Steelers long shot hire hits pay dirt
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Lake Fong, Post-Gazette photos
Mike Tomlin, 34, speaks with reporters after being introduced yesterday as the Steelers' new head coach. Beside him are, from left, Kevin Colbert, the team's director of football operations; team Chairman Dan Rooney; Mr. Tomlin's wife, Kiya; and team President Art Rooney II.
It took little time for the new, young Steelers coach to allay fears that he would slash everything on a team one year removed from a Super Bowl championship -- from their defense to the psyche of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Mike Tomlin, formally introduced as the Steelers' third head coach in 38 years, went to work quickly on his staff, hiring both coordinators. He confirmed that Dick LeBeau will remain as his defensive coordinator, and he promoted Bruce Arians from coaching the wide receivers to his offensive coordinator.
Tomlin, 34, has plenty more work to do, and he'll begin today in Mobile, Ala., where he will join what's left of Bill Cowher's old staff for Senior Bowl practices, scouting college players.
One coach who won't return was the runner-up to Tomlin in the 16-day search for Cowher's replacement. Russ Grimm, the team's assistant head coach and offensive line coach, will be granted a release from his contract with the Steelers at his request. Grimm could join new Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona, but also could entertain other offers.
Grimm was considered a front-runner at one point during the coaching search, and club president Art Rooney II acknowledged yesterday that Tomlin at first was not high on their list of candidates.
"I think it's fair to say Mike was in that category in terms of our initial discussion," Art Rooney said. "He was probably a long shot when we began the discussions."
Dan Rooney, the team's chairman, denied a report that the Steelers offered Grimm the job on Saturday. He said that never happened, and he took umbrage with those who claimed Grimm accepted their offer, only to learn on Sunday that the Rooneys had changed their minds and reneged. Grimm did not return messages left on his cell phone.
Art Rooney also denied that anyone from the NFL commissioner's office or the NFL Players Association pressured the Steelers to hire Tomlin.
"No, there absolutely was no pressure like that. We knew we were going to comply with the Rooney Rule from day one in terms of our initial list. It was just a question at that point of picking who we thought would be the best coach."
The league's Rooney Rule requires each team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority coach, but the decision to hire a coach is left entirely up to the team's owners. It was named as such because Dan Rooney suggested the rule that was adopted by the NFL in December 2002.
The Steelers decided late last week they would choose their coach over the weekend, Art Rooney said. That eliminated the third finalist, Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, whose team won the NFC championship Sunday.
Mike Tomlin greets reporters after being introduced as the team's new head coach.
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Video: Mike Tomlin press conference
2007 Offseason Photo Journal
Blog 'n' Gold: The Steelers Nation speaks
Audio commentary from new Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's inaugural press conference yesterday:
Opening statement: A "first-class blue collar work ethic"
Tomlin's football philosophy
Finding out how he got the job and the interview process
Being a head coach at only 34 years of age
The opportunity to coach Ben Roethlisberger
Has he ever been to Pittsburgh before?
Listen to Mike Tomlin's entire press conference
Art Rooney II
Welcoming Mike Tomlin to the Steelers family
Commentary on the selection of Tomlin
Tomlin had gone from long shot to 50-50 bet. The more the Rooneys and Colbert talked to him, the less of a long shot he became.
"The main thing you think about is, when this guy is standing up in front of your team, is he going to be able to get his message across?" Art Rooney said. "I think that, more than one thing, maybe is what convinced us that this is the guy."
Tomlin addressed a packed Steelers press room, attended by nearly 100 members of the media, with a mix of determination, vibrancy and humor.
"We intend to make no bold predictions about what we're going to do," Tomlin said. "What we are going to do is promise to have a first-class, blue collar work ethic in how we approach our business."
Both Tomlin and Art Rooney acknowledged they considered the 2007 Steelers will be a candidate again for the Super Bowl.
By keeping LeBeau as his coordinator, Tomlin indicated that the Steelers likely will stay with their 3-4 scheme in 2007, but they also could switch between a 3-4 and a 4-3, as some NFL teams do now. Art Rooney revealed there were long discussions about that defense before Tomlin was hired, and that it could evolve into a 4-3, although it would take a few years for them to do so as they acquire the different personnel to fit such a scheme.
Rooney suggested to Tomlin that he consider keeping some of Cowher's staff because he considered it a good one, but that the choices are up to the new head coach.
"Continuity is a factor," Tomlin said of his new staff. "It's not the only factor. We're looking for good men who happen to be good coaches."
Arians, 54, was Cleveland's offensive coordinator for three seasons before he joined the Steelers' staff in 2004. He also coached the Colts quarterbacks and was an offensive coach for two other NFL teams and three colleges, in addition to his job as head coach of Temple for six seasons in the 1980s.
He will lend some continuity to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and could be the only offensive coach to return.
"He's a franchise quarterback," Tomlin said. "Like any other position and any other player on this team, we need to be fundamentalists in how we approach our business. We need to be students of the game.
"I look forward to working with Ben in that regard. I'm excited about having an opportunity to work with a young man who is talented, who has also had some of the life experiences of being a professional athlete that he has had. He's a world champion."
Tomlin first visited Pittsburgh when he was 12 years old to play a midget football game.
"I rode the inclines and those things," said Tomlin, a Hampton, Va., native. "Some of my roommates from college were Pittsburgh guys -- Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon -- so I know quite a bit about the attitude of people from the city and the great deal of pride that they have from being from here. I look forward to learning more."
As for what he knows about his new football team, Tomlin said:
"They are physically and mentally tough. They have a reputation for being that. Got some quality players; their resumes speak for themselves. And I'm sure the recent Super Bowl success and failure that followed will make them a hungry group of men."
First Published January 23, 2007 12:00 am