Mysterious ways

One report after another attempts to nail down precisely why and how Mike Tomlin landed his coaching job with the Steelers. But it's all moot. What's important is that he did get the job. Jim Wexell explains.

I used one of my favorite coaching clichés on my seven-year-old daughter the other day. I told her that champions are made when no one is watching.

Well, she demanded an explanation and I gave her mine. I should've given her this one:

"It's cold, there's ice on the track, it's barely light out. Guys are bitching and complaining. But Tomlin's out there upbeat, saying, ‘Come on guys, let's go. You've got to soak it in.' He just loved everything about football. You don't get many like that."

That came from Matt Kelchner, a former assistant coach at the College of William & Mary, where Mike Tomlin played football. He was talking to a reporter from Tomlin's hometown paper after the Steelers had named him their new coach Monday.

By all appearances, the Steelers have gotten one like that.

By now I'm sure you're dizzy from reading the varying reports about how Tomlin came to be that coach, but the fact is it came to be.

"I know this is not my plan," Tomlin said Monday. "This is God's plan, so I find comfort in that."

So do I, because in my mind God had everything to do with it.

Don't go. Just consider Bill Cowher for a moment. Consider that he and his wife went out for a drive one day in the Raleigh countryside and talked about their retirement dreams, and a beautiful house appeared. It was for sale. Cheap. And one thing led to another.

As it stands today, I believe the Steelers are in better shape than they were the day after their 6-2 second half came to a close. On that day they had a group of players who not only had regained their confidence, they were all under contract. And they had a successful head coach and a group of assistants who were also locked up under contract. I'm sure the Steelers felt pretty good about the future.

Then came the coaching change. Then came the departure of a chunk of the coaching staff. Then came the kid coach. But the kid coach would not make excuses.

"I'm sure the recent Super Bowl success and failure that followed will make them a hungry group of men," was how Tomlin defined his 2007 goals.

But, as someone, everyone, has pointed out, Tomlin is but a babe in the woods. How can a 34-year-old with one year of experience as a coordinator be trusted to win?

"I don't characterize it as a 34-year-old coach or a 34-year-old coach with experience," Tomlin said. "I'm just a football coach."

If that isn't music to the ears of folks who pay good money to watch players and not coaches, this comment from Tomlin is:

"Coaches are overrated."

That must've been the line he used on the Rooneys to get this job. "Coaches are overrated."

It brings to mind, again, a Rooney family line that I've used repeatedly. A Rooney will bring it out when a game appears lost. "Don't worry," he'll say. "The other team has coaches too."

Sounds implausible coming from a family that's employed only two coaches from 1969 to 2006, but maybe that's the reason they don't change coaches every other year, because: "Coaches are overrated" and stability is not.

Of course, the coach must be the steward. He must foster a positive working environment. He must prepare the players to take the field, because, it is their field.

That's the reasoning one of the 1983 Raiders gave in the series "America's Game." They rejected the occasional Tom Flores play call because, "It's our field."

Marcus Allen went into more detail. "People are always giving guys credit for their Xs and Os," he said. "But being a head coach is much more than that. It's managing people."

Judging Tomlin from his introductory press conference, it's easy to believe he'll be a successful, albeit overrated, head coach. He appeared to have great skills in managing people. His former players in Minnesota provided more evidence:

"He's probably motivated this team and the guys around me more than any coach that I've been around," Darren Sharper told the Pioneer Press. "You can just tell by the results and the product of how we're playing now, as compared to how we played in the past, and it's a direct reflection of Mike Tomlin."

"I could ask questions (in 2005) and they'd have to go and talk about it," said Fred Smoot. "You ask (Tomlin) a question and he'll answer it like that (snaps fingers). He's always one step ahead. And if you're always one step ahead of your players, your players will see that and they respect that because they know you're working as hard in the office as they are on the field."

Of course, not all in Minnesota are happy for Mike Tomlin. On Saturday, when Tomlin's status was still in limbo, a Star Tribune columnist wrote the following:

"This unsightly year threatened to get uglier. The one person hired by [owner Zygi] Wilf's regime who inspired confidence and optimism appeared close to leaving the franchise," wrote Jim Souhan. "If Tomlin gets the (Steelers) job, the Vikings will have made a mistake by choosing to keep Coach Brad Childress and allowing Tomlin to leave. If Tomlin doesn't get this job, he'll probably be a top candidate next winter, at which point the Vikings will face the same choice: Keep Childress or Tomlin?"

Well, the Steelers spared the Vikings that decision.

It's not apparent how the Steelers came to their decision, whether they stumbled into it or whether God tripped them up. In my mind it only continued a creation He had started when Cowher took off for that little drive in the country with his wife. And I find comfort in that.

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