Boo, certainly, but also behold
PITTSBURGH - Boo him extra loud today, Bengals fans.
When Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin leads his team onto the field at Paul Brown Stadium, razz the heck out of him.
When he throws his hankie to challenge a play on the field, jump up and wave your hands at him derisively, and then boo some more.
And when he decides to go for it on fourth-and-1 - and you just know the risk-loving Tomlin is going to do that at some point - chant "Tom-lin, Tom-lin, Tom-lin!" so vociferously and so obnoxiously that the Steelers offense can't hear the signals.
You hate the Steelers.
They've got the rings.
Take your frustrations out on Tomlin, the latest incarnation of Steelers might, only the third Steelers head coach in the past 38 years. First Chuck Noll in 1969, then Bill Cowher in 1992.
And then know this:
Tomlin is not them. He likes Skyline chili, used to hang out in his buddy's basement in Deer Park, still follows the University of Cincinnati, where he coached for two years.
Tomlin, noted trash talker in his playing days, would expect you to boo. But don't expect him to hate you for it.
He used to be one of you.
PUSHING RIGHT BUTTONS
Bengals cornerback Blue Adams used to play the same position for the UC Bearcats, back when Tomlin was the secondary coach there in 1999-2000.
"He was always barking about something, always getting in your head, always playing with your mind," Adams remembers. "He knew what made you tick, and he'd push that button. I was the rebellious type."
Adams recalls committing some transgression that offended Tomlin enough to call out Adams to attend the next morning's "Dawn Patrol," which for most transgressors usually involved some variation of running the steps at Nippert Stadium.
"Well, Mike knew I could run those steps all day and all night and it wouldn't bother me," Adams remembers. "So he had a little something special cooked up for me: barrel rolls."
Get down on the ground here at this goal line and roll like a barrel down to the other goal line.
And so off Adams went.
He didn't get very far before he threw up - the first time. And he only got another 10 yards before he threw up again.
"And all the while, Mike's prodding me with his foot, 'C'mon, c'mon, roll,' " Adams recalls.
It got Adams' attention.
Did he ever again draw "Dawn Patrol" duty?
"Not while Mike was there," Adams says.
And what did Adams think when Tomlin left UC for Tampa Bay and the NFL after two years in Cincinnati, with Adams still having another college season to play?
"I was mad," Adams says. "I wanted him to stay."
And what does Adams think of the 35-year-old Steelers coach now, a mere eight years after feeling Tomlin's wing-tips in his side?
"I think he's a great coach," Adams says. "I think he could retire from coaching right now, do nothing but teach clinics, and I think he'd make a great living. He's awesome."
BONDING WITH COACHES
It's the fun side of being a college coach, especially a young one. You get close with the other coaches. You hang together. The bond never weakens.
"You don't hear of the guys at Merrill Lynch getting together like that, but coaches do," says former UC linebackers coach Greg Hudson, who coached with Tomlin and defensive line coach Keith Willis at UC in 1999-2000.
"The Three Amigos," defensive coordinator Rick Smith called his three young defensive coaches. Smith knew he had it good.
"(Head coach) Rick Minter let us coach the guys up," Hudson says.
"All those kids needed was for us to coach 'em up and love 'em up," remembers Willis. "We loved it."
Back then at UC, there was no telling whom you might be coached by in your four- or five-year career. UC didn't pay its assistant coaches enough to get them to stay.
That level of coaching instability can harm the potential for consistency in a program, but without that revolving door, maybe Tomlin never would have showed up there.
"I'd rather have played for Mike Tomlin for only two years than not at all," Adams says.
However many assistants Minter had in his 10 years at UC - and there were many - he probably interviewed three or four times that. More often than not, he found the right guys.
"I think I'm a good judge of people," Minter says. "In two to five minutes, you know whether a guy has it or not."
Tomlin was a former wide receiver at William & Mary, where he set school records with 20 touchdowns and 20.2 yards per catch, and coached at Virginia Military Institute, Tennessee-Martin, Memphis and Arkansas State before coming to UC.
Not too long after Minter had hired Tomlin as secondary coach, defensive coordinator Smith said to Minter: "This guy's not going to be here long."
Tomlin was destined. And everybody knew it.
"I'm not very good at projecting where people are going to wind up three or five or 10 years from now," says Willis.
"(But) I knew from the first day I met him that Mike was going to be a coordinator and then a head coach. I didn't know where or when, college or pro. But I knew. Not only did he know the X's and O's, he had incredible focus. He knew what he wanted in life.
"I remember him saying more than once, 'I don't want to be around people who don't want me to do well.' I'm the same way. People like that scare me. But Mike was the first one I'd heard articulate it that way. He's positive, energetic, and he doesn't want anybody slowing him down."
Tomlin says he treasured his time in Cincinnati.
"It was an awesome time to be at UC," Tomlin recalls. "Just like every step along the way, I learned a lot from the people I worked with. I had a great time there."