ALAN ROBINSON Associated Press PITTSBURGH -
When the Pittsburgh Steelers began identifying possible successors to former coach Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin's name wasn't high on the list.
"He probably was a long shot," team president Art Rooney II said.
Tomlin wasn't very old - 34, the same age as some of their players. He had been the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator for only one season, so he didn't have a track record of assembling good units year after year.
Once it came time for interviews, though, all that didn't matter. According to Rooney, "We knew we had somebody special."
Now, Tomlin is only the third Steelers head coach in 38 years - a successor to one Super Bowl-winning coach, Cowher, who followed another in Chuck Noll. Tomlin will be reminded of that each day as he walks by the five Super Bowl trophies that are displayed at the team's practice complex.
"It is purely motivation," said Tomlin, the first black coach in the franchise's 74-year history. "All you want as a coach is to be part of something special. It's obvious that what's been done here is special."
It's not coincidental the Steelers and Tomlin each think they've hit onto something unique. The Steelers rarely change head coaches, so Tomlin knows one bad loss or one bad season won't cost him his job. Not that he wants to find out.
The Steelers also think they've hired an on-the-rise coach at the right time, as they did with Noll in 1969 and Cowher in 1992. Everywhere Tomlin has coached, be it at tiny VMI or with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coaches and players have raved about his personality, motivation and preparation.
"He's a good coach, a great communicator and now he'll have a chance to show what he can do," said Colts coach Tony Dungy, who first brought Tomlin into the NFL in 2001. "I'm really excited for him."
Tomlin already knows what he has to do in Pittsburgh: win, and right now. As Rooney said, "We think we have a team here that can win immediately."
Tomlin's situation is much different from when Noll and Cowher each took over following a number of losing seasons. These Steelers are 34-14 over the last three seasons, are only a year removed from winning the Super Bowl and will retain most of their core players.
"I've been hired to do a job here and I intend to do it at a high level," Tomlin said Monday.
Despite some similarities between the two in age and approach, the Steelers tried to avoid comparing Tomlin to Cowher - if only because Cowher chose to leave them and might be coaching another team a year from now. Cowher also was much brasher at his introductory news conference than the more humble Tomlin was.
Still, the Steelers are certain they've found a coach who, like Cowher was in 1992, isn't that much older than his players but will have no problem leading them.
"The more we talked with him, the more comfortable we got with him," Rooney said. "You just think this is a person that can get up in front of a team and get his message across."
One of Tomlin's initial tasks was to allay fears that he will arbitrarily scrap the Steelers' long-preferred 3-4 defense for his preferred 4-3, a scheme seemingly not well-suited for their personnel.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau - at 69, more than twice Tomlin's age - will be retained, and Tomlin said the Steelers will use a variety of defensive fronts and alignments.
"Xs and Os can be overrated at times," he said. "We will be fundamentalists in our approach and we will put guys in position to execute and execute at a high level."
The Vikings' defense was eighth in yards allowed this season, just ahead of No. 9 Pittsburgh, and gave up the fewest yards rushing. However, that may have been the byproduct of them tying with Cincinnati for the most passing yards allowed.
Offensively, Tomlin intends to lean on a strong running game - even though, as a former wide receiver at William & Mary, he grew up loving the passing game.
"Personality as a coach and personality as a player are different things," he said.
Tomlin was hired following a weekend of conflicting reports in which he was identified by several Web sites as the next coach even before he was offered the job. A Pittsburgh newspaper also ran a Page 1 headline Sunday that assistant head coach Russ Grimm, not Tomlin, would be the next coach.
Steelers owner Dan Rooney was unhappy with suggestions the team led Grimm to believe he would be the coach, then changed its mind and went with Tomlin.
"They were ... saying we were dishonest," Rooney said in an impromptu interview following Tomlin's news conference. "Our integrity means more than anything to us. It means more than anything."