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Steelers' Tomlin didn't force change

TAMPA, Fla. - The new coach handbook often seems to dictate change for the sake of change.

Out with the old coordinators and playbooks, in with the new.

But Mike Tomlin, shortly after replacing Bill Cowher as the Steelers' head coach in 2007, changed very little.

"To coach Tomlin's credit, he stayed pretty much [the same]," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "Defensively, we didn't change. Offensively, we are almost the same as we were with coach Cowher. It makes evaluation a lot easier because we are finding players who fit a certain system."

Offensively, the smashmouth element representative of Cowher and Chuck Noll - the two coaches who preceded Tomlin and were responsible for five Super Bowl victories - stayed intact. Tomlin's choice of offensive coordinator? Bruce Arians, who had spent the previous three seasons as the receivers coach in an offense run by Ken Whisenhunt, now the Cardinals' head coach.

Tomlin definitely is a man comfortable in his own skin.

"I think one of the reasons that we have had consistent excellence over a long period of time in our organization is because we are under the leadership of Dan and Art Rooney," Tomlin said of the Steelers' chairman and president, respectively. "Their vision of what Steeler football is about is very clear. I think I have my job because my vision is similar to what their vision is."

That's not to say Tomlin, at 36 the youngest coach to lead a team to the Super Bowl, isn't his own man. He is, but he operates with a common-sense practicality that belies his age.

Take his decision to retain defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who at 71 has just about everything. Some would be threatened by a coach nearly 50 years older, and players figured LeBeau wouldn't stick.

"[Tomlin] wasn't a traditional 3-4 guy coming into it, so we all expected him to change the defense," linebacker James Farrior said.

But Tomlin, whose background was in the 4-3 base with a Cover 2 in the secondary and few blitzes overall, looked at what had been one of the league's best-performing defenses year after year, led by a well-respected coordinator. His determination: If it ain't broke ...

"One thing that I am is, I am sharp enough to realize when people can help me and I listen," Tomlin said. "I pride myself in trying to do that."

Tomlin is direct. He is blunt. Farrior and others described Tomlin as a "players' coach," but one not fearful of them. He learned at the feet of Tony Dungy, whom he speaks of reverentially, as a secondary coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he is not a Dungy clone. Far from it.

Take December, when running back Willie Parker was critical of the Steelers for, in his eyes, not running the ball enough.

"Every morning I come to work, I walk past five Lombardis, not five rushing titles," Tomlin said.

Parker dropped the issue.

Then there was the question during the week leading up to the AFC Championship Game that amounted to this: Players say you're a better coach this year than last. Thoughts?

"I'm not interested in evaluating my performance and, particularly, I'm not interested in my players' evaluation of my performance." Tomlin responded. "I'm paid to evaluate them."

They may not sound like the words of a players' coach, but the Steelers insist he is.

"I feel like he's definitely a players' coach," said Farrior, a 13-year veteran who, while at Virginia, actually played against Tomlin, who played at William and Mary. "He understands all the things we go through. We all love him to death. We all believe in him."

The Steelers went 10-6 in Tomlin's first season and won a division title, though players complained that their coach's decision to keep them in pads late in the season contributed to a first-round playoff exit.

Tomlin has made adjustments, but he never leaves in doubt who is in control.

"He always had that authority and that presence that this is his team," receiver Hines Ward said. "A guy comes in and you want to test him a little bit, but he held his own and here we are, in his second year, in the Super Bowl."

All of which has delighted Rooney, for whom the league's minority interview requirement is named. The Rooney Rule dictates that for all head-coaching openings, each team must interview at least one minority candidate.But here's what's interesting: The coach who might be the Rooney Rule's greatest advertisement didn't benefit from it.

"Let me say this: Mike Tomlin was not part of the Rooney Rule," Rooney said. "We had already interviewed Ron Rivera [then the Bears' defensive coordinator], and so that fulfilled the obligation," Rooney said. "We went on, had heard about Mike, called him in and talked to him. He was very impressive."


The Rooney Rule was established in 2003, named after Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who is also the chairman of the NFL's diversity committee.

The Rule requires each NFL team that has a head-coaching opening to interview at least one minority candidate. The rule was tested almost immediately in 2003 as the Lions hired Steve Mariucci without interviewing a minority candidate and were fined $200,000 by the league.

The second half of this season, after Mike Singletary replaced Mike Nolan in San Francisco, there were an all-time high seven minority coaches.

After Herm Edwards' firing in Kansas City, the number stands at six.

Related topic galleries: Multi-Sport Events, Chicago Bears, Mike Singletary, College of William and Mary, Art Rooney, Super Bowl, National Football League

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