A lot has changed over the 17 years since Mike Tomlin first took the job as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The most obvious is his age. He was 35 in his first season on the job. He’ll be 51 when the 2023 season kicks off. He understands the dynamics have changed during that time and he’s had to change with them.
“I played college football against James Farrior. I knew Farrior since I was about 19 or 20, so that was different dynamics”, he said on Mad Dog Sports Radio yesterday on SiriusXM including, among others, his former lineman, Willie Colon. Farrior, a Pro Bowl linebacker, was 32 years old by the time Tomlin got to Pittsburgh.
“It’s just funny. Over time you became like a brother, then like a big brother, then like an uncle, and now like a pop and then some”, the father of three adult or nearly adult children, had to say. His oldest is Dino Tomlin, a senior wide receiver for Boston College.
“It’s really evident because my son’s friends are starting to come into the league. Skyy Moore was my son’s high school quarterback. I’ve known Skyy since he was about 12”, he said. Now a wide receiver, Moore was drafted in the second round in 2022 by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Dino could possibly declare for the draft after this season, though I believe he may still have more eligibility. One of his good friends, cornerback Joey Porter Jr., was drafted by the Steelers in the second round last week.
“It is a different flavor. But to be honest with you, I’m probably more comfortable in these shoes than I was 15, 17 years ago”, Tomlin said, “because that’s something that I can’t turn off. That’s who I am. I father these dudes. They are in my son’s age group. It is a lot of fluidity in that. I am a better coach because I am a parent. I am a better parent because I am a coach”.
He did talk about how that is a role that he had to cultivate and develop over time, having grown up himself as a little brother. The role of big brother was new to him, and it didn’t help that for the majority of his coaching career he was coaching players who weren’t much older than him—and then when he got into the NFL, coaching guys who were older than he was, like Hall of Famer John Lynch.
Now it would be astounding if Tomlin finds himself coaching anybody older than he is. Not even Tom Brady could pull that off. That means his relationship to players has changed, evolved, over time. He’s a father figure because he is a father. Pretty soon he might even find himself to be a grandfather. It’s just the natural progression of life.
And it’s unavoidable if you find yourself in an athletic profession at the highest level. Peak athleticism can only last so long. Few players are still on the field in their 40s. But that doesn’t mean Tomlin won’t hire them to his coaching staff or front office.