigger. Fine him, suspend him a game, and be done with it. Don't dangle draft picks you're never really going to take away and devote a day of your network to how great Tomlin is. Terribly handled by the league.

by Rocco :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 2:40am

The NFL found a good way to distract everyone from Le'veon Bell getting concussed on a blatant helmet-to-helmet shot without a flag in the same game.

by erniecohen :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 9:11am

What's ridiculous about this is not the severity but the structure. The point of the draft is to maintain competitive balance. Loss of draft picks has always been used to punish teams who do things off the field that seek to get an unfair competitive advantage, e.g. abusing the salary cap, violating practice rules, etc. These things have to be punished with draft picks because owners with deep pockets are fairly impervious to fines.

Tomlin's actions clearly fall within the scope of the game officials. If, for some reason, they miss a call that ends up changing the result of the game, that's something that can be addressed by the league by adjusting the result.

by Basilicus :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 9:51am

Adjusting results is a slippery slope that you never want to put a foot on. I'd much prefer what they do to players for blatant in-game infractions. A fine and - instead of a draft pick penalty - suspend Tomlin for a week. That means he doesn't get to coach for a game and that he's not allowed at the facility or contact with the team for the entirety of that week.

If effects the team through Tomlin, since they are still in the playoff race, after all - and you won't see another coach even think of doing something like this for a long time.

by Mash Wilson :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 11:30am

It sure looks intentional on the video, but I feel caught between two improbabilities--either Tomlin was stupid enough to accidentally wander onto the field during a play (which there have been plenty of brain-cell-challenged NFL coaches over the years, none of whom have done so), or he was stupid enough to actually do it on purpose himself, rather than deputizing a minor coach to do it (even Rex Ryan was smart enough to do this).

I don't know, man. Either way, $100,000 feels like far too light of a Stupid Tax.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:02pm

Stupid enough to do it on purpose?

It worked. It prevented a touchdown, no flag was thrown, and all it cost was $100K.

A touchdown is worth a whole lot more than $100K in the NFL. A touchdown may be worth $1M to an NFL team. Probably even more.

I mean, we figured out in baseball that a run (above replacement) is worth about $500K.

by Anonymous10 (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 1:27pm

No coaches have ever wandered onto the field before? Are you kidding? They do it every single game.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 9:21am

During a play, causing the ball carrier to swerve to avoid them? That happens every game?

by Anonymous10 (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 3:54pm

Mash didn't say anything about "causing the ball carrier to swerve to avoid them" he said "Tomlin was stupid enough to accidentally wander onto the field during a play (which there have been plenty of brain-cell-challenged NFL coaches over the years, none of whom have done so)."

Obviously not every game has a coach entering the field of play and affecting the outcome. But yes, if you pay attention you will see that coaches do quite regularly enter the field of play while the play is going on.

by Mash Wilson :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 5:01pm

Yeah, far BEHIND the play. I've never seen a coach wander directly in front of a play before. Have you?

by Anonymous10 (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 9:29pm

In front of a play. Yes, plenty of times.

In front of a play AND close enough to affect the play. Yes, but pretty rarely.

But let's not pretend that Tomlin entering the field play is some totally unprecedented departure from common coaching behavior. His presumably unique behavior of watching returns on the jumbotron provided opportunity, he was foolish to be unmindful of where he was and what was going on around him, and he was unlucky for the play to happen to head to where he was. But that's it. It's not the dumbest thing you've seen a coach do, and it doesn't imply some grand plan to cheat the game. Next time you do something stupid at work just hope nobody notices and docks you $100,000.

by jds :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:01pm

The fine to the Jets for their sideline wall was $100,000, so I guess that is the going rate for sideline infractions. Pro and Con: Jets was deliberate, Tomlin was accidental(?); Jets was special teams coach, Tomlin a head coach. All in all the price seems right, based on past precedent, but I guess the draft pick consideration is solely because Tomlin's a head coach.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:04pm


No coach has that shit-eating grin on his face after giving up a huge return like that. He's grinning because he knows he stopped it.

by MonkeyKing (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 1:32pm

You know why he's grinning? You're reading his thoughts now? You're not even right about when he grinned let alone an authority on the why. That image isn't from right when it happened. It's minutes later when they showed the replay of him on the jumbotron. Lots of people grin when embarrassed. There's even a common term for it, "sheepish grin."

by RickD :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 3:51pm

Sorry, but the grin isn't proof of intent.

I personally would find it very funny if I'd accidentally prevented the other team from scoring a TD, and no flag had been thrown.

If I'd done it intentionally, I'd walk away as inconspicuously as possible.

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 11:32pm

Yeah, what's with the-grin-proves-he-did-it theories? What was he supposed to do, feel guilt and remorse because helped prevent a Baltimore TD? Sure, before the priest, the judge, or Goodell, but not truly.

The man with no sig

by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:01pm

It was clearly deliberate, and I figured the fine would be at least $50k. Not shocked they doubled that, but the idea of a draft pick loss is stupid; this is an individual act, and there should be an individual penalty. Adding in a suspension for a game or two as well as the fine makes a lot more sense than punishing the entire organization because of what the coach did.

by Hurt Bones :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:21pm

That depends what you believe is punishing an organization more, suspending it's head coach for a couple of games for a team in a playoff hunt, or taking away a 6th or 7th round draft pick.

If the Steelers do poorly the rest of the way then it's probably a 7th round pick. If they make the playoffs and win a game it's more like a 6th round pick. Knowing the average AV out of a 6th round pick wouldn't you rather lose that than a playoff appearance?

by RickD :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 3:53pm

A 7th round pick?

What is that supposed to deter?

I'm not saying the Steelers should be docked a pick. But if they are, it should be higher than that. 7th round picks are hardly better than free agents.

by tuluse :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 6:47pm

This is clearly more about message sending than retribution for this particular infraction. So a 7th round pick might accomplish that in the "next time it's going to be worse everyone" sort of way.

by MJK :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 1:12pm

In general, my motto is to never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity. This is a pretty fair statement for most things people do.

Still, I think a punishment needs to be made, and this punishment is odd. Rather, I would suspend Tomlin for a game. And to make sure it has teeth in more than this just case (where it was the HC), make the policy that the head coach get's suspended for a game in ANYONE (be they an assistant strength coach or a 6th CB or the HC himself) interferes with the field of play. After all, the head coach is ultimately responsible for the actions of his staff and players during the game.

(Remember, Belichick wasn't personally running any cameras, and Sean Payton wasn't personally offering bounties, but both of them saw punishment for actions that took place in their organization).

by BBB (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 3:12pm

Agree, not just the game itself but a week.

The coach can't come to the team facility orcommunicate with the rest of the team or coaching staff or front office for a week.

That hugely penalizes the individual and penalizes the team appropriately.

by nick thunderdome (not verified) :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 6:24pm

He crossed a vital line. Players play the game. A coach steeping onto the field turns the NFL into pro-wrestling-like sham.

Nothing less than a year long suspension or a lifetime ban is appropriate here.

by Silversmith (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 6:11am

Woah. This is kinda ridiculous, and I'm even on the side of MT getting a month-long suspension or so. A month-long suspension, in the heat of a playoff race, does so much more in deterring this behavior than the loss of anything less than a 3rd rounder.

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