PITTSBURGH-- Mike Tomlin, the Minnesota Vikings' defensive
coordinator, was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers -- the first black
head coach in the team's 74-year history.
Tomlin accepted the job Sunday night and the hiring was announced
Monday, with Tomlin expected to make about $2.5 million a year
under a four-year contract. He is the Steelers' third coach in 38
years, following Chuck Noll (23 seasons) and Bill Cowher (15
Tomlin, an NFL coordinator for only one season, acknowledged it
was difficult not to be overwhelmed with the opportunity to coach
what he called "one of the storied franchises in sports."
"I'm still coming to grips with what that means," said Tomlin,
who, like Cowher in 1992, will be about the same age as some of his
players. "But I am what I am as coach -- I don't call myself a
34-year-old coach or an experienced coach, I'm a football coach."
Tomlin was chosen by the Steelers on the same day two black
coaches made the Super Bowl for the first time: Lovie Smith in
Chicago and Tony Dungy in Indianapolis. Tomlin was once an
assistant under Dungy at Tampa Bay, and he got the call from
Steelers president Art Rooney II while watching the NFL conference
championship games Sunday.
"He's a good coach, a great communicator and now he'll have a
chance to show what he can do," Dungy said Monday.
Tomlin also might have benefited from the NFL's so-called Rooney
Rule. Steelers owner Dan Rooney successfully lobbied in 2002 for a
rule that requires all NFL teams to interview minority candidates
for coaching jobs.
After a successful first season as Minnesota's defensive
coordinator, Tomlin's name was one of about a dozen on a list of
qualified minority candidates given to Rooney at a mid-December
meeting in New York. Rooney is the chairman of the NFL's committee
on workplace diversity.
The intent of the Rooney Rule was to give coaches such as Tomlin
a forum to display their credentials. Tomlin was chosen largely
because of the motivation, enthusiasm and organizational skills he
showed in two strong interviews with Rooney, Art Rooney II and
director of football operations Kevin Colbert.
"He wants to play the kind of football the Pittsburgh Steelers
want to play," Art Rooney II said of Tomlin's focus on stopping
the run, running the ball well and playing physical defense. "He
wants to play the kind of football Steelers fans have come to
Tomlin's hiring completed a 2½-week search in which he initially
was considered an unlikely choice behind perceived front-runners
Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm, but Whisenhunt later accepted the
Arizona Cardinals' job.
In fact, locally there was confusion on a par with "Dewey Defeats Truman" when a front-page headline in Sunday's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review declared Grimm would be announced Monday as the Steelers' coach.
Steelers owner Dan Rooney strongly denied suggestions that the team told Grimm he would succeed Cowher, then changed its mind and hired Tomlin. He also denied anyone in the organization told Grimm he would be the coach.
"They were ... saying we were dishonest," Rooney said in an impromptu interview following Tomlin's news conference Monday. "Our integrity means more than anything to us. It means more than anything."
Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, the other finalist with
Grimm and Tomlin, did not get a second interview because the
Steelers would have had to wait until Feb. 5 to meet with him
again. Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, recommended by Cowher, also
didn't get a second interview.
Tomlin will be the fourth consecutive Steelers coach who was a
defensive assistant coach in his 30s with another team before being
hired. Bill Austin was 37 when he was chosen in 1966, as was Chuck
Noll in 1969. Cowher was 34 in 1992.
What could be tricky is assimilating Tomlin's preference for the
4-3 defense into a Steelers system that has been built around the
3-4 since 1983. The Steelers have fitted their roster with players
suited for the 3-4, such as All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu and Pro
Bowl nose guard Casey Hampton.
Tomlin said he wouldn't rush to install the 4-3 and will retain
defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, a proponent of the 3-4 and zone
blitzing schemes. Instead, Tomlin plans to match his defenses to
the skills of the players he has -- and he is not yet ready to say
which defense that will be.
"You've got to be flexible and do what your guys do well," he
Tomlin also likes the so-called Tampa 2 cover scheme popularized
by Dungy and assistant Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay, one that had its
roots in Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s -- a
defense that played a 4-3. Dungy played on one of those four
Steelers Super Bowl-winning teams.
Still, Tomlin's hiring likely will bring a shakeup in the
Steelers' coaching staff less than a year after they won the Super
Bowl. Grimm almost certainly won't return after being passed over.
But Tomlin isn't ready to reveal any staff changes, saying he will
begin to work on his staff when he travels to Mobile, Ala., on
Tuesday to scout Senior Bowl players.
One Steelers assistant already knows Tomlin: linebackers coach
Keith Butler coached with him at Memphis and Arkansas State.
Tomlin, from Hampton, Va., was a wide receiver at William &
Mary, where he caught 20 touchdown passes during his career. He got
his first coaching job at VMI under coach Bill Stewart, who was
impressed by his demeanor as a William & Mary player. Tomlin later
coached at Memphis, Tennessee-Martin, Arkansas State and Cincinnati
before being hired as a Tampa Bay assistant.
Tomlin's defense in Minnesota was best in the NFL against the run in 2006, allowing just 61.6 yards per game, but tied with Cincinnati for last against the pass, allowing 238.6 yards per game through the air.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.