Cam Heyward opened up about his relationship with Mike Tomlin, the only NFL head coach he’s ever played for. The man who drafted him in the first round way back in 2011 and the one who has watched Heyward’s entire career unfold from backup to starter to star to potentially Hall of Famer.
Appearing on Mad Dog Sports Radio with Leger Douzable and Dr. Chantel Tremitiere, Heyward was asked about Tomlin.
“That dude is a guy who is a leader of men,” Heyward said. “He pushes us, he challenges us, and we’re better because of it. To me personally, he’s made me who I am today. He challenges me everyday. Sometimes it’s petty, I get competitive because of it. But there’s times where I appreciate a man that continues to go about his job and continues to want to get better. He always talks about the next chance at getting that Lombardi. That’s a trophy I want to give to that man even though he’s got one. It’s something I’m looking forward to.”
Some heartfelt words from Heyward. Few players have had the same head coach for as long as Heyward has. Even Ben Roethlisberger, though he was with Tomlin longer, had two head coaches in Bill Cowher and Tomlin. Heyward and Tomlin have been attached to the hip for a decade starting when Pittsburgh made him the 32nd and final first round pick of the 2011 NFL Draft.
On the night they took him, Mike Tomlin praised Heyward as a player but also as a man. Here’s part of what he said via Ohio State’s 247 Sports Network.
“This guy has been a significant a core football player in that system since the time he stepped on campus. It creates a great deal of comfort when you are looking at a guy. He’s not only a mature young man, he is a mature player from that standpoint, relative to some other people that get drafted in the draft. He has about as much experience or playing experience that someone is going to have that you drafted.”
Heyward had to bide his time behind established studs in Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, not starting until his third season in the league. It’s been all up from there with Heyward playing his best football since his late 20s, recording 43 of his 68 career sacks over the last five seasons. That’s also the span he’s made all five of his Pro Bowls and three of his All-Pro selections.
Heyward also praised Tomlin’s ability to fill Bill Cowher’s shoes, winning a Super Bowl just two years after taking over, keeping the Steelers’ success going.
But the impact goes beyond the stat sheet. Heyward has his own innate leadership qualities, stemming from his father the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, but Tomlin has certainly helped cultivate what being a professional and leader in today’s game looks like. Heyward has assumed that role as one of the Steelers’ core faces. He’s passed that down to teammates like Isaiahh Loudermilk and Javon Hargrave. Both men, Heyward and Tomlin, will go down as some of the best of their generation. Heyward will be one of the franchise’s top defensive lineman, perhaps just below Joe Greene, while Tomlin is up there with Chuck Noll and Cowher, though Noll still comfortably sits in that top spot.
And they may be part of the same team again someday – the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Both arguably need more work to do but if Heyward brings that trophy to Tomlin, both will likely end their careers in gold jackets.
Check out the full clip below.