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Mike Tomlin: A Legacy of Leadership, Diversity, and Community Impact

Mike Tomlin's life changed in 2007 when the Pittsburgh Steelers front office hired him to replace the Hall of Famer Bill Cowher as head coach of the legendary football franchise.


Jan. 5 2024, Updated 1:00 p.m. ET

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Tomlin was only 34, and the pressure of coaching a team two years after their last Super Bowl win was high.

Many believed that Tomlin's hire resulted from the NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one person of color for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. Tomlin was the tenth Black coach in history to coach a team and the first in the Steelers franchise, which only fueled those assumptions that the Rooney Rule was in effect.

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However, Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the man after whom the rule is named, revealed Tomlin's hire didn't happen because of the policy since he interviewed another person of color before him. Regardless, Tomlin wouldn't let a new rule dictate his success in the NFL.

For Tomlin and the Steelers, the hire couldn't have been a better move for both sides. In his second season, Tomlin became the youngest head coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl when his team achieved the coveted feat. He almost won it all again in his fourth season, losing to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLIII.

If that weren't enough, Tomlin also won three divisional titles in four years and had a winning season in his first 16 years as a head coach in the league, and he's currently in his 17th season.

The 51-year-old established himself as a formidable leader for the Steelers as he extended the franchise's storied legacy with his brand of football rooted in discipline and camaraderie. That astute football mentality came from his humble roots in his hometown of Virginia, where he was a wide receiver and tight end at the College of William & Mary.

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He would go on to earn a second-team All-Yankee Conference selection in 1994 and kicked off his coaching career as a wide receiver coach at the Virginia Military Institute the following year. Over the next seven years, Tomlin would work on several coaching staffs across the college circuit in schools such as the University of Memphis, Arkansas State, and the University of Cincinnati.

Tomlin's coaching journey saw him traverse various levels of the game, honing his skills and taking in knowledge from seasoned mentors. His tenure as a defensive back and wide receiver coach in the NCAA led to him becoming an assistant coach in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings.

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He eventually landed his current job with the Steelers and would be known as one of the best coaches in the league. Tomlin has led his team to seven AFC North titles, ten playoff appearances, two trips to the Super Bowl, had 73 players make the Pro Bowl, and broke various team records.

While accolades and victories adorn his illustrious career, Tomlin's legacy goes beyond the field. In February 2013, Tomlin and his wife Kiya were recognized by the Chuck Cooper Foundation with the Career Achievement in Leadership Diversity and Community Service Award. He is also a fierce advocate of the annual ManUp Pittsburgh conference, which encourages men to be better fathers and role models.

Tomlin's impact on the sport, the players he's coached, and the principles he instills are just a tiny piece of his massive influence on football and his community. In an era where Black faces are rarely seen on coaching staffs, Mike Tomlin stands tall as a beacon of stability and excellence.

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