Steelers' Tomlin set for first minicamp
By Scott Brown
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Where: Steelers' South Side practice facility
Notable: Teams will practice for the first time under new coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers will practice twice on Friday and Saturday and once Sunday.
A pair of sunglasses hung from the top button of his shirt, adding to the relaxed feel at the sprawling resort where the NFL owners' meetings were held in late March.
The Camelback Mountains, which tower over the cactuses and palm trees that dot Phoenix, provided a fitting backdrop as Mike Tomlin ate breakfast and chatted with reporters.
More than two months into his job, the Steelers' coach was still being asked about climbing to the peak of his profession.
Did the self-admitted "dreamer" think he'd get an NFL head coaching job? Does he consider himself a trailblazer? Was he surprised he got the Steelers job?
The answers, in short order, were yes, no and yeah, maybe a little.
Not that Tomlin has had time to ponder the significance of his hiring.
In no particular order, he has assembled a coaching staff, relocated his family to Pittsburgh, celebrated his 35th birthday and undoubtedly become glassy-eyed from watching game tapes of his own players and ones the Steelers are interested in drafting.
On Friday, he'll take his most significant step to date with the Steelers, as the team opens minicamp.
To understand how Tomlin got to this point, it's worth reflecting on his life.
One play that still stands out early in his career at William & Mary College is one the former wide receiver didn't make: a catch that would have gone for a touchdown.
"That was the first time I felt the gravity of letting people down, and I didn't like it," Tomlin said. "That's kind of how I developed a work ethic in regards to ball, my outlook in terms of team."
That outlook was perhaps the most profound change Tomlin went through early in his career.
Years later, he would tell a former teammate that he "felt sorry" for the upperclassmen because he wasn't as prepared as he should have been the first season he played.
What he learned about the importance of accountability not only shaped him as a player, but also stayed with him as a coach.
"Like all athletes, I said the right thing, but at the end of the day, I was probably selfish," Tomlin said. "There were some people there that were truly unselfish people, people that showed me what it was about, knowing that if they did that, I'd probably take their spot.
"That was awesome, humbling to me and, along the way, made me appreciate stuff like that, understand what true team ball is about."
It showed, particularly during subsequent offseason workouts, as Matt Kelchner, who recruited Tomlin, recalled.
The players would gather at the school track to run, and it was early enough that darkness and cold weather generally prevailed.
Yet there was Tomlin, Kelchner said, all but waving pompoms as he exhorted his teammates with equal parts cheer and effort.
He'll reprise that role in a sense during the first of two minicamps the Steelers will have -- albeit on a much larger stage.
It probably seems like just yesterday that Tomlin flew into Pittsburgh to be introduced as the new Steelers coach -- and quickly found out that his life had changed dramatically.
As his car sped toward the South Side and his first news conference, Tomlin noticed a sign on a building that welcomed him to Pittsburgh. That "rocked" him.
"You hear about the relationship this city has with this organization, but until you're part of it, you really don't know," Tomlin said. "There's nothing that can prepare you for it. It's awesome."
Tomlin says he can't go out in public without being approached by someone.
He doesn't mind the attention, though, acknowledging that it's part of the deal that comes with coaching the Steelers.
He's smart enough to know that he's warmly greeted on the streets or in restaurants in part because he has yet to lose a game.
But he's also confident that he can handle the high expectations because he doesn't like losing any more than he did touchdown passes.
"It was pretty clear early on that he was going to do special things," said Tony Dungy, who hired Tomlin to coach the secondary in Tampa Bay in 2001, even though he had never met him before the interview process. "He had the great gift to be able to talk to rookies, to Pro Bowl guys. He wasn't intimidated by anything in the NFL, and he just had this passion in his personality that got his point across."