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Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin always was impressive

Here's what the resume doesn't tell you:

Give him 15 minutes, and Mike Tomlin will turn you into a dreamer.

"He made the commencement speech at Saint Vincent College last year," said Bill Nunn, a scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers for more than 40 years. "He was so good, he just blew the kids away talking about going after your dreams.

"I went up to him later and said I really enjoyed it and could I have a copy of his speech. He said he didn't have a copy. He just ad-libbed the whole thing."

Here's what the sideline cameras fail to capture:

When Mike Tomlin walks through your door, you become the second-smartest person in the room.

"I've interviewed a lot of job candidates over the years, and I can pretty much tell you in the first five minutes whether a guy is going to work out," said Rick Minter, who was the coach at the University of Cincinnati when he hired Tomlin as an assistant in 1999. "With Mike, I knew immediately. You could see the intelligence, the passion, the plan.

"When (the Bucs') Monte Kiffin called me and said, 'Who is this hot, young coach I've been hearing about,' I told him, 'Monte, you're going to hire this guy as soon as you meet him.' And that's exactly what happened."

Here's what the Web site bio never mentions:

Mike Tomlin is in charge, and doesn't care if you don't like it.

"Life changed drastically for the DBs when Mike showed up," Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Those first couple of weeks and months he had so much intensity, not all of us were quite ready to get behind what he was doing. He had us doing drills we thought we had left behind in college.

"But we could see, after a while, he was making us better. He had these Every Day Drills that we still do today with Raheem (Morris). He really perfected the mechanics of making a play."

Here's what a lot of people failed to realize two years ago:

Hiring Mike Tomlin was not the risk it seemed to be.

Even if he was only 34 at the time. Even if he had been a defensive coordinator for only one season. Even if, 12 years earlier, he was living in the damp basement of a college dorm, while earning a salary well below the poverty level.

For Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II knew the job application was not the complete story of the man. They had met with Tomlin and recognized qualities far more important than a fat resume.

For instance, the guy had a certain charm. He comes off cold and professional in public settings, but there is a playfulness to Tomlin that works well on the field and in the locker room.

And behind the smile is a mind that never rests. After getting his degree in sociology at William & Mary, Tomlin toyed with the idea of law school before accepting a job making $12,000 a year as a wide receivers coach at Virginia Military Institute. To this day, he keeps notebooks detailing all of his work as a young coach.

This is what employers see when they hire Tomlin. And it seems like everyone who meets him wants to offer Tomlin a job. Counting a summer 2000 internship with the Cleveland Browns, he had six jobs between 1995 and 2001 when the Bucs hired him to replace Herman Edwards as the defensive backs coach.

"Confidence is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Mike," Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said. "From the moment you meet him, you're impressed with the way he carries himself. He has a certain demeanor, a certain presence. And the players all recognize that.

"He can come across as being hard on a player, but they know he's done his work, and he knows what he's talking about. And so they accept it when he is criticizing or reviewing their play."

It is not like this is the first time the Steelers made a bold move. Chuck Noll was 37 and had never been a head coach when he was hired in 1969. He went on to win a record four Super Bowls. Bill Cowher was 35 and had never been a head coach when he replaced Noll in 1992. He went to two Super Bowls, winning one.

And now, along comes Tomlin, who reached the Super Bowl quicker than either Noll or Cowher and who is, at 36, the youngest Super Bowl coach in history.

"I think the Rooneys' track record speaks for itself," tight end Heath Miller said. "We may not have known a lot about (Tomlin), but we certainly had faith in what the Rooneys have done in the past.

"The biggest thing is he has been the same guy from the day he got here. He wasn't trying to be anyone else. He didn't worry about how the last coach did things. He said, 'This is who I am, this is how I'm going to coach, and this is how it's going to be.' Guys respect that. He's been a straight shooter from Day 1."

Two years later, no one takes a magnifying glass to Tomlin's bio. No one questions the wisdom of hiring a guy barely six years removed from his first NFL internship. No one wonders why the Steelers would bypass longtime assistants Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm to hire an outsider.

Two years later, no one cares what the resume says.

John Romano can be reached at

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin always was impressive 01/26/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 4:13pm]
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