ALAN ROBINSON Associated Press PITTSBURGH -
The Pittsburgh Steelers will wait until at least Monday to announce their new coach, and might interview Chicago defensive coordinator Ron Rivera that day for a second time if the Bears lose the NFC championship game.
The Steelers declined Saturday to confirm they have chosen a coach to replace Bill Cowher, who resigned less than a year after leading the team to its first Super Bowl victory in 26 years.
Since Cowher stepped down Jan. 5, the Steelers have twice interviewed assistant head coach Russ Grimm and Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin but cannot talk again with Rivera, their third finalist, until the Bears' season has ended.
If the Bears win Sunday, the Steelers must decide whether they could afford to wait another two weeks to talk to Rivera, or if they should hire Tomlin or Grimm so they can start to reassemble their coaching staff and begin planning for the 2007 season. Rivera's first interview with the team went well and the Steelers have strongly hinted they would like to talk with him again.
SI.com, Sports Illustrated's Web site, and, later, ESPN.com, reported Saturday the Steelers have decided on Tomlin - a story that clearly caught the team off guard. Steelers owner Dan Rooney told The Associated Press he had no comment. Team president Art Rooney II, leaving the team's practice complex Saturday, said he had nothing to say.
A person with knowledge of the search denied Tomlin has been hired, telling the AP that not only has the job not been offered but there have been no contract negotiations. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Steelers do not want details of the search made public until they have made their choice.
Tomlin told ESPN the report was untrue and that he had had not spoken Saturday with the Rooneys. Later, he told Fox Sports the Steelers are weighing the decision and he hoped the various media reports wouldn't negatively influence their decision.
Tomlin, an NFL coordinator for only one season, impressed the Steelers with his desire for the job, knowledge about defense, work ethic and organizational ability during two interviews over the last two weeks. The second session, on Tuesday, lasted 3 1/2 hours.
But with the 34-year-old Tomlin not in the running for any other NFL head coaching jobs, it would be uncharacteristic for the Steelers - a team that never rushes into any important decision - to hire him without giving Rivera another interview.
However, the Steelers have not promised Rivera a second interview, and have said only that they would choose their coach when they were certain they had found their man.
If Tomlin is the choice, it would be a major disappointment for Grimm, who nearly got the Bears job himself three years ago. He said last week he was certain he was ready to be a head coach, and felt his six-hour interview Wednesday went very well.
Dan Rooney and director of football operations Kevin Colbert also seemed upbeat and positive following Grimm's second interview.
Hiring Tomlin as only the third Steelers coach in 38 years, and the first black head coach in their 74-year-history, most likely would mean major changes in a team that is only a season removed from winning the Super Bowl.
Tomlin coaches the 4-3 defense, and the Steelers have long been the NFL's strong proponent of the 3-4 defense. In recent seasons, they signed defensive ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel to long-term contracts partly because of their ability to fit into the 3-4. Also, the 4-3 might not be a good fit for All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.
The Steelers also have most of their assistant coaches under contract for next season, and a new head coach probably would want to bring in some of his own coaches.
Last season, Tomlin's first as Minnesota's defensive coordinator, the Vikings were eighth in the league in yardage allowed and first in fewest rushing yards allowed. On Dec. 10, they held Detroit to minus-3 yards rushing, the NFL's lowest total in 45 years.
There would be one coincidence if Tomlin is hired - he is the same age Cowher was when the Steelers chose him in 1992. At the time, Cowher also was an NFL defensive assistant coach who wasn't yet a big name.
Tomlin was a Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant for five years before being hired by Minnesota.
Ken Whisenhunt, initially thought to be the front-runner for the Steelers' job, was hired by the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday. He did not wait to see if the Steelers would make him an offer.