Steelers' Mike Tomlin aims to improve leadership in 2019

PHOENIX -- Mike Tomlin has taken stock of his ability to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers into his 13th season, and he has concluded he must do better after the franchise's first missed playoff berth since 2013.

That doesn't mean Tomlin is apologizing for his coaching style, which came into question during the Antonio Brown saga.

"Certainly, I treat people fairly. I don't aspire to treat everybody exactly the same," Tomlin said on Monday from the NFL owners meetings, answering a question about the perception he enabled Brown for years. "That's just the reality of how I function."

For months, Tomlin remained quiet as running back Le'Veon Bell forced his way into free agency and Brown disparaged the Steelers' organization on his way to the Oakland Raiders via trade.

Tomlin took shots about his leadership style, his locker room. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took his share of shots, too.

No one was safe.

But in his first public comments since the season ended, Tomlin laid out exactly what he needs on his roster in 2019 -- less antics, less holdouts, less Bell and Brown.

"We can’t do this with hostages, man. We need volunteers," Tomlin told the small group of Pittsburgh media. "We need good players, good guys who want to be here. If guys can’t check those boxes, it’s probably best for all parties involved that we go our separate ways.”

Tomlin acknowledged the Bell and Brown relationships ran their course, but he stressed the Steelers have plenty of good players -- namely, two Pro Bowlers (James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster) at the positions Brown and Bell play.

Pro Bowl promise won't quell concerns about the drama surrounding Pittsburgh's locker room over the past two seasons. Tomlin knows only winning diffuses that.

He did offer a solution.

"We all talk too much. We really do," said Tomlin, who clarified he wasn't talking solely about talk inside his locker room. "It’s about talking less, it’s about doing more. Not making any bold predictions.”

The Bell and Brown sagas were too unique to become yearly occurrences in Pittsburgh, but Tomlin felt the stories were "too chronicled" by everyone involved. The lines of truth became blurred, he said. Now that those players are gone, he chooses to focus on new stories.

He starts with leadership, which he says must improve in his office and his own locker room.

Asked about the criticisms of Roethlisberger's leadership by former players, Tomlin defended his quarterback, while adding he and all his players have room to grow.

"I don’t think he’s devoid of leadership skills and talents," Tomlin said. "I think he’s more than capable as a quarterback. I think he’s more than capable a a leader. But yes, do I expect growth and development? Certainly. I expect growth and development from all of us. I expect growth and development from myself from a leadership standpoint based on the experiences that we’ve had."

Growth and development is a good buzz phrase, but Tomlin knows the Steelers will need more than that.

They need to sharpen their edge.

"We're preparing with an edge in all areas," he said.