On Saturday, VU got word that Mike Tomlin was heading out of Minnesota to be the new head coach of the Steelers. It has been reported from such from sources at SI.com and ESPN. But a published report in a Pittsburgh newspaper has the job being offered (and accepted) by in-house candidate Russ Grimm.
The saga of Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers continues to be a story in flux. While VU has been told that Tomlin will be hired and both Sports Illustrated and ESPN are reporting that hiring is official, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper is reporting in this morning’s edition that Russ Grimm has been offered and accepted the job – leaving questions unanswered.
The Steelers haven’t made an official announcement and Tomlin has gone out of his way to deny reports of his hiring, but the announcement as to who is replacing Bill Cowher, who resigned earlier this month, is coming within the next 24 to 48 hours.
Tomlin, who won’t turn 35 until March, was viewed by many as an underdog for the position. Part of that was due to his relative lack of experience – having spent just one year as a defensive coordinator after spending five years as a position coach with the Buccaneers. The other perceived red flag was Tomlin’s basic coaching philosophy. He is a disciple of the Cover-2 defense, which requires a four-man defensive line as its base set. The Steelers have run a 3-4 offense for 25 years – the longest current streak among NFL teams using that base defensive set.
If he gets the job, Tomlin follows in the footsteps of a pair of Steelers greats. While many teams have gone through multiple coaches since just the turn of the century, the Steelers have had just two coaches in the last 38 years – Chuck Noll and Cowher. To put that in perspective, Noll was the coach before Tomlin was alive and has had just one successor. Both Noll and Cowher were the youngest coaches in the NFL when they were hired and, currently at age 34, Tomlin would become the youngest head coach and the sixth African-American coach in the NFL if his named is called Sunday or Monday.
One thing that became clear during the interview process was that the Steelers were extremely impressed with his intelligence, organization and people skills. While Grimm, the incumbent offensive coordinator, was viewed by most as the front runner and spent six hours this week with the Rooney family discussing the job, the decision on who is the final choice remains a question. In the Tribune-Review story, a writer cites unnamed sources from Pittsburgh (not necessarily a current member of the Steelers front office) in citing that Grimm has been offered a deal and accepted it. There had been no outward discussion of any contract negotiations between the Steelers and Tomlin prior to the conflicting stories coming out late Saturday.
Tomlin’s rise to the top has been impressive and extremely fast. When Brad Childress took over as Vikings head coach, he fired his staff over the phone after landing Tomlin one day after his Bucs lost in the playoffs a year ago. It was hoped Tomlin would be a long-term solution to the revolving door the Vikings have at defensive coordinator -- six defensive coordinators in the last seven years. But, it became apparent when Tomlin’s name surfaced in coaching vacancies with the Dolphins and Falcons that his time as a coordinator were going to be short-lived, whether it be the Steelers vacancy or ones that will become open in the next year or two.
The Steelers organization remains tight-lipped about the signing, but a press conference is likely going to be scheduled for Monday. Tomlin was one of the few bright spots for a disappointing Vikings team in 2006. A defense that had routinely been in the bottom third of the NFL and often in the bottom half-dozen defensively, Tomlin got them to No. 8 in defensive ranking this year and first against the run.
So we all play the waiting game and see whose sources are passing along the correct information and which coach will end up being hired to become the next in the legacy of Steelers head coaches.