Steelers hire Tomlin; LeBeau to stay D-coordinator

Updated: January 23, 2007, 2:36 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

PITTSBURGH-- Mike Tomlin, the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator, was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers -- the first black head coach in the team's 74-year history.

Mike Tomlin: Coaching Highlights
Mike Tomlin
NFL:
• 2006: Defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings.

• 2001-2005: Defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

NCAA:
• 1999-2000: Defensive backs coach at Cincinnati.

• 1998: Defensive backs coach at Arkansas State.

• 1997: Wide receivers coach at Arkansas State.

• 1996: Graduate assistant at Memphis.

• 1995: Wide receivers coach at Virginia Military Institute.

Tomlin accepted the job Sunday night and the hiring was announced Monday, with Tomlin expected to make about $2.5 million a year under a four-year contract. He is the Steelers' third coach in 38 years, following Chuck Noll (23 seasons) and Bill Cowher (15 seasons).

Tomlin, an NFL coordinator for only one season, acknowledged it was difficult not to be overwhelmed with the opportunity to coach what he called "one of the storied franchises in sports."

"I'm still coming to grips with what that means," said Tomlin, who, like Cowher in 1992, will be about the same age as some of his players. "But I am what I am as coach -- I don't call myself a 34-year-old coach or an experienced coach, I'm a football coach."

Tomlin was chosen by the Steelers on the same day two black coaches made the Super Bowl for the first time: Lovie Smith in Chicago and Tony Dungy in Indianapolis. Tomlin was once an assistant under Dungy at Tampa Bay, and he got the call from Steelers president Art Rooney II while watching the NFL conference championship games Sunday.

"He's a good coach, a great communicator and now he'll have a chance to show what he can do," Dungy said Monday.

Tomlin also might have benefited from the NFL's so-called Rooney Rule. Steelers owner Dan Rooney successfully lobbied in 2002 for a rule that requires all NFL teams to interview minority candidates for coaching jobs.

After a successful first season as Minnesota's defensive coordinator, Tomlin's name was one of about a dozen on a list of qualified minority candidates given to Rooney at a mid-December meeting in New York. Rooney is the chairman of the NFL's committee on workplace diversity.

The intent of the Rooney Rule was to give coaches such as Tomlin a forum to display their credentials. Tomlin was chosen largely because of the motivation, enthusiasm and organizational skills he showed in two strong interviews with Rooney, Art Rooney II and director of football operations Kevin Colbert.

Michael Smith: Steelers Got It Right
Michael Smith
While it is indeed fitting that Dan Rooney, who has been at the forefront of the league's movement to increase minority hiring, did his part to raise the number of active black coaches (to six), Rooney's obligation was not to make a social statement but to make the best decision for the franchise.

Coincidentally, the best choice is the first black coach in team history. Column

• Jemele Hill: Tomlin a symbol of progress
• Pasquarelli: Hiring could bring changes
• Mike & Mike audio: Tomlin talks about his rise from college coach to the NFL and the ideas and philosophy he'll bring to Pittsburgh. Listen Insider

"He wants to play the kind of football the Pittsburgh Steelers want to play," Art Rooney II said of Tomlin's focus on stopping the run, running the ball well and playing physical defense. "He wants to play the kind of football Steelers fans have come to appreciate."

Tomlin's hiring completed a 2½-week search in which he initially was considered an unlikely choice behind perceived front-runners Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm, but Whisenhunt later accepted the Arizona Cardinals' job.

In fact, locally there was confusion on a par with "Dewey Defeats Truman" when a front-page headline in Sunday's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review declared Grimm would be announced Monday as the Steelers' coach.

Steelers owner Dan Rooney strongly denied suggestions that the team told Grimm he would succeed Cowher, then changed its mind and hired Tomlin. He also denied anyone in the organization told Grimm he would be the coach.

"They were ... saying we were dishonest," Rooney said in an impromptu interview following Tomlin's news conference Monday. "Our integrity means more than anything to us. It means more than anything."

Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, the other finalist with Grimm and Tomlin, did not get a second interview because the Steelers would have had to wait until Feb. 5 to meet with him again. Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, recommended by Cowher, also didn't get a second interview.

Tomlin will be the fourth consecutive Steelers coach who was a defensive assistant coach in his 30s with another team before being hired. Bill Austin was 37 when he was chosen in 1966, as was Chuck Noll in 1969. Cowher was 34 in 1992.

What could be tricky is assimilating Tomlin's preference for the 4-3 defense into a Steelers system that has been built around the 3-4 since 1983. The Steelers have fitted their roster with players suited for the 3-4, such as All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu and Pro Bowl nose guard Casey Hampton.

Elias Says
Mike Tomlin, 34, became the youngest head coach in the NFL when the Steelers announced his hiring on Monday; in fact, he became the youngest NFL head-coaching hire since the Raiders named Jon Gruden as their head coach at age 34 in 1998. Tomlin, in turn, is about two months younger than Eric Mangini was when he was named the Jets' head coach last January.

But Tomlin's status as the league's youngest head coach will apparently not last long; the Raiders are going to name 31-year-old Lane Kiffin as their head coach on Tuesday.

• Read more Elias Says.

Tomlin said he wouldn't rush to install the 4-3 and will retain defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, a proponent of the 3-4 and zone blitzing schemes. Instead, Tomlin plans to match his defenses to the skills of the players he has -- and he is not yet ready to say which defense that will be.

"You've got to be flexible and do what your guys do well," he said.

Tomlin also likes the so-called Tampa 2 cover scheme popularized by Dungy and assistant Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay, one that had its roots in Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s -- a defense that played a 4-3. Dungy played on one of those four Steelers Super Bowl-winning teams.

Still, Tomlin's hiring likely will bring a shakeup in the Steelers' coaching staff less than a year after they won the Super Bowl. Grimm almost certainly won't return after being passed over. But Tomlin isn't ready to reveal any staff changes, saying he will begin to work on his staff when he travels to Mobile, Ala., on Tuesday to scout Senior Bowl players.

One Steelers assistant already knows Tomlin: linebackers coach Keith Butler coached with him at Memphis and Arkansas State.

Tomlin, from Hampton, Va., was a wide receiver at William & Mary, where he caught 20 touchdown passes during his career. He got his first coaching job at VMI under coach Bill Stewart, who was impressed by his demeanor as a William & Mary player. Tomlin later coached at Memphis, Tennessee-Martin, Arkansas State and Cincinnati before being hired as a Tampa Bay assistant.

Tomlin's defense in Minnesota was best in the NFL against the run in 2006, allowing just 61.6 yards per game, but tied with Cincinnati for last against the pass, allowing 238.6 yards per game through the air.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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