However Mike Tomlin wakes up every day – he didn’t specify, so you are free to imagine Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 or “So what?” From Miles Davis? screaming from his phone – his first activity is always the same: worrying about COVID.
“Every morning at 6 am I look at my phone while waiting for the verification of the test results from the day before,” Tomlin told reporters at his weekly press conference. “Are we clear or not? And what necessary adjustments need to be made? What investigations, if any, should be carried out? It’s our life – and not just ours here in Pittsburgh, but ours collectively as members of the National Football League – since July.
Tomlin spoke at noon on Tuesday, less than an hour after the Browns revealed they had two other players and several coaching staff, including head coach Kevin Stefanski, tested positive for COVID -19. They won’t be able to make the Browns’ first playoff game since 2002. Stefanski may contribute remotely to pre-game preparation but is not allowed to coach the team during Sunday night’s game.
Tomlin was asked if the Steelers are reinforcing the message to avoid circumstances that could result in a positive test.
“This is something I have been doing and have been doing since July 20,” said Tomlin. “We don’t need a daily reminder because we have ongoing daily reminders of how fragile these circumstances are.”
The Steelers have had several games impacted by COVID issues with other teams, including the postponement of their scheduled Week 4 game against the Titans until mid-season and then the recurring / recurring nature of their game of Thanksgiving planned against the Ravens, which was eventually played six days later in a late afternoon time slot.
Players like linebacker Vince Williams and cornerback Joe Haden have missed games due to reported positive tests.
But at no time have the Steelers faced epidemics at the level that has plagued the Titans, Ravens and, now, Browns. The Cleveland training facility was closed several days before the season-ending game against the Steelers and was closed against Tuesday.
The Browns will be without not only Stefanski, but guard Joel Bitonio and KhaDarel Hodge as well, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will act as interim head coach. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will take over for Stefanski calling games.
Tomlin said he maintains “complete confidence” in the protocols established by the NFL as the league maneuvered through a 17-week season in which all regular-season games came to an end. He said, however, that the league is taking extra care with the playoffs, extending testing availability to “those around us – friends and family, etc. – in an effort to continue to isolate this group.” He also said there were additional precautions regarding teams traveling to play but chose not to itemize them.
The Steelers may still be without Haden and tight end Eric Ebron against the Browns. Tomlin declined to say when they might be eligible to be removed from the COVID list.
Tomlin was asked what he learned at 6 a.m. on Tuesday when he checked his phone after waking up, if any complications that weren’t evident when he left work on Monday developed overnight.
“Regarding this morning,” he said, “it was a good morning.”