Tomlin's Star Rising

Whether a first step or a legitimate shot at becoming one of the NFL's 32 head coaches, Mike Tomlin is quickly becoming a buzz phrase around the big tables of the league. Much like political novices were unaware of Barack Obama before he become the golden child of the Democrats, Tomlin has become a hot coaching property -- with Miami and Atlanta already expressing an interest.

When asked earlier this week if assistant coach Mike Tomlin was in the running for a head coaching job, Vikings head coach Brad Childress gave an interesting answer. The question was posed in the form of vacancies in the college ranks. This was Childress' response.

"For college jobs?" Childress asked in reply. "Not to my knowledge, no. As a matter of fact, Mike and I had a good talk this (Tuesday)morning. Mike is a very, very, very good football coach. Usually along your career path somewhere back when you start as a graduate assistant, you want to be a full-time position coach and it just usually keeps getting higher and longer. Somewhere on that is the head coaching phase, and obviously he is doing a great job and climbing up the ladder. I think it's probably inevitable that that will end up happening."

Whether Childress would have been more forthcoming if the question had been phrased to include NFL head coaching positions, the fact is that Tomlin is in the running for the Dolphins and Falcons head coaching vacancies. In Miami's case, the new coach will be the second head coach in three years after Nick Saban played "Deal or No Deal" with the University of Alabama.

The Dolphins organization, which is rightfully stunned that its head coach would bolt the NFL for the college ranks, interviewed Jim Mora Jr. Friday. Mora, many have speculated, sealed his own fate with the Falcons when he "joked" that he would leave the NFL for a dream job at the University of Washington. A VU source close to the Dolphins told us Friday that part of Mora's interview specifically addressed that comment. Once bitten, twice shy.

The Dolphins have received permission to talk to six coaches – Tomlin, Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey, Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Ron Turner, Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. The team has also interviewed two in-house candidates with head coaching experience – Dom Capers and Mike Mullarkey. Many within the Dolphins organization are already familiar with Tomlin, since he interviewed for Saban's defensive coordinator position after he was hired in 2005. He has been described in the Miami media as "a rising star in the coaching ranks."

Tomlin's name has also come up in discussion for the Falcons head coaching job that opened when Mora was fired. With the resignation of Bill Cowher and the firing of Art Shell, there are currently five head coaching positions open.

While it would be a blow to the Vikings to lose Tomlin, who helped turn the Vikings defense that had routinely been in the bottom half-dozen of the league into the 8th-rated defense in 2006, any opportunity he could have to become a head coach would be an accomplishment. However, the numbers may be against him.

The NFL talks a good game when it comes to "minority hires." The sad reality is that, despite a work force that is predominantly African American, the only place where blacks are viewed as a minority is in the ranks of owners, top team executives and head coaches. In 2003, Lions general manager Matt Millen was fined $200,000 for hiring Steve Mariucci as head coach without interviewing "minority" candidates, which apparently include all non-Caucasians. The Lions countered that the organization attempted to interview five minorities, including former Vikings coach Dennis Green, but all declined.

Whether Tomlin is simply being used by the Dolphins to fulfill a mandated requirement is uncertain. But, current head coaches like Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith and Romeo Crennel had to endure the same process. Over the last couple of seasons, Mike Singletary has been an assistant coach mentioned in head coach discussions. The process of getting interviews is a first step in getting one's foot in the door in the most elite of NFL fraternities. The Vikings may want to take this development to heart. They may not lose Tomlin this year, but the time is coming …perhaps sooner than anyone at Winter Park would prefer. Success dictates a step up. Brian Billick got the chance. So did Dungy. Both have excelled. Tomlin may be the next in line.

* Matt Birk won the 2006 Vikings Ed Block Courage Award, given annually for the last 29 years and selected by teammates for a player that displays commitment to the principles of courage and sportsmanship, while serving as an inspiration in the locker room. Ironically, last year's Vikings recipient of the award was Koren Robinson, who, at the time, had beaten his demons with alcohol. Birk came back this season after a slew of injuries hampered his 2004-05 seasons. Before the 2005 season, Birk said he would forego surgery if the Vikings would guarantee his 2006 salary. The organization declined, but Birk proved through rehabilitation and play on the field why he embodied the spirt of the Ed Block Courage Award.
* Three weeks from today will be the anniversary of when Chuck Noll was hired as the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 27, 1969. That was six months before man first landed on the Moon. At the time, Noll was the youngest NFL coach in history at 37 years of age. In 1992, the Steelers hired the youngest coach in NFL history by tabbing 34-year-old Bill Cowher as its head coach. In just three weeks shy of 38 years, the Steelers have had just two head coaches. Of all the sports records that exist, that mark – considering the era in which it happened – may never be touched again. Even considering the long tenure of Hall of Famer Bud Grant, the Vikings have had seven coaches (Grant twice) in that same span, which should lend some belief that, at some point, Cowher will join Noll and Grant in the Hall.
* Reports earlier this week had the Seahawks close to signing Marcus Robinson. Apparently, that won't happen. On Friday, the Seahawks promoted rookie wide receiver Ben Obomanu from the practice squad and released veteran tight end Itula Mili. Robinson came into the conversation for the Seahawks because wide receiver Darrell Jackson has a strained toe ligament and hasn't practice all week. The Seahawks play the Cowboys in the late game today.
* Dave Atkins, who coached with the Vikings from 1997-99, was one four Browns assistant coaches fired as the team does a coaching staff blood letting. Atkins was the Browns' running backs coach.
* If Tomlin is hired to coach the Dolphins, he will have to deal with ghosts of the team's undefeated season. Many of the Dolphins aren't any too happy that Saban bailed on the franchise. Former Dolphins safety Dick Anderson was quoted as saying of Saban's exodus from Miami, "My comment is kick Saban to the curb and move on." That can logically be interpreted that Saban is no longer in line to get the Anderson Christmas letter.

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