Super Bowl: Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin follows quick path to success

Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin holds the AFC Championship trophy after his team beat the New York Jets to gain another trip to the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin holds the AFC Championship trophy after his team beat the New York Jets to gain another trip to the Super Bowl. (Gene J. Puskar/associated Press)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 3, 2011; 12:11 AM

DALLAS - In his senior year at Denbigh High in Newport News, Va., Mike Tomlin wasn't voted the school's best athlete, wasn't the big man on campus. Tomlin was voted most likely to succeed, and it might've been the easiest call anyone at Denbigh had to make.

This weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers' 38-year-old head coach will try to become the 13th coach in NFL history to win at least two Super Bowl rings. His path to the top of his profession was a quick one, but growing up around Newport News, you had to be fast to gain anyone's attention.

"That area has always had a lot of good players," said Jimmye Laycock, the longtime head coach at William & Mary. "But traditionally, it has not been known for the best students. That's why with Mike, being as good as he was and as smart as he was, we jumped on and recruited him so hard."

Tomlin's roots are deep in the Hampton Roads area, where shipyards and the military tie together much of the community. Born in Hampton, Tomlin was raised by his mother, followed his older brother's steps to the football field and soaked in everything around him.

"It's made me who I am today," Tomlin said. "I appreciate the experiences that I had growing up. Not all positive, but it didn't kill me so it made me stronger. I'm very appreciative and proud of where I'm from."

He remembers attending football camps and learning from area coaches who did more than blow a whistle, guys such as Matt Boone, John Quillen, Curt Newsome and Tommy Reamon.

"We come from an area that's steeped in football tradition, led by men who are stand-up guys and many of the reasons why I wanted to get in this profession," Tomlin said.

Laycock said Tomlin was a formidable receiver who wasn't getting a lot of attention from Division I schools.

"Mike was a very smart football player when he played here," Laycock said. "Very competitive when he played, but also very enthusiastic and very positive. Those are things that have carried over into his coaching. I remember that all the time, when he was a player, he was always upbeat, always pushing the guys around him but doing it in a fun-loving way."

Tomlin's Steelers players praise him as a motivator. He strikes a balance between being stoic and buoyant, quickly shifting one way or the other depending on the situation.

"He knows how to push buttons," said nose tackle Chris Hoke. "He knows how to get us focused and get us going. He has a certain message for every week, and he pounds that message in every single day."

Says defensive end Brett Keisel: "He understands the makeup of this team, and I think that's what great coaches do. When it's time to push us, he pushes us. When it's time to pull the reins back, he pulls the reins back. That's the makeup of a great coach, understanding your players."

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