Steelers decide on Tomlin
CHICAGO - The Steelers have again tapped a 34-year-old NFL defensive coordinator to be their head coach.
Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin has seemingly come out of nowhere to land the Steelers' job, just as Bill Cowher did in 1992.
Tomlin, who becomes the team's first African-American head coach, beat out Steelers offensive line/assistant head coach Russ Grimm for the position that became available when Cowher resigned Jan. 5 after 15 seasons. Kevin Colbert, the Steelers director of football operations, began phoning players Sunday night and informing them the team had hired Tomlin.
Alan Faneca, one of the team's offensive captains, confirmed that Colbert had called him with news of Tomlin's hiring, but the All-Pro guard declined further comment.
The Steelers declined to comment last night about their coaching situation.
The decision caps a wild weekend for Tomlin and Grimm.
On Saturday, ESPN and Sports Illustrated's Web site, SI.com, reported that Tomlin would take over the top coaching job. At the same time, a source familiar with the negotiations between Grimm and the team told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Grimm was offered the job, accepted, and would resolve the contractual details yesterday.
Steelers chairman Dan Rooney promptly denied the reports of Tomlin's hiring Saturday. So did Tomlin, who told ESPN: "It is untrue. I have no idea where it's coming from. I have not talked to the Rooneys today."
An NFL source also confirmed Saturday that Tomlin had not received an offer from the Steelers and that no contract negotiations had taken place between the two. And, early yesterday, a source close to Tomlin reiterated to the Trib that the Vikings coach had not been extended an offer.
Yet by late afternoon, word re-emerged that Tomlin - not Grimm - indeed had been hired.
It was not immediately clear whether the Steelers rescinded an earlier offer made to Grimm or, in fact, had never extended one. A team spokesman declined to comment, and Grimm could not be reached for comment.
According to an NFL source, the Steelers and Tomlin started negotiations on a contract yesterday afternoon. The contract is believed to be at four years for $2.5 million a year.
Even before Cowher officially resigned, the Steelers' players had said they wanted one of the team's two in-house candidates, Grimm and former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, to get the job if Cowher left.
Grimm had appeared to be the favorite to succeed Cowher after the Steelers let Whisenhunt take the Arizona Cardinals' head-coaching job without making him an offer.
The team interviewed both Tomlin and Grimm a second time last week. A third finalist, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, did not get a chance to have a second interview. NFL rules prohibited the Steelers from officially talking to Rivera again - they met with him Jan. 7 in Chicago - until the Bears' season is over.
The Bears beat the New Orleans Saints yesterday in the NFC Championship Game.
After Chicago advanced to the Super Bowl, which will be held Feb. 4, Rivera said he understood the Steelers making a hire before talking to him again.
"I know they've got to make a decision," Rivera said after the Bears beat the Saints, 39-14. "I know it's a great opportunity, but I've got a chance to go to the Super Bowl right now and whatever happens, happens."
Tomlin, who becomes the league's sixth African-American head coach, spent just one year as a defensive coordinator before becoming only the Steelers' third head coach since 1969. The Vikings finished eighth in the NFL in total defense, though tied for last in pass defense, in Tomlin's only season in Minnesota.
Prior to running the Vikings' defense, Tomlin coached the secondary in Tampa Bay for five seasons.
Tomlin stamped himself as a rising young star in the coaching ranks while with Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers finished no worse than sixth in the NFL in pass defense during Tomlin's time in Tampa, and he learned the Cover-2 defense under Tony Dungy.
Tomlin's hiring casts some doubt on whether Dick LeBeau will stay on as the Steelers' defensive coordinator.
LeBeau runs a 3-4 defense that is predicated on blitzing from anywhere and everywhere; Tomlin employed a 4-3 alignment with the Vikings this past season.
After his second interview with the Steelers on Jan. 16, Tomlin told reporters he does not so much subscribe to a certain scheme as much as he does the philosophy that stopping the run and running the ball are two of the biggest keys to winning.
Tomlin played wide receiver at William & Mary from 1990-94 and then went into coaching. The Hampton, Va., native made stops at several smaller schools before landing at the University of Cincinnati in 1999. After two seasons as the Bearcats' defensive backs coach, Tomlin joined Dungy's staff in Tampa Bay.
Tomlin could make major changes to a team that won the Super Bowl less than a year ago but is coming off a disappointing 8-8 season.
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