Mike Tomlin is a man to be reckoned with
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin surveyed the monstrous dimensions of Cowboys Stadium.
"I imagined there is some legitimate engineering going on here," said Tomlin, a man who has constructed an impressive NFL head coaching resume' at a tender age.
Two years ago, Tomlin at the age of 36, became the youngest head coach in NFL history to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory. Now, just two years later, he is back in the big game, a second chance at a championship in a sport where many coaches who are much older than Tomlin, never get the opportunity to grab the brass ring.
"I really can't put into words how humbling it is, how blessed I feel to be in this position," Tomlin said. "It's something that I of course don't take lightly. I think about the number of coaches that I really admire and look up to that haven't been given this opportunity, it's really humbling."
Tomlin's rise to prominence has been meteoric. Just ten years before he got the Steelers top job, he was a graduate assistant coach at the University of Memphis. Five years later, he was defensive backs coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he spent five seasons and earned his first Super Bowl ring. He became Vikings defensive coordinator in 2006 and was hired as Pittsburgh's head coach the following season. He landed all of the NFL jobs despite being considered a long shot in every case because of his age.
"I like the feeling of being uncomfortable," Tomlin said. "All competitors do. I love the feeling of uneasiness of addressing a challenge or new opportunities. It was that. Transition is never easy, and I didn't expect it to be. But I enjoyed it, if that makes sense to you. We're all looking to grow and challenge ourselves. No question, this opportunity was a challenging one."
Tomlin had the luxury of taking over a winning program, succeeding Bill Cowher, who left on his own volition, resigning after a 15-year successful run with the club to spend more time with his family.
"The opportunity that I had was different than most. Most of the time you get head coaching opportunities because of miserable failure. And change was necessary. That wasn't the case in Pittsburgh."
At first glance, Tomlin, who never played in the NFL, looks like he could put on the pads and suit up with the team. He was younger than some of the players he coached in Minnesota and is not much older than many of the current veteran Steelers. But there is no question about who is in charge.
"I'm 31 and he's 38," said Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El. "But I think one of the biggest things in playing with coach Tomlin, he's one of the guys you wanna play for. He comes and sits down in the locker room. It's like you have a mutual respect that this man has authority over you but at the same time, it's not like he's abusing anything like that."
"He comes in and puts things in order like they need to be in order for your team to win. A lot of times you don't want to do certain things, when you have a coach like him you don't have a problem going in and doing the things that he wants you to do because of his approach to the game and always having us well prepared."
"I impose my will on them and I make them feel like it was their idea," Tomlin laughed. "That's my job."
Tomlin gives much of the credit for his success to his high school football coaches who helped him navigate some tough waters as he grew up in Newport News, Virginia, which has been plagued by violence.
"We're from an area where the high school coaches are held in such high regard not only as leaders of men but as pillars of the community. Guys that you want to grow up to be like."
"Where I'm from is where I'm from. It's made me who I am today. I appreciate the experiences that I had growing up, not all positive. But it didn't kill me but it made me stronger."
Tomlin continues a Pittsburgh tradition of young head coaches. Cowher was hired at 34 and Chuck Noll at 37. Cowher won a Super Bowl. Noll won 4. Tomlin has a chance at a second well before he turns 40.
"It's awesome, it really is. It's humbling, it's inspiring, it motivates you. It's all those things. I think fortunately for us, we have what you can't buy, which is legacy, which is unbelievable standard and expectation and all those great things."
Mike Tomlin will patrol the sidelines in an NFL championship game for the second time in three years on Sunday. He has been comfortable dealing with all of the hype in Dallas this week.
"It actually feels familiar which is great," Tomlin said. "I'd like to get used to this. I'd like to get better at it. I'd like to perfect it."