Mike Tomlin became the NFL's youngest defensive coordinator last season when he took the reigns of the Minnesota Vikings. He'd coached defensive backs at Tampa Bay from 2001 to 2005. The Bucs won the Super Bowl following the 2002 season and the defensive backs had five interceptions and returned three for touchdowns. Tomlin got his start coaching wide receivers at Virginia Military Institute (1995). He was a three-year starting wide receiver at William & Mary (1992-94), where he caught 101 passes for 2,046 yards with a school-record 20 touchdown catches. Here's Tomlin's interview Tuesday:
Let me start by saying it's an honor to be back. It's been a positive experience in every way, and just continue on with the process and I'll answer any questions that you might have at this time.
Usually, the longer the better for the interviewee, right?
I guess that's a way of looking at it. Whatever it takes for them to get to know what I stand for as a coach, I'm willing to do.
Would you call yourself a coaching disciple of Tony Dungy?
What's the short version of that?
I'm a fundamentalist as opposed to scheme. I think that football is a tough man's game. It's an attrition game. You win by stopping the run and being able to run the ball effectively, and doing the thing that winners do: Being a detail-oriented football team, playing with great passion, and executing.
Did being part of a winner [at Tampa Bay] change you either personally or philosophically?
I think it always does. You don't know until you're a part of it. Once you do, you realize what it takes to be special. People can tell you, but until you're a part of it you don't know. I think I was changed forever.
Are you a devotee of Tony's Cover-2?
Yes, but I also believe that part of coaching is being able to do what your guys do and do well. I think that you have to be flexible in that regard and I've always taken that approach.
At 34, you're young, but Bill Cowher was hired at 34. Do you take solace in that?
Those that support me make sure that I understand that. But they're looking for a football coach. That's what I consider myself. My age is my age. They don't put an asterisk by the wins and losses on Sunday. You go out and play to win.
If you were to get the job over the in-house candidate, who stands for continuity, would you take it as a mandate to come in and do it your way and make a lot of changes as you saw fit?
I think regardless of who they hire to be the head coach, they expect them to lead, and part of leading is being prepared to do things that you feel strongly about. So I'm no different than anyone else in that regard.
Coach, you're deeper into the process. What's it mean now?
Again, it's humbling. These are great football people. I've got a great deal of respect for what they do and what they've done. It's just a very humbling experience to be involved in, but at the same time professional football is what I do and I'm a competitor like everyone else.
Mike, they've run the 3-4 here a long time. Would you want to change it?
I think it'd be premature for me to comment specifically on personnel and personnel issues. I'd like to get the job first.
You started as an offensive guy. How'd you make the transfer over to the defensive side of the ball?
I think that any coach likes to have the opinion that he can evaluate the game from a 22 [player] standpoint. Offense was my comfort zone as a player. I think it's lent itself for me to be effective in a lot of ways defensively, so I'm very comfortable from a coach's standpoint on the defensive side of the ball.
Do you appreciate the fact that Tony's defense came from his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Absolutely, and if you listen to Coach Dungy he'll remind you of that. A lot of people refer to it as Tampa 2, and he's always one to cite his sources, so he reminds you of that.
What have you learned most from him?
Not necessarily what you do, from an X's and O's standpoint, but how you do it: What playing winning football is about, not only inside the white lines but outside the white lines; you know, playing the game with honor and integrity.
How prepared are you for the off-the-field coaching duties?
Coaches in a lot of ways -- whether you're a head coach, a coordinator, a position coach -- you're somewhat of a life coach. You have to be prepared to do the things that come with the job. If you're going to instruct men inside the white lines, you've got to understand how what outside the white lines affects what they do. You've got to be willing to wear different hats. That's just part of the profession and I understand that as a head coach you'll be dealing with more people, but the reality is that's what we do.
Are you comfortable in this setting of talking to the media?
Have you done a lot of media at your other stops?
I have. I've been blessed to work for coaches that challenge assistants in that way and took a lot of personal pride in our growth and development from that standpoint. I owe that to Coach [Jon] Gruden and Coach Dungy. They gave you opportunities to speak to people.
What's the difference between this interview and the first one with the Steelers?
It's more of the same. I'm sure that they have questions in regards to me and what I'm about, and I'm just continuing to gather information about what they're about.
Tim Yotter, of VikingsUpdate.com, on Mike Tomlin:
Mike Tomlin is well-versed in the Tampa-2 defense and did very nice job installing it quickly in Minnesota. It was a completely new defense for all the players involved and they all adapted quickly. He turned the 21st-ranked defense into the eighth-ranked defense in his first year here. That included the anomaly of having the top-ranked rushing defense in the league to go with a pass defense that was tied for 32nd in the league. They really lacked a pass rush, which killed the pass stats, along with the fact that teams mostly declined to try running against them in the second half of the season and threw the ball 40-50 times per game.
Tomlin is a very energetic guy who knows how to inspire his players and get them to play for him. He's got a good personality to go with the players and interviewing would be a big strength of his. The only two downfalls I see to him is that he was viewed as slow to adjust since teams were obviously committed to passing on them and he is pretty young, which didn't stop Pittsburgh with Cowher. However, with only one year as a coordinator, he might need another for seasoning. That said, I'm convinced he'll be a head coach in the next three years, if not this year. He just has a very magnetic personality.