He began by telling the crowd of family, friends and gawkerazzi that he is no different than they are -- an accurate, if incomplete, assessment.Mike Tomlin is indeed a Peninsula guy. He can navigate Mercury Boulevard and can get to Patrick Henry Mall and Darling Stadium and Paul's Deli. His deep roots here mean that he is never more than three minutes from someone he knows or someone who knows him and his family.That Tomlin is different speaks to the reason he was at the banquet lectern Thursday night at the Hampton Roads Convention Center. It's the reason he is the marquee presence this weekend at the Peninsula Youth Football Camp at Christopher Newport University.People want his autograph. They whip out cameras and camera phones to have their photos taken with him. They want to shake his hand and wish him luck.Such is life when a hard-working, fun-loving kid from Denbigh High becomes Mike Tomlin, comma, head coach of the five-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, thank you very much."The funny thing is," Tomlin said Thursday evening, "there's a perception that I left here in May of '95 when I graduated from William and Mary and this is my first time back. But I come home every year. I guess it's just more of a story this time."It's enough of a story that a couple of Pittsburgh medioids have combed the Peninsula in recent weeks for background. It's enough of a story that the NFL Network sent a camera crew to shadow Tomlin this weekend during this particular homecoming.Tomlin joked with the NFL Network crew at Thursday's banquet: "You might have to do some editing if I run into a crazy cousin or something."To watch Tomlin this weekend is to see someone completely at ease with himself and his surroundings.He exudes both joy and passion, evident in his keynote speech at the Hampton Roads Youth Foundation pre-camp banquet Thursday and with kids Friday at the camp itself.Tomlin ran around with the kids Friday, going from station to station, and offered running commentary.As the kids filed into an auditorium at CNU's Ferguson Center for a brief talk, he was at the door greeting and slapping hands, along with a stream of chatter: "Doin' alright?" "Let's go." "You havin' a good day?"He didn't talk to them about football.He talked about the importance of listening, how listening is a skill that needs to be developed, just like running a pass route.At Thursday's banquet, Tomlin told stories on himself. He credited his good fortune to a nurturing family, the toughness required to be a successful athlete on the Peninsula, and a loving God."I'm not the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers at the age of 35 just because of me," he said. "I'm not that good. Nobody's that good."Tomlin challenged those in attendance to do more to help kids.For him, youth camps and organizations such as All Pro Dad are obligation more than voluntary. Paying it forward, as he put it.He knows he has the opportunity and the platform he does because of successful African-American head coaches Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith and Herm Edwards -- "My uncles," he called them -- but he downplayed the notion of race as an overriding factor."I recognize the importance of it," he said. "African-American is what I am; coaching is what I do. They're two separate things."That said, if he inspires someone else, then all the better.Funny thing is, the person least impressed by Tomlin seems to be Tomlin. He has simply plowed ahead, listened and learned.Most important, he has been true to himself and will use all of his power to remain so. That's why he is undaunted about taking over one of the league's signature franchises and replacing a Pittsburgh icon in Bill Cowher."One thing about this business, at this level, it humbles you," he said. "We're all replaceable. In terms of replacing Bill, I wasn't concerned about that. I was just going to install the foundation of what our football is going to be about and be true to my vision."I can't be Bill Cowher. I'm not going to try to be. I'm just going to be the best that Mike Tomlin can be."Which, so far, isn't bad for an ordinary Peninsula kid.
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