Pittsburgh Steelers HC Mike Tomlin was a guest on the most recent edition of The Pivot Podcast with Ryan Clark, Channing Crowder, and Fred Taylor and spoke on various topics regarding the hiring of Brian Flores, life without QB Ben Roethlisberger for the upcoming season, and the standard of winning Super Bowls for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
When Ryan Clark asked Tomlin about his hiring process nearly 15 years ago when he became the Steelers head coach in 2007 and how he has changed from the guy who wasn’t the “hot name” to the guy who is now “the example” of what an NFL coach should be, Tomlin expressed genuine humility despite his success as a head coach in the National Football League.
“I don’t know if I identify with the example,” Tomlin responded to Clark on The Pivot which also aired live on the show’s YouTube Channel. “I identify with the guy that got the job because I’m just committed to staying grounded and being me and not paying attention to the noise. Most of the time in the hiring cycle, I’m thinking of the coaches that I respect that deserve an opportunity. So, when I hear my name, I’m not thinking about the reference to me. I’m thinking about it relates to the men they need to be talking about.”
Tomlin fully understands the process of trying to break in the NFL, which is no small feat for anyone, let alone a person of minority status when the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to hire him back in 2007. Tomlin initially was considered an unlikely choice behind perceived front-runners Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm, but Whisenhunt later accepted the Arizona Cardinals’ job. Tomlin received the opportunity to interview with the Steelers in-part thanks to the Rooney Rule along with his qualities and experience as a football coach. The rule was developed by former Steelers owner Dan Rooney to include more qualified minorities in the hiring process who may have been overlooked at the time for coaching and front office positions.
Tomlin’s response speaks to his character and the humility he has for the position he holds. Often times the NFL is often characterized with the acronym “Not For Long”, meaning that it is a business where careers are extremely volatile given the nature of needing to win and win consistently to keep one’s job. Tomlin has done that during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, making it to two Super Bowls (winning one) and managing to never post a losing season in 15 years at the helm of the team.
Still, despite all his success on the field, he understands the difficulty of getting one’s foot in the door and will associate and advocate for those that he feels are more than qualified to be one of the 32 head coaches in the league.
“I know the coaches,” Tomlin continued. “I know that some of the guys being denied are in the top 32. Raheem Morris is the best coach that I know and have been around that don’t have a head job. I don’t have a problem saying it, and I have never had a problem saying it. I’ve been saying it. So, during those times when they are talking about me and are relating the Rooney Rule and the things that I’ve done and all of that, I’m thinking about those guys and whether or not they are going to get an opportunity to prove what I know about them.”
Tomlin directly called out Raheem Morris, current Los Angeles Rams Defensive Coordinator, by name as a man that deserves an NFL head coaching job, and for good reason. Tomlin and Morris share a history of coaching together starting way back in 2022 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where Morris was hired as a defensive quality control coach while Tomlin was the defensive backs coach. Both guys helped the Buccaneers boast the best defense in the NFL that season that culminated in a Super Bowl victory. Morris would rise the ranks in Tampa Bay, being promoted to defensive assistant and assistant defensive backs coach, working together with Tomlin until he left for the Vikings, taking over as the DBs coach when Tomlin became the Vikings DC.
Morris served in that role for two seasons until he got the promotion to be Tampa Bay’s head coach in 2009, struggling his first season at the helm, but rebounded to post a 10-6 record in his second season. After a 4-12 campaign in 2011, Morris was fired, taking on assistant coaching jobs with the Commanders and Falcons for nearly a decade before being elevated to interim head coach in 2020 after the firing of Dan Quinn. Morris then would leave Atlanta to become the defensive coordinator for the Rams, helping lead a talented unit to Super Bowl LVI where he would come away with his second ring as an NFL coach.
The hiring process in the NFL isn’t an exact science. There are many factors that play a role in whether someone gets a job or not. Tomlin has expressed his displeasure with the results of the Rooney Rule and its effectiveness of getting qualified minority coaches hired before, including the aforementioned Morris. Other names like Jim Caldwell, Marvin Lewis, Hue Jackson, and Eric Bieniemy have also been notoriously passed over for head coaching positions in recent years despite a proven NFL track record. Tomlin also mentioned Todd Bowles in the same piece, but he luckily has taken over as the Buccaneers HC after former Steelers OC Bruce Arians stepped down this spring.
Mike Tomlin is a man that has worked his way up the latter, binding his time and doing the hard work in assistant roles to get to where he is at today. He knows the other coaches in the league and who has done the same as him, being deserving of a head coaching job, but just needs that opportunity. He called Brian Flores “a deserving man” and “one of the best 32 in the world” when speaking with Mark Bergin and Ike Taylor regarding why he threw Flores a lifeline after he was fired from the Miami Dolphins this offseason, seeing his value as a coach on his staff.
Tomlin has often been regarded as a “player’s coach”. After listening to what he had to say regarding the hiring process, you could call him a “coach’s coach” as well. While he wants to promote qualified minorities for head coaching role in the NFL, he is a firm believer that the best 32 guys deserve the job. For a man on the fast track to be one of the most winning head football coaches of all-time to put himself in the shoes of those on the outside looking in, that speaks a lot to the man Tomlin is.