View Full Version : Tomlin Is NFL's Renaissance Man

02-04-2009, 09:05 PM
Tomlin Is NFL's Renaissance Man

Jay Mariotti
Posted Feb 4th 2009 12:05 AM by Jay Mariotti (author feed)

In a baggy gray sweatshirt, jeans and aviator shades, he looked like one of the players who were celebrating Tuesday in Sixburgh. "What do you say to this?" shouted Mike Tomlin, addressing the gathered masses by flashing six fingers. "Steeler Nation, you're leaving us all speechless, man. We just appreciate the love. How about the Steelers? How about the greatest fans in the world? How about number six?"

He could have been Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, any of them. Which is exactly the point. When Tomlin spoke at his job interview two years ago, a remarkable visionary named Dan Rooney slashed through variables that some scary men in the traditional old-boy network would've held against a candidate like mustard stains on a tie.

Thirty-four years old? No head-coaching experience? African-American?

Go home, son.

Instead, Rooney saw a well-educated, smooth-dressed, articulate family man who quotes poet Robert Frost, rejected law school to coach football and considers his favorite book not to be Parcells: A Biography, but Flags of Our Fathers, written by the son of a U.S. soldier at Iwo Jima. He also saw someone young enough to relate to players yet savvy and firm enough to be their boss and command respect. Ignoring conventional wisdom that he hire one of two incumbents on the Pittsburgh staff, Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm, Rooney went completely against the establishment and appointed the longshot defensive coordinator from the Minnesota Vikings.

All you need to know about Tomlin -- and his meteoric rise in becoming the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl -- is how he reacted that day. "When I found out I got the job, I was in Minnesota playing foosball with my sons,'' he said, referring to the soccer-like table game. "I got off the phone and they were interested in finishing the game, so we did. Really, that is the approach I have taken to it. Pressure is something that I embrace. I love the feeling that pressure gives me. Some people are built for those things, and I always have been.''

From his thin sideburns to his casual-chic sportcoats to the way he treats veterans, Tomlin oozes super-cool. He has pulled off an unprecedented NFL double that would prompt winces from Parcells, Vince Lombardi, Mike Ditka and other crusty forerunners: winning a championship and being named the league's sexiest coach by Victoria's Secret. And any doubts harbored in the football world when he was hired -- admittedly, I had mine -- have been replaced by his immediate and stunningly profound impact on the coaching profession at large. Not only was he the right choice for Rooney, who has employed only three coaches in 40 years and watched them win a collective six league titles, Tomlin also has blown up as The Master Blueprint for what owners want in 2009. If you haven't noticed, a startling number of successful coaches won't be working as NFL head coaches next season, including Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher and Brian Billick -- who have won six Super Bowls between them. Some are sitting out of their own volition, but Gruden and Shanahan were stone-cold fired and replaced by two 32-year-olds, Raheem Morris and Josh McDaniel.

Why? Franchises are looking for the next Mike Tomlin, who seems to have rendered the retread dead. Forget Marty Schottenheimer, Mike Martz, Jim Fassel, Dennis Green. The new trend is to hire them young and/or without head-coaching experience, which seems weird but definitely has a pattern of effectiveness at work. John Harbaugh reached the AFC title game with Baltimore. Mike Smith was Coach of the Year in Atlanta. Tony Sparano went from 1-15 to the playoffs in Miami. So a copycat league responds with Morris in Tampa Bay, McDaniel in Denver, Jim Schwartz in Detroit, Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis and, most likely, Todd Haley in Kansas City.

Call it the Tomlin Tree. He has revolutionized his profession, though he insists the age quotient is irrelevant. "It's a non-factor in terms of what it is we need to do,'' he said. "Relationships with players are personality things, not age things. It's in vogue to talk about the youth of coaches and being able to relate to today's athlete. I don't know if I buy into the concept that today's athlete is different than 20, 30 or 40 years ago. I'm a traditionalist. I think people who have a way with people and can communicate teach and convey messages -- they can do it at 35, 45, 55.''

But the fact Tomlin is the youngest to win a championship -- at 36 years, 323 days -- gives him an almost unthinkable niche in football history. What everyone admires is his poised comportment, most noticeable during games on the sideline. "It's like chess to me,'' he explained. "I like to control my emotions because I want to see things with great clarity. I think that's what my team needs me to do. I'm always trying to stay a step ahead.'' His birth certificate says 36, but I'm convinced he's on some Benjamin Button time machine and already has lived in his 60s and 50s. His best adjustment was abandoning the hard exterior and rough practices of his Steelers infancy, easing off to become a coach who's emotionally in sync with his players, even laughing with them at times during practices in Tampa.

"He's the best coach, no doubt about it,'' star safety Troy Polamalu said. "It's amazing how this team wins. We have such a relaxed team. During practice, we screw around. We definitely practice hard, but we have a lot of fun at certain times and always manage to put out a good performance.''

"It's almost like night and day, He gives guys a little leeway from time to time," said Ward, the team leader and 11-year veteran. "That first year, it was tough, but he has a feel for his players now. He has done a phenomenal job all year. He never stirred the course; he always stayed the course. If you weren't happy to be here, more than likely you weren't going to be on this team. He always had that authority and that presence that this is his team, but it's no longer a Coach Cowher team and we're going to do it his way. As (players), you respect that.''

Amazingly, Tomlin's glory run has all but made Pittsburgh forget Cowher, the hometown product who won a Super Bowl three years ago and vanished to a network TV studio. When Tomlin was hired, the players weren't thrilled that Grimm, who wound up heading to Arizona with Whisenhunt in a much-rehashed Super Bowl plot, was bypassed for the job. In fact, Roethlisberger took the new coach to lunch and told him as much. "You're going to have to earn the guys' respect and trust," the QB said. At first, Tomlin brought smirks with motivational slogans and sayings from movies -- "iron sharpens iron'' is one of his mainstays -- but, eventually, he gained control and didn't let go until the team was passing around the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Sure, he demands players to arrive at meetings five minutes before they start, like Tom Coughlin. But he balances the discipline with fun practice drills such as The Staredown, in which two players are placed eyeball-to-eyeball to see who blinks first, with a laughing Tomlin serving as referee.

This allows him to bring down the tough-love hammer as required. When receiver Santonio Holmes, who revealed last week that he dealt drugs as a kid, was busted for marijuana possession in October, Tomlin benched him for a game. It was the perfect decision -- a coach didn't want to emotionally lose his game-breaking receiver, but he also needed to lay down a harsh lesson. The end result: Holmes made the tippy-toe, game-winning catch for the ages Sunday and was named Super Bowl MVP. "At first, I didn't want to hear that from my head coach,'' Holmes said of the week off. "I was hoping he would have trust in my word that nothing went wrong, but I see that he put me in a better situation by handling the situation first-hand, getting distractions away from the team and allowing me to come back the following week ready to go.''

Then there was the immature case of rookie receiver Limas Sweed. In the AFC title game, he dropped a touchdown pass and fell to the ground, laying there for several seconds and forcing Tomlin to use a timeout. Turns out Sweed was embarrassed, not injured. His coach ripped him a new you-know-what on the sideline. And how about running back Willie Parker, who was critical of the coaches for not giving him enough touches. "Every morning when I come to work, I walk past five Lombardis, not five rushing titles,'' Tomlin said. Parker never raised a stink again.

"You wear many hats in this business, and I probably get more enjoyment out of watching people grow than I do preparing winning games,'' Tomlin said. "It's a beautiful thing. I believe that's what we're all called to do.''

02-04-2009, 09:05 PM
So now, nine years into a new millennium, he finds himself as the state-of-the-art renaissance man for America's most popular sports league. In the same year that Barack Obama began as the 44th U.S. President, Tomlin took his team to the Super Bowl and won it. Some serious racial barriers have been blown down, wouldn't you say?

The only shame? He couldn't hear Obama when he called to congratulate his beloved Steelers. "I don't know if I'll get a re-do. I hear he's a busy guy at this point,'' Tomlin said. "It was a very surreal, humbling experience to be a part of, just really awesome. It's what you dream about, not only as a coach but as a citizen. I heard very little of what he said. I said, 'I can't hear what you're saying, but I appreciate the call. I appreciate the congratulations.' And I handed the phone back to Mr. Rooney.''

Sometime soon, in a private moment, Mike Tomlin may reflect on his whirlwind and laugh, weep or both. But never, ever will he tell us about it. He's much too cool for that.

02-04-2009, 09:20 PM
Coach T sold me at his very first press conference as our new HC and the respect and admiration I have gained for him continues to grow to unthinkable levels. He's tough but has a big heart. He's a fierce competitor but he's also very humble. He loves his guys but doesn't hesitate to dress 'em down when they need a reality check.

Mike Tomlin is the blueprint of what every HC in the NFL should be and is undisputably, the BEST HC in the league hands down. :applaudit::hatsoff:

02-04-2009, 09:29 PM
Coach T sold me at his very first press conference as our new HC and the respect and admiration I have gained for him continues to grow to unthinkable levels. He's tough but has a big heart. He's a fierce competitor but he's also very humble. He loves his guys but doesn't hesitate to dress 'em down when they need a reality check.

Mike Tomlin is the blueprint of what every HC in the NFL should be and is undisputably, the BEST HC in the league hands down. :applaudit::hatsoff:


The guy came in and started speaking. I was like WHOA... this is fascinating. Then he handled the Porter and Faneca issues perfectly for a brand new coach.

02-04-2009, 09:36 PM
at first i was a bit upset he got the job over whiz and grimm, but after the first press conference i thought WOW! and so far he hasnt stop me from going WOW! :tt03:

tony hipchest
02-04-2009, 09:51 PM
last year when they played in phoenix, tomlin waived curfew for polamalu. it was very important for troy to drive an hour to attend a church service at a greek orthadox monastary.

this is a man that is in tune with his players, and as they have shown, they will run through a brick wall for him in return.