Tomlin ready for his much-anticipated debut

Training Camp

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On national television, next to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and its special exhibit in honor of the Steelers' 75th season, 35-year-old Mike Tomlin steps onto the field and into a world he long anticipated.

Tomorrow night won't count as Tomlin's first official turn as the third Steelers' third head coach in 39 years, but it's not just another first exhibition game, either.

"I've sat in the backseat and passenger seat enough," said Tomlin, an assistant coach at one place or another the previous 11 years, "and you always talk about, 'Boy, I'd like to do that.' We'll see, won't we, on Sunday night?"

Yes, at least those in Pittsburgh and New Orleans and those who can get the NFL Network. Before now, only those who have made the trek to Saint Vincent College have been able to see Tomlin in action.

Like any other NFL coach, he will play his starters for only about a quarter tomorrow, although quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will get less time and rookie outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley and some others more. Unlike most NFL coaches, he will have his two coordinators on the sideline with him.

Traditionally, one or both coordinators are in the press box, usually the offensive coordinator with the Steelers. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has been on the sideline, and new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will join him there.

"You can't cook from the living room," Tomlin said. "I coordinated from the field. I coached secondary in Tampa from the field. I think there's value to being able to look a man in the face and being able to communicate."

Tomlin said he will let his coaches coach and won't interfere with their play calls.

"No, I believe that my job is to game manage. Once I become a play-caller, I lose a little sense of what's going on with all 53 if we're talking about a regular-season situation. I'm going to game manage. I'm sure there may be instances where I am involved in that, but I'm going in it with the mentality that I'm a game manager."

That's how Tomlin has been at training camp, allowing his coaches to do their thing as he walks around and observes. With a whistle and his room key hanging around his neck, Tomlin walks around to different stations over the various fields at Saint Vincent. If he misses something, either the coaches or videotape will catch him up. A few afternoons ago, he was asked after practice about what he saw in a passing drill.

"I didn't," Tomlin said as he stood on a field away from where that particular drill was held. "I was down here watching the big boys work, because that's where the game is played."

He does not micro-manage and he has not raised his voice. For a franchise and fans used to seeing the emotions pour out of the Steelers' head coach rather evidently for 15 seasons, things might seem a lot calmer on the sideline tomorrow night.

Tomlin cares a lot less about how he looks and acts in his maiden exhibition voyage as Steelers coach than he does about his team, 1 1/2 years removed from a Super Bowl victory and seven months after a disappointing 8-8 season, looks against the Saints.

"I expect them to compete," Tomlin said. "I expect them to play with great energy. I expect them to be very physical because that's what they've shown me thus far.

"But I want to see what this team's about. Again, I try to go in without any preconceived notions like I've said before, so I'm just kind of excited to see what this team really is about."

There is no pressure to win a first preseason game, of course. Chuck Noll lost his first one in 1969 to St. Louis, 27-12, in Norfolk, Va., a short pass from Hampton, where Tomlin was born almost three years later. Noll's teams would go on to win four Super Bowls. Bill Cowher's Steelers lost his first exhibition game, 35-33, to the Philadelphia Eagles in Three Rivers Stadium in 1992, while Tomlin was a sophomore receiver at William & Mary. Cowher's teams went to two Super Bowls and won one of them.

Now it's Mike Tomlin's turn. Even if tomorrow night is one of five dress rehearsals for the real start at Cleveland Sept. 9, it's his first chance to walk the sideline during a game as the boss.

It's not just another preseason game, unless you happen to be part of Tomlin's household. His wife, Kiya, and children won't be in the stands tomorrow.

"My wife's not big on preseason football," Tomlin said. "She has a tough time remembering the names in the second half."

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Mike Tomlin steps onto the field as a head coach for the first time tomorrow night in the Hall of Fame exhibition game in Ohio.
Click photo for larger image.

More Coverage:

Steelers Notebook: Tomlin -- Be patient with Timmons

Video: Let the games begin

Slideshow: Camp Tomlin Day 12

Ed Bouchette's daily question

TODAY

No open practice at St. Vincent.

TOMORROW

The Steelers face the New Orleans Saints at 8 np.m. in the Hall of Fame exhibition game in Canton, Ohio. The game will be televised on KDKA-TV 2 and the NFL Network.



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


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