The Steelers Coaching Search: It's Tomlin

Vikings defensive coordinator takes over the team from Cowher

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The Steelers announced at a news conference today that they have selected Mike Tomlin as their head coach.

Mr. Tomlin, 34, was the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings. His agent and the Steelers worked out contract details last night that cover a term of four years and an option year. Mr. Tomlin succeeds Bill Cowher, who also was 34 when the Steelers hired him 15 years ago.

"Mike emerged as our top candidate from a pool of several very qualified candidates that we interviewed. I think Mike's core beliefs are a good match for our oganization and the way want to approach the game of football.

The Steelers chose Mr. Tomlin after vacillating between him and Russ Grimm, the team's assistant head coach and offensive line coach. The Steelers decided not to wait for Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, the third finalist for the job, because he would not be available to be hired for another two weeks.

Mr. Tomlin and Mr. Grimm, 47, had second interviews for the job last week. Mr. Rivera was interviewed once.

The hiring of Mr. Tomlin may represent a change in at least the way the Steelers play defense. Mr. Tomlin has coached a 4-3 defense in Minnesota and is a proponent of the Cover-2 or Tampa-2 style. The Steelers played a 3-4 during Mr. Cowher's 15-year tenure using the zone blitz.

Tomlin conformed at the news conference, however, that he plans to keep Dick LeBeau as his defensive coordinator, which likely means the defense will not change a lot in 2007. While all Steelers assistant coaches are under contract, many of them likely will not be retained by Mr. Tomlin. Wide receivers coach Bruce Arians could be another exception. He could become offensive coordinator under Mr. Tomlin.

For sure, Mr. Grimm will leave. The Steelers likely will allow him out of his contract under the circumstances.

Mr. Tomlin is expected to visit the current Steelers coaching staff this week in Mobile, Ala., where the coaches are scouting the Senior Bowl practices.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune
The Steelers chose Mike Tomlin, defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, as their new coach.
Click photo for larger image.


MIKE TOMLIN
AT A GLANCE

Age: 34

Pro coaching experience: Vikings defensive coordinator, 2006; Buccaneers defensive backs coach, 2001-05.

College coaching experience: Cincinnati defensive backs coach, 1999-2000; Arkansas State defensive backs coach, 1998; Arkansas State wide receivers coach, 1997; Memphis graduate assistant coach, 1996; Virginia Military Institute wide receivers coach, 1995.

Playing experience:
Three-year starter at wide receiver for William and Mary, 1990-94. Finished career with 101 receptions for 2,046 yards and 20 touchdown catches.

The numbers: His defense in Minnesota ranked 8th in the NFL in total defense for 2006 and led the league in run defense. ... In a Dec. 10 game against the Lions, the Vikings held Detroit to minus-3 yards rushing, the lowest total by an NFL team in the past 45 years. ... He helped Tampa Bay's pass defense rank No. 1 in the NFL in two of his five seasons as secondary coach.

Personal info: Born in Hampton, Va. He and wife, Kiya, have two sons, Dino and Mason.
 

One defensive coach who could join Mr. Tomlin's staff is Brett Maxie, who coached the Atlanta Falcons' defensive backs under head coach Jim Mora, who was fired after the season. Also, Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler coached with Mr. Tomlin in college at Memphis and Arkansas State.

Mr. Tomlin, who was born in Hampton, Va., and played wide receiver at William and Mary, began his coaching career at Virginia Military Institute in 1995. He coached at Memphis, Arkansas State and Cincinnati before joining the pro ranks in 2001 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Tony Dungy and then Jon Gruden. He left the Buccaneers as their secondary coach last year to become the defensive coordinator of the Vikings under new coach Brad Childress.

His first defense in Minnesota ranked eighth overall -- No. 1 in the league against the run but tied for last against the pass as the Vikings went 6-10.

"I think regardless of who they hire to be head coach they expect him to lead, and part of leading is being prepared to do things that you feel strongly about," Mr. Tomlin said after his second interview with the Steelers Tuesday at the team's training facility on the South Side. "I'm no different than anyone else in that regard."

Mr. Tomlin was considered a long shot for the job when he was first named as a candidate shortly after Mr. Cowher resigned Jan. 5. In part because the Steelers won the Super Bowl in February, the two candidates on their staff were considered the front-runners -- Mr. Grimm and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.

Mr. Whisenhunt, though, accepted the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals last week after the Steelers gave him no guarantee he would get the job here. Mr. Grimm, who also was interviewed by the Cardinals, then was considered the front-runner for the Steelers' job.

But Mr. Tomlin thoroughly impressed the Steelers' three-man search committee -- president Art Rooney, chairman Dan Rooney and football operations director Kevin Colbert -- in his first interview, and he immediately became a serious candidate.

Mr. Tomlin becomes the first black coach of the Steelers, and only the franchise's third head coach in the past 38 years. Head coaches Lovie Smith of Chicago, which gained entry into the Super Bowl yesterday, and Kansas City's Herm Edwards also coached under Mr. Dungy. Mr. Tomlin replaced Mr. Edwards as the secondary coach in Tampa in 2001 when Mr. Edwards left to become head coach of the Jets.

Chuck Noll, hired in 1969 when he was 37, won four Super Bowls before he retired after the 1991 season. Mr. Cowher's teams made the playoffs in 10 of his 15 seasons and competed in six AFC championship games, two Super Bowls and won it all in February.

The Steelers would expect no less success from Mr. Tomlin, a vibrant and outgoing young coach whose reputation as a future head coach in the league skyrocketed the past couple of years. His defensive scheme may be different than what the Steelers have used recently, but his philosophy is pure Pittsburgh.

"I think football is a tough-man's game, it's an attrition game," Mr. Tomlin said on Tuesday. "You win by stopping the run and being able to run the ball effectively -- and doing the things winners do -- being a detailed-oriented football team, playing with great passion and executing."


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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