Steelers coach Mike Tomlin always 'had a big-time appreciation' for Georgetown's John Thompson

Growing up in Hampton, Virginia, during the heyday of John Thompson's Georgetown teams, Mike Tomlin was a diehard Hoyas fan.

Wearing a Georgetown starter jacket, the future Pittsburgh Steelers coach became devoted to the larger-than-life Thompson as he became the first Black head coach to win an NCAA men's basketball championship and mentored fellow Hampton Roads natives like Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson.

"I was a Hoya," Tomlin said, reflecting on Thompson's death Monday. "As a Virginia boy from that part of the state, I just had a big-time appreciation, not only for his coaching prowess and reputation and record but how he moved in the lives of the young people that he worked with. Then, as I got older and got into the profession of coaching, particularly here in Pittsburgh, he was a mentor if you will, a guy that had been there and done that.

"I just appreciated the time when I had the chance to visit with him and glean some of his wisdom."

As he became older, Tomlin, a trailblazer in his own right as a young, prominent Black NFL head coach, sought Thompson out, using trips to the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore area as excuses to call into Thompson's long-running sports show.

"You're wise to seek wise council," Tomlin said. "I enjoyed every time I had an opportunity to go to the D.C. area and play whether it was Washington or Baltimore. I looked forward to calling into his show. I called him just for an opportunity to spend a few moments with him."

Eventually, Tomlin also had the opportunity to talk with Thompson one-on-one, off the air, and their relationship grew even stronger.

"Rest in power to the legendary coach John Thompson, blueprint idol, mentor to many, including myself," Thompson said. "He will be greatly missed."