Mike Tomlin isn’t one for big, declarative statements. He’s an in-the-moment guy, not someone who reflects heavily on past accomplishments. But pressed to name the top three defensive players he’s ever coached, Troy Polamalu easily made Tomlin’s list.
Tomlin joined Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden on their CBS Podcast All Things Covered for a great discussion about some of the best defenses – and defenders – Tomlin has ever been around. Here’s his top three.
“Troy. Brooks. And then it gets tough, man. I might have to go Warren Sapp, #99,” Tomlin said.
He explained why those were his top three.
“But you talk about Troy and Brooks, you’re talking about first ballot Hall of Famers. You talk about Warren Sapp, you’re talking a second ballot Hall of Famer. It’s tough to argue against some of those guys. Just the routine freakish things that I saw from those guys the years that I worked with them really make them a cut above. And that’s the reason why they wear the gold jackets in the manner which they wear the gold jackets in terms of early enshrinement.”
Tomlin coached Brooks and Sapp while serving as the DBs coach in Tampa Bay from 2001-2005. That 2002 team won the Super Bowl, led by one of the better defenses of the century. That unit ranked #1 in points allowed, yards allowed, interceptions, and top five in every rushing category. Sapp was second on the team with 7.5 sacks while Brooks led the team with 118 tackles and picked off five passes.
Tomlin of course coached Polamalu once the Steelers hired him as their head coach in 2007. They won one Super Bowl together and went to another. In that Lombardi-winning 2008 season, Polamalu intercepted seven passes as the Steelers’ defense – like Tampa’s – finished first in the majority of categories.
Pressed again, Tomlin made it clear he wasn’t ranking Brooks or Polamalu ahead of one another. Consider them 1A and 1B on his list. No matter who you put in first place, both players were undoubtedly among the best at what they did and the reason why they were immediately enshrined into Canton.