Steelers name Tomlin

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 22, 2007

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin didn’t realistically expect to become the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coach so early in his career, with so little experience as an NFL coordinator and at such a young age.

He knew it, too, although the 34-year-old Vikings defensive coordinator was excited when the Steelers called two weeks ago and offered an interview. In Tomlin’s mind, jobs like this go to Hall of Fame-caliber coaches.

“I’m somewhat of a football historian, and I’ve got a great deal of respect for those who came before me,” Tomlin said Monday after being hired for the job formerly held by Bill Cowher and, before him, Chuck Noll.

“I’m going to try my best to provide a shoulder for those who come after me to stand on,” he said.

That calm self-assurance, strong personality, and a preference for Steelers-style basics — a strong running game and a nasty defense — persuaded Pittsburgh to offer him a four-year contract worth about $2.5 million annually. Tomlin is the 16th coach in the franchise’s 74-year history and its first black head coach.

“I’m still coming to grips with what that means,” Tomlin said.

Not many Steelers fans knew much about Tomlin before Cowher resigned Jan. 5 — and, in a rare bit of candor by team president Art Rooney II, the Steelers say they didn’t, either. But Tomlin quickly convinced them during a pair of three-hour interviews he was ready for the job.

During those interviews, Rooney couldn’t help but be reminded how another 34-year-old coordinator with similarly thin experience convinced the Steelers in 1992 he was ready to be an NFL head coach.

“I hate to make comparisons with Bill Cowher, but there were some similarities,” Rooney said. “It’s fair to say that when we looked at a guy who was 34, we said that this guy is down our list. He was probably a long shot when we began the discussions.”

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