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Mike Tomlin expects to be back as Steelers HC, will look outside staff for new OC

It's been three days since Mike Tomlin abruptly walked off the podium when asked about his future following Pittsburgh's season-ending loss to the Buffalo Bills on Monday.

He arrived to his Thursday news conference open to questions regarding his contract, admitting "I certainly could've handled that situation better than I did." And Tomlin made it painstakingly clear he's not going anywhere.

"Yes, I expect to be back, and I'd imagine that those contract things are going to run their course," said Tomlin, who currently has one year left on his contract. "Art (Rooney) and I have a really good, transparent relationship; we communicate continually often. I don't imagine (his contract is) going to be an issue, and I imagine it's going to get done in a timely manner at the appropriate time. But my mindset is to coach this football team, certainly."

Tomlin's Steelers did not enjoy an easy ride in 2023. Their offense was dreadful, so much that Tomlin decided during the season to fire coordinator Matt Canada. Quarterback Kenny Pickett suffered amid the struggles and his own injury issues, being replaced by Mitchell Trubisky after getting hurt, and spending the final three weeks on the bench as a healthy backup to elevated former third-stringer Mason Rudolph.

The entire experience has thrown Pittsburgh's future under center into question. Pickett is no longer trending toward a surefire face of the franchise, while Rudolph is scheduled to hit free agency in March. Tomlin said on Thursday the Steelers certainly have interest in doing business with Rudolph, setting up a possible offseason/training camp battle for the job, should they manage to retain the veteran.

"He will, but obviously there will be competition," Tomlin said when asked if Pickett will return as the Steelers' starter. "There's always competition in this thing. We don't anoint anyone. I'm appreciative of his efforts and where he is and excited about continuing to work with him, but certainly he will be challenged from a competition perspective moving forward. Competition brings the best out in all of us."

Sorting out the quarterback situation must first begin, though, by hiring a new offensive coordinator. Tomlin used a committee approach following the departure of Canada, splitting coordinator duties between QBs coach Mike Sullivan and running backs coach Eddie Faulkner, but that was only temporary.

"I'm looking at outside candidates and lining up the pecking order there," Tomlin told reporters. "I'm appreciative of their efforts in terms of what they did for us down the stretch, but I'm looking at outside candidates at this juncture."

Once a coordinator is in place, the Steelers can appropriately begin to proceed with their plans for 2024. Such plans will include an examination of how personalities are handled within the organization, especially after drama involving the wide receivers room (namely Diontae Johnson and George Pickens) during the season.

Steelers running back Najee Harris pointedly brought up the need for Pittsburgh to be "more disciplined" following his team's playoff exit on Monday.

"I do annually," Tomlin said when asked how he's incorporating feedback from players on the matter of professionalism in the locker room. "That's what these exit interviews are about. One man's perspective is just one man's perspective, but I meet with everyone and somewhere in there lies reality, and I'm always open to changing and doing what's necessary to move this collective forward and be world champs next year, certainly."

"There certainly needs to be changes. We can't do the same things and expect a different result. I'm open and willing to that."

It will be an offseason of change for a franchise that seldom enacts it in sweeping fashion. Don't expect a push broom to come out, but as Tomlin admitted on Thursday, he knows the Steelers need to tidy things up. He'll be the one leading the cleaning crew.

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