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  1. #1
    singersp's Avatar
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    Mike Tomlin: Ahead of the class

    Posted on Sun, Aug. 13, 2006

    [size=16pt]Ahead of the class[/size]

    Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin is young, passionate and is taking the fast track to success.

    Pioneer Press

    MANKATO, Minn. — As his red Ford Focus idled in the parking lot of a west side Cleveland high school, Mike Tomlin called the University of Cincinnati coaches' secretary to check his messages.

    Although another local prep player beckoned during the frantic 2001 college football recruiting season, Tomlin needed to ensure no high school coaches or parents were trying to contact him with questions or concerns.

    So Tomlin ignored the secretary when she told him Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had called for him.

    "I said, 'Yeah, I'll call him back. I'll get the number later,' thinking it's one of my buddies playing a joke," Tomlin said.

    Tomlin bolted to a few more schools before heading back to his hotel in Berea, Ohio, around 4 p.m. Once again, with his first reprieve of his hectic day, Tomlin contacted the coaches' secretary.

    This time, she said, Monte Kiffin, the Buccaneers' defensive coordinator, called for him.

    Perplexed, Tomlin asked for the number.

    "I'm like, 813? That's Florida," Tomlin said of the area code. "I was like, this is legitimate or someone is playing an intricate joke. Needless to say, I get in touch with Monte. I listened to Monte for 10 minutes, and it went from there."

    As a teenager, Tomlin dreamed of becoming the coach at his alma mater, Denbigh High School, in Newport News, Va. About a decade later, while he was an assistant coach at Arkansas State in the late 1990s, Tomlin dreamed of walking into a high school wearing the sweater of a big-time college football program.

    Today, Mike Tomlin, 34, is the NFL's youngest defensive coordinator, and he is projected to become a head coach in the league.

    He has absolutely no idea how he got here.

    "I'm not going to kid," Tomlin said. "I'd like to tell you that I had some crystal ball in terms of what I'd do professionally. Really, I can say that I've had fun at every job I've had, and I've enjoyed being at that place at that time. When you work like that, you don't spend a lot of time thinking about your next move."

    Ed Tomlin summed up his younger brother's career more bluntly.

    "I joke with him about being the Forrest Gump of coaching because he seems to have stumbled upon some tremendous opportunities," said Ed Tomlin, an entrepreneur in Bowie, Md. "These things just don't happen. One year, he's sleeping in the military dorm at VMI, coaching for nothing. And a few years later, he's playing a significant role on the biggest stage in sports. That's just crazy."


    A three-year starter at receiver, Tomlin finished his playing career in 1994 at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., with 101 catches for 2,053 yards and 20 touchdowns. After brief stops at Virginia Military Institute, the University of Memphis and Tennessee-Martin, Tomlin accepted a position as receivers coach at Arkansas State in 1997.

    The offensive coordinator, Randy Fichtner, immediately challenged him.

    "He was a ridiculous a.m. worker," Tomlin said. "He really got me to punch the clock."

    Inclined to sleep in as late as possible, Tomlin started meeting with Fichtner at 4:45 most mornings. But Tomlin reveled in the sessions because Fichtner, who had coached at Purdue, taught him the intricacies of the passing game.

    Then coach Joe Hollis, who had been an assistant coach at Ohio State, recognized Tomlin's passion for learning the craft of coaching. In his spare time, Tomlin studied film and talked to any coach who visited the campus.

    "If we had coaches come by, whether they were successful high school coaches or college coaches, offense or defense, he would take notes," said Hollis, now the football coach and athletics director at Florence (Ala.) High School. "He lived in the defensive film room. I'm sure his wife was left alone."

    After his first season at Arkansas State, Tomlin switched from receivers to defensive backs coach, and he realized his potential.

    "Randy and Joe had come from Big Ten schools, and they were very supportive and made me comfortable with the fact that I was capable of doing some great things professionally," Tomlin said. "So that's probably when I started dreaming."

    As the defensive backs coach at Cincinnati on Rick Minter's staff, Tomlin learned to be resourceful and open-minded. In 2000, the Bearcats ranked eighth in the nation in interceptions, and four of Tomlin's defensive backs were drafted by NFL teams.

    The Bearcats' coach for 10 seasons, Minter also had been the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame when the Fighting Irish ranked fourth and second in 1992 and 1993.

    "He just has it," said Minter, who again is Notre Dame's defensive coordinator. "People ask, 'What is it?' I don't know. But he has it."


    During the 2001 NFL offseason, the New York Jets hired Herman Edwards, the Buccaneers' assistant head coach/defensive backs coach, as their head coach. Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin immediately contacted some of his peers to identify candidates to take over his talented and experienced secondary.

    "We researched and researched and interviewed people," Kiffin said. "All of a sudden, an assistant coach at Duke (Denny Creehan) told us there was a real good secondary coach at the University of Cincinnati. It just so happened that the head coach there, Rick Minter, was a friend of mine."

    When he got Minter on the phone, Kiffin said, "Tell me about this Mike Tomlin."

    "He said, 'Uh oh. How'd you hear about him?' "

    Kiffin also talked to coaches at Arkansas State and William & Mary.

    "I kept hearing the same good things. But at the same time, I thought, 'He's (28) years old,' " Kiffin recalled.

    Before agreeing to fly to Tampa for an interview, Tomlin wanted assurances from Kiffin and Dungy that he wasn't going to get a "courtesy" interview, especially because opportunities at other major colleges were developing for him.

    "I just wanted to make sure I had an opportunity to compete," Tomlin said.

    In doing his research, though, Tomlin made an important discovery: Dungy was a defensive backs coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers by 26 and a coordinator by 28.

    "I felt pretty good about that," Tomlin said.

    Still, Tomlin figured he was overmatched for the job. His peers had told him that two or three interviews are necessary before landing a job in the NFL.

    "So I really went into the interview extremely loose. I said, 'Hey, I want to make this difficult on them,' " Tomlin said. "Again, it was a Forrest Gump moment. 'Oh, let me go down and interview with these guys.' Probably in the back of mind, I didn't think I was going to get the job."

    In fact, Tomlin didn't even tell his wife, Kiya, who was visiting her family in New Jersey.

    In Tampa, Dungy and Kiffin took Tomlin onto a practice field to gauge his football IQ.

    "I said, 'Whoa.' He reminded me of Pete Carroll, when he was with me at Arkansas (1977)," Kiffin recalled of Carroll, now the coach at Southern California. "I felt that about Mike Tomlin."

    Although Tomlin's resume wasn't long, Dungy was impressed that the young coach had helped develop NFL players at Cincinnati. The resume "doesn't have to be deep. It just has to be good," said Dungy, now the coach of the Indianapolis Colts. "We had had a lot of college coaches come in and have success. We were looking for teachers."

    Still, Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber recalled healthy skepticism from his veteran unit, especially Pro Bowl safety John Lynch. Not only was he close to Edwards, Lynch was about six months older than Tomlin.

    "I remember the first day in there, everybody was like, 'What's he going to tell me? He was a receiver at William & Mary and a DB coach at Cincinnati?' " Barber said.

    But Barber said the players' attitudes changed when they noticed their technique improving, their attention to detail heightening.

    "The proof is in the pudding, and it started to show up on the field with everybody," Barber said. "And his personality started to rub off on all the players. I had a career year that year. I attribute where I am now to him coming in here and reinventing our secondary, and once we bought into it, we had a whole lot of success."

    In his second season, the Bucs' passing defense was No. 1 in the NFL, allowing just 155.6 yards a game, and his secondary intercepted four of Rich Gannon's five passes, including two that were returned for touchdowns in the Bucs' Super Bowl XXXVII victory.

    In Tomlin's five seasons in Tampa, the Bucs' pass defense ranked sixth or higher, and twice finished the season at No. 1.

    "He definitely improved what Herm left, and that's nothing against Herm," Barber said. "Mike approached the game in a different way. Just the way he prepared us. Not just mentally. But the way he was hands-on with us on the practice field. That's what set us apart.

    "I don't think it's a coincidence that when he came in, I started making Pro Bowls."


    When he accepted the Vikings' coaching position, Brad Childress knew who he wanted to be his defensive coordinator. After some fierce coaching battles against Kiffin and Tomlin, Childress wanted to install the Bucs' cover 2 defense.

    But history is not on their side; the Vikings' defense has ranked no higher than 21st the past seven seasons, and the pass defense has been among the NFL's worst over the past decade.

    Tomlin, though, has shrugged off such questions, embracing the lessons he learned from two of the great defensive minds in football.

    He learned from Dungy the value of tempering one's emotions through a football season.

    "He was the same guy every day," Tomlin said. "Good game, bad game. Good practice, bad practice. The NFL season is a marathon, and if you ride the emotional roller coaster, you'll end up face down in this thing."

    Although Tomlin is the youngest defensive coordinator in the NFL, Kiffin said Tomlin was ready a year ago, when he interviewed for the same position on Nick Saban's staff with the Miami Dolphins.

    Kiffin and Dungy believe before long Tomlin will become an NFL head coach.

    "He understands the game," Dungy said. "He knows what it's all about, (and) he's been under some very good defensive people.... Really, it's his ability to communicate. It's not what you know, it's what you can get across to the players. He has that special ability."

    Dungy projects Tomlin will be a head coach in seven or eight years.

    But Tomlin will not stray from the mind-set that got him here.

    "It's elevator music to me. I hear it. But I don't," Tomlin said of the head coach talk. "That's the way I've got to live my life. I'm having a ball.

    "I'm a defensive coordinator in the National Football League. Are you kidding me?" he said. "I'm going to dwell in this. I'm going to enjoy this. When and if that opportunity presents itself, then hopefully things I will have done will make me prepared."

    Sean Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

    "If at first you don't succeed, parachuting is not for you"

  2. #2
    jdvike's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Tomlin: Ahead of the class

    Good read...maybe Tomlin will be the guy that puts this good talent "on paper" into reality

  3. #3
    Mr. Purple's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Tomlin: Ahead of the class

    Tomlin was my favorite offseason addition.I think hes gonna make alot of critics shut up about our defensive questions.If we can get this defense anywhere near Tampa's D, I'll sh*t my pants.PLUS! hes from New Port News Virgina, the home town of my favorite NBA short man...ALLEN IVERSON!

    Theres NOTHING greater then a Florida Gator!
    "I promise everyone this. When Childress is let go in two years I can honestly say this.
    "I am not surprised"."-PurplePackerEater

  4. #4
    Bdubya is offline Star Spokesman
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    Re: Mike Tomlin: Ahead of the class

    The only thing that bums me out is that if he does REALLY good, we won't be able to keep him for long.
    I have high hopes for the defense this year though and a lot of that has to do with hiim.
    MC's run away when I kick it
    They act so chicken, they should come with a large drink and a biscuit

  5. #5
    marshallvike's Avatar
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    Naperville, IL

    Re: Mike Tomlin: Ahead of the class

    "Bdubya" wrote:
    The only thing that bums me out is that if he does REALLY good, we won't be able to keep him for long.
    I have high hopes for the defense this year though and a lot of that has to do with hiim.
    great story. i hope he can work some of that magic with us.

    [Dungy projects Tomlin will be a head coach in seven or eight years.]

    seven or eight years should be long enough
    Why must you defend everything this FO the point of making your self look like a yes man.

  6. #6
    Vikes_King's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Tomlin: Ahead of the class

    "I'm a defensive coordinator in the National Football League. Are you kidding me?" he said. "I'm going to dwell in this. I'm going to enjoy this. When and if that opportunity presents itself, then hopefully things I will have done will make me prepared."

    very good to hear that kind of thing being said, this guy actually has his head in the right place

    good read, i really hope he lives up to everyone's comments

    "We’ll win our own Super Bowl, with our own players. Real Vikings. Something Brett Favre can never be."

    - Dan Calabrese

  7. #7
    VikesfaninWis's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Tomlin: Ahead of the class

    I have to admit, after reading that article, I look at Mike Tomlin in a whole new way.. As I said before, my brother is a huge Tampa fan, and he even said that the Vikes defense will be easily in the top 10 by adding Tomlin as the DC..

    I can't wait to see him in action with the defense.. I honestly think that the Vikes defense will be awesome this season..

  8. #8
    ItalianStallion's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Tomlin: Ahead of the class

    Maybe he'll actually teach our linebackers how to use their talent, unlike Cottrell.

    I m like a Ja Rule poster, cause I'm off the wall.

  9. #9
    thevikingfan's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Tomlin: Ahead of the class

    D did an awesome job tonight 5 sacks 2 interceptions fumble thats 8 turnovers in the first game.If steven (butter fingers) jackson didnt
    drop tarvarises pass we would have had a td and won

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