By TomE. Curran
DALLAS - We've debated all week what three Super Bowl wins before the age of 30 means to the legacy of Ben Roethlisberger. Have you noticed nobody is wondering what two Super Bowl wins before 40 would do for the legacy of Mike Tomlin? Deifying Tomlin, it appears,has not yet made it to the top of the media to-do list.
And that's too bad because people are absolutely missing the boat on what he's doing at the age of 38. In four seasons, Tomlin is 43-21 in the regular season, 5-1 in the playoffs. Since a Wild Card round loss to the Jaguars in 2007, Tomlin's coached the Steelers to five straight playoff wins. He's got a chance tomake it six on Sunday. If hedoes, he'llnot only be theyoungest coach to win a Super Bowl -- which he did in 2008, at 36 -- he'll be the youngest to win two. Chuck Noll and Don Shula both won their second Super Bowls at 44. In 2010, Tomlin's Steelers started 3-1 without Ben Roethlisberger, who was suspended for acting like an idiot. And they started that way despite having traded away their best wideout, Santonio Holmes. The Steelers finished 12-4. Yet when the Associated Press announced its NFL Coach of the Year award on Wednesday, Tomlin didn't get a single vote. Andy Reid, Mike Smith, Steve Spagnuolo and Lovie Smith all got at least one vote. None for Tomlin. It's not hard to figure why Tomlin doesn't get the credit his resume suggests he deserves. He was an out-of-nowhere candidate who'd never been a head coach at any level and was defensive coordinator for a single season in Minnesota (2006) before the Steelers hired him to succeed Bill Cowher. In doing so, they skipped past two beloved Steelers assistants, Russ Grimm and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. The perception has always been that Tomlin was a "Rooney Rule" candidate, a beneficiary of the rule named for Steelers owner Dan Rooney that says each team must interview one minority candidate for every head coaching position. So the notion is out there thatTomlingot moved to the head of the line. But Rooney himself slapped that notion down two years ago. In February of 2009, Rooneytold Newsday, "Mike Tomlin was not part of the Rooney Rule. We had already interviewed Ron Rivera (then the Bears' defensive coordinator), and so that fulfilled the obligation. We went on, had heard about Mike, called him in and talked to him. He was very impressive."Aside from Whisenhunt and Grimm leaving for Arizona, Tomlin kept the Steelers staff pretty much intact when he took over after Cowher's Steelers went 8-8 a season after a Super Bowl win in 2005. That move has ensured that the love and credit for the Steelers defensive success goes to the venerable Hall of Famer, Dick LeBeau. In the media workroom at the Super Bowl, you can find 10-foot tables stacked deep in quote sheets. Every question asked and answered during media access periods is recorded. Questions about LeBeau and his defense dwarfed the number of questions posed about Tomlin. It's funny, when it comes to the Steelers, the assistants and the owners get all the reverence. The head coach and the GM (his name is Kevin Colbert, by the way)? They get very little mention. Asked this week about working with the understated Colbert, Tomlin said, "Kevin is very easy to work with. He and I share the same attitude in that we don't care who gets the credit. We simply want to win."Winning seems a Steelers birthright, regardless of who's in charge - Noll, Cowher or Tomlin. But Tomlin did have to seize this Steelers team in fundamental ways to show a new sheriff was in town. "When Coach Tomlin first got to the Steelers, it was still a lot of Coach Cowher's guys," explained wide receiver Hines Ward. "He was very militant. He wanted to practice two-a-days, full pads, all day long. By the time we got to the playoffs to play Jacksonville, we were a beat-up team. They don't give you a book to show you how to be a head coach."Maybe not, but Tomlin - a second-team All Yankee Conference tight end by the time he graduated William & Mary in 1995 - is a quick study. Because he studies. And creates. He may be one of the most passionate and convincing motivators in the NFL. Bluntly funny in a very Parcellian way. Smart enough to keep it simple. This week, he talked about "under-the-radar" players helping the Steelers. "If you have a helmet on, you're a guy who is capable of making deciding plays," Tomlin boomed. "We don't grade on a curve. If I give any of these guys a helmet on Sunday, I expect them to potentially put themselves in position to be the reason they win. I don't think there is a man in our locker room who doesn't embrace that.""He knows how to let us motivate ourselves and be professionals," said Roethlisberger. "Even if it's just little notes. Before(Super Bowl 43), he wrote on a little card:'Terry Bradshaw - 4; Joe Montana - 4' and helisted the Super Bowls and asked,'Where do you want to fit in this group?' "Never mind where Roethlisberger fits. Shouldn't we start asking where Tomlin fits?
Tom E. Curran canbe reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran
By TomE. Curran