By Terry Shropshire
It is a fantastic twist of irony that Mike Tomlin, the history-making coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was hired by the legendary Rooney ownership family. Already the youngest coach to ever win a Super Bowl, he is now the only coach under age 40 to take his team to the NFL championship game twice.
Also, Tomlin is only the second person to take his team the Super Bowl twice in his first four seasons, joining Washington Redskins legendary coach Dan Gibbs.
But Tomlin’s best attribute as a coach and as a sports figure is this: he is not a product of “The Rooney Rule.”
To recap, the Rooney Rule was established to ensure that African Americans were given mandatory interview opportunities for head coaching vacancies in the NFL. But the Rooney family, who spearheaded the rule, had already interviewed a black coaching prospect to fulfill the rule requirement. Only after this did Tomlin enter the picture and blow away the prospective field of coaching replacements for retiring Super Bowl winner Bill Cower.
So, even though he was hired by the Rooney family, he is not a “Rooney Rule” baby. No one can ever say that Tomlin got this great gig because of affirmative action. He was superior to his counterparts and the Rooney family were open-minded enough to see it and embrace it.
The Steelers hired Tomlin in 2007, said Steelers president Art Rooney II, because “Tomlin’s just the kind of person that can stand up in front of a room and keep their attention for a whole season. That’s the key to it. He was just a special person,” he told ESPN after Tomlin led the Steelers past the New York Jets on Sunday, Jan. 23 for the AFC Conference championship.
Added team chairman Dan Rooney: “It was just him. When we talked to him we just realized he was the best.”
Tomlin cemented his reputation this season after making taking his team to their 8th Super Bowl appearance, tying them with Dallas for the most all time. He was dealing with could have been insurmountable obstacles. The quarterback who spearheaded the Steelers two previous Super Bowl trips, Ben Rothlesburger, was suspended for the first four games of the season for that infamous sexual assault case in a Georgia college town that nearly went to trial. Yet, the Steelers nearly went 4-0 without “Big Ben” using their second, third and fourth-string quarterbacks. Only a late touchdown in the closing seconds by the Baltimore Ravens prevented them from being unblemished in Rothlesburger’s absence.
And that‘s why Art Rooney added this: “He deserves to be coach of the year, as far as I’m concerned. He overcame a lot. He stuck with it the whole time. I’m proud of him.”