PITTSBURGH -- A postgame film session can be unsettling for players who loaf on Sundays.
As a first-time coordinator, Mike Tomlin needed to demand improvement without making the demands personal. So he launched a routine with the 2006 Minnesota Vikings defense that he still uses today as the Steelers' coach.
He called it, "Reporting the news" -- broadcasting what happened on the field, for better or worse.
"In some ways, it sucked. But on a positive side, if your name was up on the board and he was correcting you, you never thought, oh, this was an a--h---,'" said former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, who played for Tomlin in 2006. "He presented in such a way where he's laid out expectations and if they aren't met, we're going to make comments about it."
When the Steelers face the Vikings in Heinz Field on Sunday, Tomlin will reacquaint himself with a franchise that helped him catalyze a successful head-coaching career. Before 104 regular-season wins, a Super Bowl and 14 playoff victories, Tomlin was finishing a 6-10 season under first-year head coach Brad Childress, plotting improvements for 2007 behind the "Williams Wall" of linemen Pat and Kevin Williams.
The Vikings' league-leading rushing defense raised Tomlin's profile. Former Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga served Tomlin steak on his private jet. The Steelers became enamored with his ability to relate to front-office members and players.
Former Vikings say Tomlin showed head-coaching acumen the moment he slipped on a purple fleece.
"Oh my gosh, that was a long time ago," Tomlin said when asked about the Minnesota days. "The beautiful thing about the experience for me was the relationship I had with coach Brad Childress. He was a first-time head coach, and he really allowed me behind the curtain and did a great job of really kind of educating me in terms of some of the things that he was having to deal with as a first-time head coach. He even shared some of the responsibilities with me in an effort to help him as he was highly involved in the offense.
"All of that aided me in my growth and development and really, I think, was a catalyst for my preparedness for this opportunity. I’m thankful for my time in Minnesota. They were great people, but largely when I think about it, I think about the big service extended to me by Brad Childress as he was going through his first year as a head coach."
More than a decade later, Childress, now the Kansas City Chiefs' assistant head coach, remembers needing a coordinator who commanded the room, communicated well and ran a Tampa-2 defense that accentuated Kevin Williams' strength as a three-technique tackle.
He got that in Tomlin, who quickly recommended Joe Woods, now the Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator, to become his defensive backs coach.
Childress reminded Tomlin to look at a roster through a broad scope, and how special teams largely affects who stays and goes. After one season, Childress was telling Tomlin to start preparing for head-coaching interviews. Tomlin was reluctant at first, preferring to prep for the upcoming year.
Eventually, Steelers president Art Rooney II called Childress about Tomlin. Childress asked if Rooney wanted to hear the truth. Rooney said he'd prefer that. Childress was half-joking with the question, knowing how badly he wanted to keep him.
"I didn't want to lose him, but I didn't want to hold him back," Childress said. "I think everyone knew he had the personality to do it. All he had to do was get in front of those people."
Tomlin's trademarks in Minnesota are similar today. If you miss on a play, you'll probably hear about it. If you make a play, you'll hear about that, too.
But throughout the critiquing, Tomlin has a way of relating to each player on the roster and laughing at himself when necessary, Leber and Childress said.
"You can tell when some coaches are authentic and others aren't," Leber said. "For the most part he was consistent, star player to undrafted rookie."