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Old 10-29-2007, 12:12 AM   #2
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Willis remembers the lunchtime basketball games at UC.

"Let's go, Big Sweat, I'm going to kick your (butt),' " Tomlin would say to Willis, who had played 12 years at defensive tackle in the NFL, in those 2-on-2 games.

"Don't even start," Willis would respond. "Been there, done that."

Hudson always chose Tomlin as his teammate in those rough games because he knew Tomlin was never intimidated.

He felt the same way with Tomlin on the football sideline.

"There wasn't anybody in that athletic department who could beat us in basketball," Hudson says.

Back in those days, Hudson, a high school All-American at Moeller who played his college ball at Notre Dame, had three young children (4, 3 and 1). Tomlin and his wife, Kiya, a former gymnast at William & Mary, had just had a baby, their first of three.

Tomlin, Willis and Hudson - "The Three Amigos" - would hang out in Hudson's basement in Deer Park with their families and play games and laugh it up.

"Before long, the babies would just start flying around," Hudson recalls.

"I was afraid my wife was going to get pregnant just sitting there," Willis remembers. "And I didn't want that. We already had two kids in high school."

Tomlin's eyes light up when he hears such reminiscences.

"I enjoyed my time in Cincinnati," he says. "My wife and I, we loved living in the city. There's nothing like going to get a five-way at Skyline. We have some great memories and good friends there. It will be good to be back in the city."

Tomlin is known as "a players' coach," but he's also a coaches' coach. He stays in touch. If you call somebody who's coached with Tomlin anywhere along the way, it's guaranteed they've heard from him in the last month.

At UC, Tomlin would joke with Hudson's brother-in-law, Dave, who loved football so much that he would hang out on the sideline making sure Hudson's telephone cords didn't get tangled, just to be close to the action.

"There are three things Mike always asks me right off the bat when he calls," Hudson says. "He asks, 'How's your dad, how's your family and how's Cord-Guy Dave?' "

What else does Tomlin say to Willis?

"He says, 'Big Sweat, let's go,' " Willis says.

And what does Willis respond?

"I say, 'Don't even start.' "


"You see that designation in my title, defensive coordinator?" Rick Smith would ask his three young defensive coaches at UC. "Well, that's what I do - I coordinate. You guys coach. So go do it."

Tomlin, Willis and Hudson were young, smart and good.

"I had something special," recalls Smith, now a defensive coach at East Carolina. "Rick (Minter) let me coordinate, and I let my guys coach."

In his first year at UC, the pass defense went from 111th in the country to 61st. The Bearcats upset No. 9 Wisconsin 17-12 in Cincinnati and gave Ohio State a great run in Columbus, leading 17-3 before succumbing 34-20.

The Bearcats then beat archrival Miami 52-42 in Oxford.

Future Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't yet at Miami.

"I kid him about that," Roethlisberger says. "We have a good time with it."

He and Tomlin made a bet this year on the UC-Miami game. Tomlin won again.

In Tomlin's second and final year, the Bearcats were fourth in the country in takeaways, shocked Syracuse on a last-second field goal, took Wisconsin to overtime in Madison and again blasted Miami 45-15.

The 7-5 Bearcats came out of nowhere to finish second in the conference and play in the Motor City Bowl.

"Back then, it was one of those places in college football where it was similar to the pro game, in that Conference USA was a bunch of upstart programs," Tomlin said. "You stepped in stadiums, and anybody was capable of winning. If nothing else, it shaped my mindset in terms of dealing with what this league (the NFL) was about - the awesome parity.

"There were no heavy favorites in Conference USA. The Louisvilles, the Memphises, the Southern Misses, all of those teams were capable of beating one another, as were we. It made for exciting football, and I loved it."

Tomlin and his two amigos developed a fearsome reputation among UC players.

"Much as I loved our defense," recalled former quarterback Deontey Kenner, "I remembered thinking, 'I'm glad I'm not on defense.' Their coaches worked them to death. On the other hand, I was probably a little envious."

Adams remembers like they happened yesterday the dreaded "E.D.D.'s" - Tomlin's "Every Day Drills," which required players to repeat over and over the footwork and moves they would need to execute in the game.

"Mike broke out his E.D.D.'s in that first day of practice at UC, and within 15 minutes we were totally drained, no good for the whole rest of practice," Adams recalls.

"Contagious discipline," is the phrase UC defensive back Tinker Keck uses to describe Tomlin.

"You could see that Coach Tomlin had that discipline in his life, and you wanted it," Keck said. "We loved him."


When kicker Jeff Reed hit three field goals against San Francisco in a victory at Heinz Field several weeks ago, Tomlin singled out Reed after the game in a way few NFL coaches would. Tomlin's praise was deep and personal.

"Some coaches are out to give kickers a hard time," Reed says. "Mike has gone out of his way to make me feel as much a part of this team as anybody."

During Tomlin's now infamous Stalag 17 training camp - that had Steelers players longing for the departed Cowher - Tomlin announced that if Reed, who was then new to the team, could kick a 42-yard field goal, practice would end on the spot, 30 minutes early.

"If I missed it, it was gonna be worse than missing one in a game - my teammates would have killed me," Reed says. "I made it, and everybody loved that. It was his way of getting me oriented to the team more quickly. That's the way he thinks things through. Everything he does is with a purpose."

Tomlin's Steelers players and coaches say the same things about him as did their UC counterparts.

"He brings an energy, and he brings it continually all day long," marvels the Steelers' Alan Faneca.

Faneca, like Blue Adams eight years ago, had to be won over.

"Mike is always upbeat," the All-Pro guard says. "It's one of the best things he does. We love that about him."

Enquirer staff writer Mark Curnutte contributed to this story.
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