Tony Dungy learned his craft playing for the Steelers in the 1970s and as the NFL's youngest defensive coordinator in the 1980s. What developed from that was the famed Tampa Bay Cover-2 defense, which right now has helped Dungy's Indianapolis Colts reach the AFC championship game.
Yesterday, Steelers officials interviewed a devotee of that defense who possibly could be their next head coach. Mike Tomlin learned it at the knee of Dungy, who learned it at the knee of Chuck Noll and his defensive staff.
"If you listen to coach Dungy, he'll remind you of that," Tomlin said after he finished his second interview with the Steelers, which lasted about 3 1/2 hours and stretched into the early evening. "A lot of people refer to it as Tampa 2, and he's always one to cite his sources. He reminds you of that."
Tomlin was the first of three finalists interviewed for the second time. Next up: Russ Grimm, the Steelers' assistant head coach and offensive line coach. He will have his second interview today. Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, the other finalist, cannot be interviewed again until his team's season ends, either Sunday or in the Super Bowl Feb. 4.
Wholesale changes could be made to a team 11 months removed from a Super Bowl championship if Tomlin is hired as its head coach.
Tomlin has coached the 4-3 defense in Minnesota, relying heavily on that Cover-2 philosophy he learned under Dungy at Tampa Bay. The Steelers have run the 3-4 defense since 1983, when Chuck Noll abandoned the four-man front that became famous as the Steel Curtain in the 1970s.
Bill Cowher kept the 3-4, although in a different form, after he was hired as coach in 1992.
"I think it would be premature for me to comment specifically on personnel or personnel issues. I'd like to get the job first," Tomlin said.
But he did say he's not tied to one defense, that he prefers to put the players in whatever system he feels best suits them.
"I'm a fundamentalist as opposed to scheme. I think football is a tough-man's game, it's an attrition game. You win by stopping the run and being able to run the ball effectively-- and doing the things winners do, being a detailed-oriented football team, playing with great passion and executing."
It's unknown what would become of someone such as defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Steelers' zone-blitz impresario, under a Tomlin regime.
All the Steelers' assistant coaches are under contract, and many of them likely would remain in place if Grimm were hired. Tomlin, though, might want to bring his own coaches with him.