Pittsburgh Steelers. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Tomlin: Today and since being hired in 2007, Mike Tomlin remains the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach. More recently, he signed a two-year extension to his current contract. Tomlin had the distinction of edging out internal candidates Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt when hired by the Rooneys. Unlike Cowher and Noll before him, Mike Tomlin never played in the National Football League. He did play wide receiver at William & Mary where he set that university’s record for touchdown catches in a career with 20.
At just 23 years of age, Tomlin received his first coaching job in 1995 at the Virginia Military Institute as the receivers coach. The following season he was a graduate assistant at Memphis University which was followed up with a one-year stint with Arkansas State but as a defensive backs coach.
In 1999, the University of Cincinnati came calling and hired Tomlin in the same role. Tomlin’s coaching career was progressing rapidly and in 2001 he made it into the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who hired him to be the defensive-backs, coach. Mike Tomlin would spend the next five seasons with Tampa before the Minnesota Vikings, and their Head Coach Brad Childress interviewed Tomlin for their defensive-coordinator vacancy and Tomlin was hired.
Still just 34 years of age, Mike Tomlin would spend just one season with Minnesota. While there, he was coaching Darren Sharper who was older than his coach and was a teammate of Tomlin’s at William & Mary. Dan Rooney was impressed so much with Tomlin as a candidate he hired him ignoring the strong desires by Grimm and Whisenhunt who wanted the job. Tomlin is only the 16th head coach in Pittsburgh history and could have gone to the Miami Dolphins who interviewed him the same year but hired Cam Cameron instead. Miami’s loss was Pittsburgh’s gain.
Tomlin followed a trend by the Rooney family when it came to hiring a head coach by getting the job while being younger than 40. Tomlin was 35 when hired. Bill Cowher just 34. Chuck Noll was 38 as was Bill Austin. John Michelosen was on 32 when hired in 1948; Aldo Donelli 33 (1941); Walt Kiesling when hired the first time was 35; and Johnny Blood McNally just 33.
“I lost my placement as he broke free and saw at the last second how close I was to the field of play” Mike Tomlin reaction to Jacoby Jones long kickoff return
Throughout the history of the National Football League, up until 2007 only 10 African-American coaches were head coaches in the league and Tomlin became the 10th. He also became Pittsburgh’s first. Much too often, Mike Tomlin has heard the comparison between himself and famous actor Omar Epps. On the field, Tomlin has received much more criticism for his team’s performance than Cowher and Noll before him, including rumors that his job was in jeopardy.
But Tomlin has persevered from it all and in fact through eight seasons has a better winning percentage than his two predecessors. With a .641 won/loss mark, Tomlin has missed the playoffs three times in those eight seasons with two of those coming back to back in 2012-2013. Having made the post-season his rookie year and then losing the wild card game, Tomlin won the Super Bowl the next year in 2008 by edging the Arizona Cardinals in one of the most electrifying games in history.
The Steelers would make the Super Bowl again two seasons later but lost to the Green Bay Packers. To this date, Mike Tomlin is the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl with the victory over Arizona and Tomlin only 36 at the time. Just as Bill Cowher had done, Tomlin also had a sideline incident for the ages. The game was on November 28, 2013, and Pittsburgh was in Baltimore to take on the rival Ravens. The final score was 22-20 in favor of Baltimore, but the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones had a long return for a kickoff that would result in a Baltimore score.
While racing down the sideline, it became very apparent that Tomlin intentionally stepped on the field in what looked like an attempt to trip Jacoby. Tomlin excused the act indicating he was simply watching the return on the scoreboard and was not paying attention. Either way, he was fined $100,000 by the league for the incident. Said Tomlin, who can be seen on the replay smiling, “I always watch the returns on the jumbo tron, it provides a better perspective for me. I lost my placement as he broke free and saw at the last second how close I was to the field of play.”
Mike Tomlin will enter the 2015 season with his team in transition. Tomlin has a new defensive coordinator in Keith Butler; he will be without Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu for the first time since he became head coach; Brett Kiesel is gone; and he has a new crop of young draft picks that offer much potential led by the first overall pick, Bud Dupree.
Tomlin had done well thus far with his first picks in the draft selecting players like Lawrence Timmons, Maurkice Pouncey, Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro, Jarvis Jones, and last year’s #1 Ryan Shazier. With a return to the playoffs last year, but a disappointing loss to Baltimore in the wild-card round, the anticipation and excitement is at a high level for both Steelers Nation and Tomlin.