What a difference a week makes. Last week the Jets and Steelers were exchanging barbs with hated division rivals before the divisional playoff games. Now, it's like Jets coach Rex Ryan and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin are sending valentines to each other through the media.
Tomlin held a State of the Steelers news conference today that was televised live locally, and he lit up when a reporter mentioned that Ryan said Tomlin is one of his favorite NFL coaches. "I love Rex," Tomlin said. "He has a lot of fun with you guys, but when you see past all of those things, this is a great football coach. He has the pulse of his football team; he does a great job of motivating them; he's very sound schematically in all three phases, and his glass is always half full. I appreciate that."
Although Tomlin is far from being as close-mouthed and peevish with the media as New England coach Bill Belichick is, he generally tries to limit discussion, show respect to his opponent and give a wide berth to the hint of controversy. But while he said his style with the media might be poles apart from Ryan's brashness, Tomlin hinted that he feels a kinship with Ryan.
One assumes it's because both enjoy their players and share their passion with the men who work for them. "I tell you, our styles are probably more similar than you would imagine," Tomlin said. "Rex just has more fun with you guys."
Ryan told a story on Monday about a game in which Tomlin's Steelers jumped out to a 35-0 lead against Baltimore when Ryan was the defensive coordinator and then spent the rest of the game running the ball to avoid running ujp the score. Asked if he let up on Ryan, Tomlin smiled and said, "Rex is probably playing with you guys."
Once the players' practice week begins on Wednesday and the gameplan goes in, the two teams are bound to grow more intense as they approach the last step to reach Super Bowl XLV. Asked if the Jets and Steelers might develop a more apparent dislike for each other before game time, Tomlin scoffed, "That's sidebar stuff," he said. "We're in the AFC Championship. Likes or dislikes are irrelevant.
"They've been pretty consistent about stating their intentions all year, which is to be world champions. We've been pretty consistent about stating ours. So, you know where that's going to lead us. That's two trains on a track."