We did not play our best game or coach our best game in the biggest game, and that's what's disappointing about it. But as I told the players on Monday, please do not allow the one game to define the season. To finish 16-2, 15-1 in the regular season, and to win 15 straight games is quite an achievement. Certainly we didn't accomplish our goal. We fell short of that. You can't allow that one game to diminish what they put in for six months. This was the most, without a doubt, unselfish football team that I've ever been a part of, not just in my 13 years here but with any team I've been associated with. And that was very evident in our meeting on Monday. There were a lot of very genuine feelings that were expressed. It was a very close football team, which made the hurt be that much more. And at the same time, that is what made this group special. I've always said, and I believe this, that the measure of any one person or group of people should not be how many times you've been knocked down, but in my mind it's how many times you get back up. And this group will get back up. This is not the end in my mind, but the beginning. Like I said, disappointment exists throughout, I'm sure, the city, and it's very unfair to allow that to be what you identify this season with. We recognize we fell short but we're going to keep coming back. We'll keep getting back up. That's the only way I know how to deal with life. Life is full of disappointments. Sometimes you wonder why, but ours is not to wonder why, ours is to continue to try, and we will do that. It's a great group of guys. I think we've got a good nucleus, and there's going to be change. There's going to be change, there's no question about that. And there are no guarantees going into next year. The foundation has to begin all over again; the chemistry has to begin all over again. But I think when you experience what we experienced, so much more is positive than there is negative. I think it's very important that you put it into its proper perspective. That's how I look at it.
How did you not coach your best game as you referred to?
We did not get it done. I'm not being specific. It's unfortunate. We're all accountable and I accept that responsibility. It starts with me and I accept that. We got beat by a pretty good football team but I accept the responsibility that goes with that.
After breaking down the film of the game, in what areas did it go wrong for you?
I really haven't looked at the game yet. I will in the next couple of days. I'm not here to analyze the game to be honest with you. Like I said before, we didn't do what we had to do in that football game. We got behind quickly and we left ourselves no margin of error and we lost to a good football team and they outplayed us on that particular day.
Did you know about Ben Roethlisberger's broken toes?
Let me say this in regards to Ben because I should've addressed that: Ben does not have broken toes, OK? I talked to Ben yesterday. His reference in his season-ending news conference as he mentioned to you is that at the end of the first half, while scrambling, he aggravated some toes that he has broken in the past. He mentioned something to Ryan Grove, our assistant trainer, that he thought he may have broke his toes. He came off, said he was fine, and actually went back in in the second half and really didn't say anything to anybody else the rest of the game. He didn't say anything after the game. He left here after his season-ending physical exam and he's fine. There's nothing more that will be done with it. It's nothing that a little bit of rest can't take care of. He's sore, but it wasn't anything that he felt he couldn't go out there and play. I knew nothing about it until it was brought to my attention (Tuesday) that he even said it. I talked to him Monday and it never even came up and I talked to Ben (Tuesday) night to make sure that I had it straight from his mouth. So that's that.
Did he break those toes during this season?
He never broke his toes this season. He said it was something he had in the past in high school or college. We are unaware of any problems with his toes.
What about his thumb?
His thumb, as far as I'm concerned, I don't think there's any problem with his thumb. He played pretty good in the second half.
Are you aware, coach, of his fatigue as the season went along?
Well, it's there for a lot of people. I think that Ben is like everybody. It's a long year, and it's a long year for a rookie. I mean for a first-year guy - you can ask anybody in this business - it's a grind and there's no way you can prepare for it. I talk about it every year. But to the kid's credit, he was out there and he stayed focused. Certainly, when you're in the middle of something you're going on adrenaline at this time of year. And there's fatigue, physical and mental, it's there for everybody. Ben was just being very honest with you, but again that's something everybody's going through.
Did you notice he had less zip on the ball?
Did you contemplate Sunday putting Tommy Maddox in the game?
No. I mean, no, not really. Not really.
Bill, do you guys have to make tough decisions on the salary cap and where you stand on it?
Yeah. I haven't had a chance to sit down. I'll sit down with Kevin (Colbert). I don't know where we are in regards to that, but certainly there'll be some decisions that have to be made as it relates to some of the free agents. We've got to sit down. As I (said) to each one of them the last couple of days, we have to remove the emotion of the season, of this past game, so I don't think it's fair to make any of those decisions or ask anybody to make any of those decisions this close to Sunday's game. We'll talk and we'll talk as an organization and talk with the players that it pertains to as it relates to some of the decisions that have to be made by March 1.
What are your feelings about Jerome Bettis' future here in Pittsburgh?
Again, as I sat down and talked with Jerome, we just had a long talk. As I said to him, let's not even discuss the future right now. I think it'd be unfair to put the emotion that exists, particularly after the meeting we had, to start talking about that. I think it was more of a reflection of what we've been through. I have so much respect for him, not just as a player but as a person and what he's meant to this team. As I talked to each of them, the thing I remembered the most was Jimmy Valvano and the speech he gave at the ESPYs. He talked about don't quit, don't ever quit. And the part of that speech I'll always remember was that he said every day when you wake up you should do three things: You should laugh, you should cry and you should think. He said that's a heck of a day. I just thought of that when we came out of that meeting, where you see about 70 grown men sitting in a room and people speaking from their heart. There was a lot of emotion in that room. And that's not bad. That's not a bad thing. That's what made this group special. That's what sports is about. And people who've never competed at sports sometimes don't understand that and that's sometimes the risk you put out there when you throw everything into it. This football team threw their whole emotion into it. The unselfishness that existed, while it benefited some, there was a lot of sacrifice that was made by others, because with every decision that was made, while some guys seized it and were excited, some other people had to sit back and accept it And I respect that, truly respect that, and that's what made this group special. That's what allowed us to go 15-1, to be 16-2, and I know that we fell short. I'm not diminishing that. But, boy, I'll tell you, they truly enjoyed coming to work every day. There's a lot to be said for that. We achieved a lot. They need to have their head held high. It was a special group of guys. A disappointing end? Yes, but I refuse to allow that to define this season.
Bill, have things moved along faster with this team than you expected?
Going into this press conference today as opposed to a year ago, there are a lot more questions that were answered. I look at the youth that we have in young safeties, young quarterback, the group we have coming back. Yes, there are some areas that we have to address and we're going to have some tough decisions to make. But, boy, there are a lot of guys coming back. That's what's exciting about it to me. A lot of guys are coming back that were part of this process we went through this year that I want to refer to as a springboard for us, the start. So I think there's a lot to look forward to. As opposed to this being an ending of a season, I'm going to look at this season as being the beginning of something special.
Does the emotion you were talking about carry over to next season or does it fade?
There are no guarantees. We've got to start over again. There's going to be a new group of guys. There's going to be a new chemistry that's involved and it happens every year. But there's a reference point with which you can refer to. There's no question that you look at what we were able to accomplish in terms of people who'd stepped in when other guys went down, the adversity this team was faced with and how they answered each and every challenge each and every week. That is certainly a reference point that's a lot more positive than negative. A lot of the guys that are around here have experienced that and grown. Guys not just grew as football players, they grew as people because of some of the leadership that we got from veterans around here with that unselfish approach, with that work ethic they showed day in, day out, week in, week out. Those are things you can talk about, but when you experience them they have a lot more lasting effect, particularly on younger players in terms of how they can refer to that in the future.
What are the areas you have to address?
I don't know. We have to sit down and look at where we are in regards to the cap, what our options are, what we can and can't do, and then we'll have to make some tough decisions. I'm not in the position right now to be able to answer that. We have some time to be able to do that and we will use that time to make sure we're doing it very objectively and not allowing what has taken place to make quick decisions.
Do you expect your staff to be return?
Yeah, I do, as we speak today. I can only reference at that, and I felt that way a year ago as we spoke then, too. But as of today, I do. I've gotten no calls, which has been a good thing, so hopefully - I don't plan on making any changes - hopefully we'll have everybody back.
Did anything Jerome did this season surprise you?
Surprise me? I don't know if surprise is the right word. I just think what he did exhibited great leadership. He came in great shape, probably as healthy as he's been in the last two or three years. I don't know if it's surprise. I've been around him for a number of years, since 1996. We've been through a lot. I have a lot of respect for the man. He's a good player, he's a
Can you talk about Plaxico, he seemed a little frustrated after the game?
I talked to Plax yesterday. We've been together for five years. I like Plax. I've watched him from the first year to the fifth year. I think he's gotten better as a player. I think the best is ahead of him. I think he's matured as a person, in his work ethic, his approach to the game. Those are the things we talked about. Sometimes in this business, you develop. Yeah, they're your players, but
they're people and you get to know each one of them differently. Like I told him, I wish you would have at least called me last year during the off-season. I understand what you were doing. I didn't agree with it. Just call me. We kind of laughed about it. I don't know what will take place. I didn't want to get into it at this point. We'll have time. We'll talk. We'll see what we can do and what he wants to do. For me to sit there and ask him that question with what we just went through in that meeting as close as it was to this game, I think it's important everybody takes a chance to step back and put things in their proper perspective. If that was the last time I talked to him, I let him know how I felt. I don't know, time will tell.
Is that the first time you guys talked about that Mother's Day thing?
We didn't even talk about the Mother's Day, I guess it was Mother's Day. No, we've talked about it before.
Ben said Plax is misunderstood.
I don't misunderstand him. We have open lines of communication. I like Plax.
During the year, you spoke about the week-to-week focus. It seems simple enough, but that doesn't necessarily carry over from year to year. Why did you have so much success with that?
Great veteran leadership. We really did. Some of the circumstances that took place, that was the only option. We were either going to sit there and dwell in self-pity or we were going to stay together, pull for the guy who was in there and everybody else pick up their game. It just kept creating a stronger bond, a stronger belief. It was reinforced with the results. How can you
argue when we keep winning? As I said before, maybe I came into this business 13 years ago with the thought that no starter should lose his job to injury. I'm not so sure I feel that way any
more. You see what your options are and if somebody is playing pretty good, it happens. That's part of it. I understand somebody getting frustrated by it, but at the same time. If somebody comes in and plays well and you're playing well as a team, I don't think you disrupt that. Maybe I learned that this year. We all keep learning. I don't think you ever have all the answers. I try to stay open-minded and be very self-critical. I'll continue to do that and continue to grow as a coach. I'll be very up front with the players about what I'm thinking. They may not always agree with it, but in the long run, they'll respect it.
Are you looking forward to coaching the Pro Bowl or is it a drag?
I'm sure at some point it will be nice. But like I said, at some point, I'll watch the game too.
Who do you like?
I'm not talking about the Super Bowl. I'm talking about our game. I don't know, I'll pull for the AFC. I'll pull for the team that beat us.
Even though the Eagles are your old team?
Old is the key word.
In your one-on-ones, did you see the guys on injured reserve?
They're doing well. Kendall (Simmons) and (Casey) Hamp(ton) and Jay Riemersma, Mike Logan. You go right down the line. Charlie Batch, I saw all those guys. I talked to them all. They're doing fine. Everyone's on schedule. The only surgeries we have right now are Matt Cushing had surgery yesterday on his wrist. Verron (Haynes) had an MRI and will have surgery on his knee. Right now, those are the only two off-season surgeries we have planned.
Was Kendrell Bell healthy enough to play Sunday?
Was there one game or one moment where you realized this team could be special?
No. To be honest with you, as I sit here and say it, there were a number of games. Certainly the Dallas game as a football team. I talked about it with Ben as a pivotal game against a team that
was backed into the corner. It was a pivotal game for them. Certainly the two games at home following the bye took our level of confidence to another level. I think from there we did what we had to do each week. When we got done with a game, we never reflected, we just looked at the next challenge. I think that was kind of the mindset we adopted. It's hard to say there was any one game. Early in the season, after the first Baltimore game, we had to make some choices. And there was a sense of urgency. We were backed into a corner. I'm not sure we ever lost that approach, week-in and week-out.
What about the Miami game with the weather and the lights going out?
Yeah. We didn't have much of a choice. It was a unique experience. That game, in my mind, put a lot of things in perspective. We're playing a game and there are people down there whose lives are being lost and affected forever. I watched the build-up to that game, it was almost like a countdown. And they went through that four times? I have so much respect for the people of Florida for what they endured. Sometimes you think you've got it hard in life. Try living down there. They have a good perspective on that. I have so much respect for the people of Florida. I think they will forever have the right perspective and not take for granted some of the little things we do every day.
You had talked about, going back to the off-season to running the ball. With Tommy's injury in Baltimore, to what extent did that accelerate that mindset?
I don't know if it did anything different. I think what it did was limit some things early in the passing offense. But it never altered what we wanted to do with the running game. We came into the season wanting to run the ball. That was the mindset if you looked at our preseason games. And looked at everything we did in training camp, right up to the opening part of the season, even against Oakland. The mindset was that the running game was our foundation and recognizing that we could still develop the passing game and that we had weapons in the
passing game. We wanted to establish that as our mindset of running the football. Certainly when Tommy got hurt, it may have limited what we could do in the passing game, but I'm not so
sure it altered our approach in the running game.
Coach, did Ken Whisenhunt exceed expectations?
No. Kenny did a great job. Sitting back, you think about Kenny here for the first time as a coordinator. He did a great job, Mark Whipple here for the first time in our organization and then Ben, what a great three-way conversation. Three guys who have come together in a short amount of time that I'd like to think that will get better and better as they get to know each other. There were a lot of new faces on this football team. I'd like to think this is the foundation for something that is going to continue to grow.
In your conversations with Tommy Maddox, did he give any indication whether he is happy with his role for next season?
We talked. And like I said about Jerome, Tommy is the consummate pro. We'll talk again and continue to talk. He was outstanding in his contributions to this football team and his contributions to the development of Ben. He's very much wanted back here and we'll continue to talk and make sure he feels comfortable with what his role will be.
Obviously Ben was a high-profile rookie, but how did Ricardo Colclough and Max Starks play?
I'm very excited about Max Starks. Coming out, the word on Max was that he was a soft player. He was just a big guy. Well I'm glad someone told him that. He proved that is not his problem.
This guy came in and he was a pleasant surprise. I say surprise because when you watched him in that Florida offense, everything he was asked to do was throw the ball and run the draw. That doesn't always show what you can do. He's a smart guy. He worked his way onto that game day active roster. He could play both positions. He could play guard. He's flexible and a very bright guy. I'm excited about the prospects of him. Ricardo, he did great. He learned the nickel position. He learned corner. Both him and Ike (Taylor), I thought they got better this year. They
took positive steps. I like Ricardo, I think he's going to be a good football player.