PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin shot back at Terry Bradshaw with thoughtfulness, self-deprecation and even a clever dig at the Hall of Fame quarterback.
Tomlin's stance: Debate my résumé, but Bradshaw went too far.
"Terms like 'cheerleader guy,' to me, maybe fall outside of bounds of critique or criticism," Tomlin said during a news conference Tuesday. "They probably fall more toward the area of disrespect and unprofessional. But what do I know? I grew up a Dallas fan. Particularly a [Thomas] 'Hollywood' Henderson fan."
In 1979, Henderson famously said about Bradshaw at the height of the Steelers-Cowboys rivalry: "He couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the C and the A."
On Fox Sports 1's "Speak For Yourself" last week, Bradshaw, a Steelers great from 1970 to 1983, said Tomlin wasn't a great coach "at all." "He's a nice coach. To me, I've said this, he's really a great cheerleader guy," Bradshaw said. "I don't know what he does. I don't think he is a great coach at all. His name never even pops up in my mind when we think about great coaches in the NFL."
These comments rankled Steelers players, with guard David DeCastro telling ESPN that "hopefully it will fire us up the rest of the way" and teammates "weren't happy about it."
When asked about his locker room support in light of the comments, Tomlin didn't shun the topic. He was ready to engage.
"I appreciate the support. But criticism and critique are very much a part of our business," Tomlin said. "It's an element of our business that as a competitor I embrace. The term 'great,' that's something I have a great deal of respect for. I certainly don't think that my résumé to this point reads as great. But very few coaches' résumés read as that at this point. Guys like Bill [Belichick] in New England probably can say that, Pop [Gregg Popovich] down in San Antonio. I think the rest of us are just working stiffs, to be quite honest with you."
Riding a six-game winning streak, the Steelers have 102 regular-season wins in 10 seasons under Tomlin, who has won five AFC North titles. Tomlin's teams have lost one game in December over the past three seasons.
The Steelers have clinched the No. 3 spot in the AFC playoff picture, and Tomlin said he will consider resting key starters in Sunday's regular-season finale against the one-win Cleveland Browns.
But in light of conversations about coaching greatness, Tomlin doesn't take wins for granted.
"I believe that stability is a function of winning. I stay focused on winning," Tomlin said. "If I don't win, I'd imagine you'd be looking at me packing boxes like everybody else. That's the nature of this job and this level. And I respect it as such."