Logic says Mike Tomlin won't be the Pittsburgh Steelers' next head coach. The competition is too imposing.
Tomlin, the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator and a Peninsula native, punts logic -- with plenty of hang time.
"I don't prepare for failure," he said sternly, "but at the same time I don't fear it."
Failure? Isn't that a mite harsh, Coach? After all, you're 34 and just completed your first season as an NFL coordinator. The Steelers and Miami Dolphins, your other suitor this offseason, are the first teams to approach you about assuming the Big Chair.
So isn't some patience in order? Guys such as Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy, among the best and brightest, waited far longer for their first head-coaching gigs.
Tomlin laughed. Clearly patience is not in his DNA.
"That's just how I'm wired," he said. "That's probably how a lot of coaches are wired."
Hey, maybe Tomlin's right. Just look at where impatience has taken this graduate of Denbigh High and William and Mary: from grunt assistant jobs at VMI and Arkansas State to a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a coordinator position at Minnesota and interviews with two of the sport's most storied franchises.
Tomlin impressed Miami brass before the team narrowed its options to Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, former Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora and former Alabama coach Mike Shula, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. But Tomlin is among three finalists for the Steelers' job and met with their search committee for a second time Tuesday.
Pittsburgh's other finalists are Steelers offensive-line coach Russ Grimm and Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. Grimm is universally considered the likely choice.
And why not? The guy's as Pittsburgh as Iron City draft and even looks like a union stalwart from the mill. He grew up less than an hour from Pittsburgh, in Scottdale, Pa., and the stadium at his high school bears his name. He played at the University of Pittsburgh, was a Pro Bowl lineman for the Washington Redskins and has been a Steelers assistant coach since 2001.
Regardless of such competition, Tomlin considers himself "absolutely" ready for head-coaching's responsibilities, headaches and tax brackets. Yes, he realizes he'd become the NFL's youngest big whistle, but he also knows that last year the New York Jets hired Eric Mangini, then 34 and a first-year coordinator. Under Mangini, the Jets improved from 4-12 to 10-6 and made the playoffs.
"This is a people business," Tomlin said. "You gotta have the ability to relate to, and instruct and lead players and coaches. ... I feel totally comfortable with that. Football is what I do. I do it innately."
Tomlin coached Tampa Bay's secondary for five seasons, first under Dungy and then Jon Gruden. The Bucs won the Super Bowl in January 2003, as Tomlin became a protege of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, renowned for his zone pass coverages.
The next step for Tomlin was a coordinator's position, and he took it last year, joining the staff of new Vikings coach Brad Childress. Minnesota finished 6-10 this season but ranked eighth among the NFL's 32 teams in total defense.
"It wasn't as big an adjustment as one might think," Tomlin said of overseeing a defense. "I've done it so many times in my mind that it really was fun. In just about every aspect it was what I thought it was going to be."
Interviewing for a head-coaching job is another story. Nothing prepared Tomlin for the battery of questions, especially when they were fired by the likes of Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga and Steelers president Art Rooney II.
There's a certain symmetry to Tomlin meeting with Pittsburgh. Rooney was among the chief architects of the NFL policy -- the so-called "Rooney rule" -- requiring franchises to interview minority candidates for head-coaching vacancies.
"I recognize that I'm a beneficiary of labor performed by those who came before me," Tomlin said. "Guys like Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith, Herm Edwards, Marvin Lewis. ... I understand where I might fit in the food chain, but the reality is we're all just coaches and we have the same aspirations -- to advance professionally and pursue championships."
Like all vocations, coaching is littered with Peter Principle examples. But spend any time with Tomlin, listen to his ideas, and you just get a sense that he has "it."
"My feet are firmly planted on the ground," Tomlin said. "It's a learning process, and I'm going through it. It's been a humbling experience. ... I'm a competitor, like everyone else in this business. If my opportunity doesn't come this year then something out there better awaits me. And I can accept that."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times