Tomlin was destined to be a coach
By Ken Fidlin, SUN MEDIA
TAMPA -- Early this year, running back Willie Parker griped after a game that his team had “drifted away from Pittsburgh Steeler football” because they weren’t running the ball enough.
For airing his laundry, Parker got a pointed, and public, rebuke from coach Mike Tomlin.
“Every day when I walk into our practice facility,” said the head coach, “I walk past five Lombardi Trophies. I don’t walk past five rushing titles.”
But then, a couple of days later, Tomlin appointed Parker a game captain for their next match against the Baltimore Ravens, building him back up after tearing him down.
“If he were not a football coach, he’d be a shrink,” says Steeler defensive tackle Chris Hoke.
Tomlin himself really doesn’t know what he would be if not doing what he does: coaching the Steelers and trying to win a record sixth Super Bowl for the franchise. At 36, he’s the youngest head coach ever to lead a team into a Super Bowl and coaching is the only thing he’s ever wanted to do.
At one point, when he graduated from college, he contemplated becoming a lawyer, but the thought was fleeting.
“For me, it wasn’t an option,” he said. “It was something that was talked about. It was what you were supposed to do, not what you wanted to do. And I’ve always been somebody who did what I wanted to do.”
And he wanted to coach. Truth be told, he wanted to play, but that wasn’t in the cards. So at the age of 23, he took a job coaching the wide receivers at Virginia Military Institute.
“It was pure,” he recalls. “I didn’t have anything else going on in my life, truth be known. I was single, I was broke, I didn’t have cable or long distance calling, and so there was nothing else to do other than immerse yourself in the game. I was with a bunch of guys who were like-minded, and we had a great time.”
He worked at various colleges before catching on as an assistant with the 2001 Tampa Bay Bucs. In 2006 he became the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings before being hired in 2007 to replace the legendary Bill Cowher as coach of the Stelers.
“I’ve been blessed that I have worked with some great people, people who took a stake in my development,” he said this week. “And really, I pull from all of it on a day-to-day basis – lessons learned from leadership. It’s about people. It’s about taking care of the troops. It’s about putting them first.
"I’ve learned that if you are going to lead, you try to lead with a servant’s heart. I try to do that – try to take care of my men and give them what they need to be great.”
In his first season with the Steelers, he set a “my way or the highway” course that rubbed some players the wrong way. He had rules for everything and the rules were to be followed, no argument.
But one of Tomlin’s strengths is his brutal honesty, both with himself and his players.
“At the end of the season,” he said, “I analyzed a lot of what I had done and changed some of it.”
For example, he had his team practice in pads in full contact throughout the season. This year, not so much. he ven allows some veterans to monitor their own practice particpation to keep them fresh for the weekend.
What impresses his players, is his consistent attempt to make them believe in themselves,
“My mom inspired me,” he said. “She is a special lady, she really is. "The personal sacrifices she made for my brother and me, allowed us to do what it is we desire to do. In the midst of it all, we had a tough upbringing like everybody.
"But never once did we think that there was something we couldn’t do. She trained us that way, she raised us that way. She’s as big a reason as any why I do what I do today.”