The Pittsburgh Steelers hired Mike Tomlin in January of 2007 to replace Bill Cowher after 15 years of success on the sideline. Cowher had replaced Chuck Noll who had spent 22 years coaching the Steelers. He was the third coach in 37 years for the black and gold and 15 seasons later, he is still patrolling the sidelines for the Steelers. Tomlin joined The Pivot Podcast on Tuesday with Ryan Clark, Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor to discuss a myriad of subjects, including his own personal coaching journey. You can watch the entire podcast here on YouTube.
Clark asked Tomlin: “And I remember when you showed up, I was like, man, this dude got a fresh edge up. He got a little baby [a]fro. I was like, this is a real brother… How does it feel, Coach, going from that to truly being the standard? When every hiring cycle, when it comes around, your name inevitably comes up, right? Because the Rooney Rule comes up and people can point to Mike Tomlin and say, well, he wasn’t the hot hire, or he wasn’t the top guy when he comes in. This is why these interviews matter. How do you feel having gone from the guy who got the job over a decade and a half ago to the person in the name and the example of what they point to?”
Tomlin has exceeded his mentor Tony Dungy and is the longest tenured African American head coach in NFL history. He paused to reflect on Clark’s question, but he delivered an answer he has obviously given a lot of thought to over the years.
Morris replaced Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay in 2009 and he went 17-31 with the Buccaneers over three seasons and was fired at the end of the 2011 season. He became the Atlanta Falcons interim coach in 2020 but was replaced after going 4-7. He was the defensive coordinator for the current Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams, but the 45-year-old coordinator has not gotten a second chance to head a team in the NFL.
“I don’t know if I identify with the example. I identify with the guy that got the job because I’m just committed to staying grounded and being me and not paying attention to the noise,” said Tomlin. “Most of the time in the hiring cycle, man, I’m thinking about coaches that I respect, that I know are deserving of an opportunity. And so, when I hear my name, I’m not thinking about the reference to me. I’m thinking about how it relates to the men that they need to be talking about, the capable dudes whose resume speak for themselves, who for whatever reason, keep coming up short or not get the opportunity to show that they wanted the best 32 in the world of what they do. Because that’s what we’re talking about, right? You talk about his football jobs in the NFL. You’re talking about some of the best 32 in the world and what you do. And I’ve been in coaching all my adult life. I’ve been in the National Football League for over 20 years. I know the coaches and I know some of the guys being denied are in the top 32.
Raheem Morris is the best coach I know and ever been around.”
“I don’t have a problem saying it. I’ve never had a problem saying that. I’ve been saying it. So, during those times, man, when they talk about me and they relate to Rooney Rule and things that I’ve done and all of that, I’m thinking about those guys, whether or not they’re going to get an opportunity to prove what I know about them.”
Tomlin’s no-nonsense approach to the coaching carousel and the seeming lack of opportunities for what he considers to be the best 32 coaches is refreshing. He relates those jobs should go to the people who have demonstrated the ability to stand in front of a football team and lead men. Tomlin is advocating for coaches to be judged on their talent. It may have been fate that he was interviewing during the Rooney family’s search for a third head coach in the Super Bowl era, but if you spend the time to watch this podcast and you have not seen Tomlin in action anywhere but a press conference or football game, you will understand what they saw in him and why his players would kill for him.
Tomlin ended his thought with:
“First of all, man, I understand criticism comes with being me and what I do, regardless of black, white or otherwise. Like when you got one or 32 jobs, there’s an intensity that comes with that. There’s a responsibility that comes with that. I know being a black guy that there’s various forms of responsibilities for me. Some of them, I’m capable of meeting some of them. Maybe I’m not. I’m certainly not going to satisfy everybody all the time and really don’t even have a desire to. For me, I got to move in a space that I’m comfortable with, and I’m going to always do that. I made that commitment to myself, then I’m going to always do that. And as long as I’m doing that, I can deal with whatever, wherever it comes from. I know my heart. I know my spirit. I know the things that are important to me. I choose to fight them when I choose to fight them on the platforms that I choose. I don’t feel the need to explain that, really, to everyone all the time.”
Tomlin does not see himself as a standard bearer, he acknowledges that he may have extra responsibility. But it doesn’t affect how he conducts business. The Steelers coach sees himself and the other coaches on his staff as 1 of 1. They are unique human beings deserving of respect, empathy and the courtesy of seeing them individually. Coach Tomlin emphatically demonstrates that while Andy Reid may be an offensive genius and Bill Belichick may be considered the best of all time by many, that Tomlin is the best leader of men in the NFL, and it really isn’t close.
What do you think, Steeler Nation? Is Mike Tomlin the best motivator in the NFL? Please comment below or on my Twitter @thebubbasq.