SI.com's Michael Silver is reporting that the Steelers have chosen current Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin as their next head coach. Silver said an official announcment would be made later Saturday or Sunday.
Tomlin beat out the heavily-favored Russ Grimm and Bears D-Coordinator Ron Rivera for the prestigious post. He becomes just the third Steeler head coach in the last 38 years.
I have to admit, I was shocked when I heard the news. I've already debated what was the bigger upset: Tomlin getting the Steeler job or Don Barden winning the slots license. In both cases, I would say the winners were heavy underdogs.
Throughout the season, the general consensus was that Ken Whisenhunt was the logical successor. And if Wiz was #1, Grimm was 1A. There were persistent rumors that the Steelers were waiting for the Bears' elimination to hand the job to Rivera, which now looks like nothing more than that- a rumor. ESPN's John Clayton had all but given the job to Grimm this week. In retrospect, if the Tomlin choice is true, I would believe that the Steelers deserve serious points in the poker face department.
Tomlin employs a 4-3, Tampa Cover-2 style defense, which flies directly in the face of the 3-4 that the Steelers have favored in the Cowher era. He learned under Tony Dungy, Rod Marinelli, and Monte Kiffin while with the Bucs. So expect some major changes on defense in the near future, both in scheme and personnel.
Why Tomlin, you ask? I've asked myself that question, and here are a few possible reasons:
--Establish a completely new identity and shed any remnants of the shadow of Cowher. Hiring Grimm likely would have been more of the same kind of football, probably with many of the same players. Perhaps the Steelers felt, like many, that their roster underachieved in 2006 and needed a shakeup. Hiring an "outside" coach with completely different philosophies means a new chapter in the history of the franchise.
--The Rooney Rule. It's one thing to be the face of the rule and call out other teams for not hiring minorities. But when the primary proponent of the rule actually practices what he preaches, that certainly makes a bold statement.
--Age. Tomlin is just 34 years old. The NFL has become a young man's league. We've all heard the stories about how Jon Gruden wakes up at 3:17 AM after a 19-hour day. You need energy to coach in this league, and lots of it. How well is Joe Gibbs doing these days? How about Bill Parcells? Coincidence? I think not.
If you plan on hiring a guy who you would like to have around for 10-15 years (as the Steelers undoubtedly are hoping for), this is the age you shoot for. Think about it: Grimm is 47, Rivera is 45, Chan Gailey is 55. And how old was Bill Cowher when he was hired? 35.
--Appearance. Don't BS yourself. It matters in EVERYTHING, including the NFL. To coach in the NFL, you need a certain polish, you need to look good, and you need to sound good. Unless you're Bill Belichick. But I guess after you've won three Super Bowls you can pretty much make your own rules. Anyway, compare the two interview photos:
Which one makes the better appearance to you? The formal, suit-and-tie look, or the casual, guys-hanging-out look? Tomlin looks like he's making an effort to impress his potential new boss. Grimm dressed as though the process is a mere formality because he feels he has the inside track.
And before you brush off appearance as a non-factor, consider the fact that Charlie Weis went to the extent of having gastric bypass surgery in 2002 to lose weight. He'll say it was for health reasons, as I'm sure it was...but did you see him getting any major head coaching jobs before that drastic measure?
--When you're considering a job of this magnitude, everything is looked at under a microscope. Hence the six-hour second interview for a man who's been on staff since 2000. I could be totally off base, as my last name is not Rooney and I did not sit in on any interview, but that's why I call these "possible reasons". They're just educated guesses.
I can only trust that the family responsible for five Lombardi trophies has made the right choice. Best of luck to Mike Tomlin. Let's start a new, winning era as soon as possible.
ESPN.com is reporting that the Steelers have not yet made up their mind, and refused further comment. More news will be posted as it trickles in.
Tomlin is the man. Looks like the Trib's story about Russ Grimm getting the job never happened.
For more information on Tomlin, check out these sites: