Three days removed from a playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, Mike Tomlin was in considerably better spirits on Thursday.
The Pittsburgh Steelers head coach opened his season-ending news conference with a smile and an invitation for questions about his contract status. He then told reporters that he's staying in Pittsburgh and expects to sign an extension to his contract that's set to expire after the 2024 season. He also expects continued quarterback competition for Kenny Pickett heading into next season.
The news of his expected return confirms reports from earlier in the week that Tomlin told players he was staying with the Steelers, quelling speculation that he was contemplating leaving after 17 seasons with the franchise.
Tomlin all smiles on heels of Monday walkout
Tomlin opened Thursday with a wry acknowledgement of his news-conference walkout on Monday. Tomlin was asked then about his contract status in the aftermath of Pittsburgh's season-ending 31-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills. He turned from the podium and walked out of the room before the reporter could finish her question.
His tone was considerably different on Thursday.
Mike Tomlin actually kills me lmaoo 🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/biIKxjpfDq
— Teddy💛 (@Teddy_20) January 18, 2024
"Good afternoon," Tomlin said. "In a little better mood today. Anybody got any contract questions?"
Tomlin then addressed the walkout directly.
"I’ll say this," Tomlin continued. "I certainly could have handled that situation better than I did. But I’ll also say this. I just believe there’s a time and place for everything. Postgame press conferences are probably not the place to address contract issues and things of that nature. It’s just a very individual thing.
"On game day, I doubt any of us are in that mindset. Certainly, I am not. What’s required to do what it is that we do, the amount of focus pouring into a collective, I’m just not in that mind state. And I just don’t believe that that’s the appropriate venue to talk about things of that nature."
Tomlin: 'Yes, I expect to be back'
As for that contract, Tomlin anticipates speaking with Steelers owner Art Rooney II and working out an extension.
"Yes, I expect to be back and I’d imagine that those contract things are going to run their course," Tomlin said. "Art and I have a really good, transparent relationship. We communicate continually, often. I don’t imagine it’s gonna be an issue.
"I imagine it’s gonna get done in a timely manner at the appropriate time. My mindset is to coach this football team, certainly."
Rooney reportedly confirmed plans to extend Tomlin's contract.
After Mike Tomlin’s press conference, team president Art Rooney II told the Post-Gazette the Steelers “plan to extend Mike’s contract,” as expected.
— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) January 18, 2024
The issue of Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator next season isn't so certain.
Tomlin said that the Steelers intend to look externally to hire their next offensive coordinator and are seeking somebody with previous coordinating experience. He does not anticipate that the Steelers will promote quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan or interim offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner to the position. Faulkner took over midseason after the Steelers fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
'There will be competition' for Kenny Pickett
As for who will run the offense on the field? That's not so clear either. Mason Rudolph took over for an injured Pickett late in the season, then remained Pittsburgh's starter in the playoffs when Pickett was able to play. Rudolph led the Steelers to a 3-0 finish to secure the AFC's final postseason berth.
Rudolph will be a free agent this offseason. Pickett will return on the third year of a four-year, $14 million contract he signed after being selected in the first round of the 2022 draft.
Pickett will be penciled into the No. 1 spot. But whether it's Rudolph, Mitchell Trubisky or somebody else, Tomlin expects competition for Pickett heading into the 2024 season.
"He will," Tomlin said of Pickett entering the offseason as the No. 1 quarterback. "But there will be competition. I’m appreciative of his efforts and where he is and excited to continue working with him. But certainly, he will be challenged from a competition perspective moving forward. …
"I think competition is good. I think it’s good for all of us. I think it brings out the best in all of us."