Tomlin: The Soul of a Football Coach
In 2007, at the age of thirty-four, Mike Tomlin was hired as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Replacing Hall of Famer Bill Cowher—and two years removed from the team’s Super Bowl XL victory—there was immense pressure on the first-year head coach, who many fans and those in the media were largely unfamiliar with. After five seasons as an assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a single season as the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, the hiring came as a surprise to many. From his first day at the helm, numerous questions began to be asked: Was this young coach able to lead a veteran team that still had championship hopes? Could the newly hired, soft-spoken coach be able to fill the shoes of the great Cowher, known for being brash and outspoken? Was his hiring based solely on the “Rooney Rule”—named after Steelers owner Dan Rooney—which states that every team must interview at least one minority candidate for their open head coaching position?
Not only did Tomlin rise above the questions and criticism about his credentials, he continued the franchise’s reputation of excellence. The youngest coach to win a Super Bowl in only his second season at the helm, Tomlin has yet to have a losing record in sixteen seasons with the team. He is also the second-most tenured head coach in the league, only behind Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots.
But the question still unanswered is, who is Mike Tomlin? Known for giving little to the media and keeping his thoughts and opinions private, those outside the locker room and Steelers offices know little about the future Hall of Fame coach. Even as one of the most successful African American head coaches in NFL history, and one that has handled numerous locker room “personalities” over the years, much of what is written and reported about the coach is only above the surface. That’s where John Harris comes in.
A veteran journalist who covered Tomlin’s hiring for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Harris works to pull back the curtain on the mystique behind this “coaching unicorn.” Beginning with his days as a wide receiver at William & Mary, his several years in the college coaching ranks, to getting hired by Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy with the Buccaneers and his single season with the Vikings, Tomlin shares how a young man from Hampton, Virginia, was able to establish himself as a leader of men in a business with so much turnover, earned the respect from his peers and players, and has continued to be someone that is looked up to by so many in the league.
With interviews from former players, coaches, and executives, Harris lets readers in on what it’s like to play for Tomlin, why he is (or is not) beloved in Pittsburgh, and how his continued success has helped change the landscape of what NFL franchises look for in hiring a head coach. All from a man that chooses to give all the success to his players and coaches—past and present—than take it for himself: exactly what every franchise hopes for from the leader of their team.
Praise for Tomlin: The Soul of a Football Coach
Praise for John Harris and Tomlin
"This fun read offers up just how Mike Tomlin rose to greatness as an NFL coach, beginning with his first job as an assistant at Virginia Military Institute. John Harris has captured his grit, his emotional intelligence, his toughness with accounts from family, co-workers, players, media—the entire scope of the journey, the why and how of Tomlin's genius. Do yourself a favor and jump on board."
—Roland Lazenby, New York Times bestselling author of Michael Jordan, The Life
“Mike Tomlin's hiring sent shock waves throughout the NFL community—I know, because when I broke the story people freaked out—and a lot of skeptics in our world believed he was set up for failure. They got it wrong. Tomlin is a ferociously competitive coach with a great grasp of strategy and a true gift for leadership . . . John Harris breaks it all down while presenting a comprehensive and compelling portrait of one of the best men in the coaching profession."
—Michael Silver, sports columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and author of All Things Possible, My Story of Faith, Football and the Miracle Season
“Mike T is a force of nature, of sorts. Anyone who has been in his sphere will attest to his unique, inimitable personality with an incomparable depth of character, wisdom, and fire. I’ve never seen anything like him.
—Ronde Barber, Pro Football Hall of Famer who played five seasons under Tomlin with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“The qualities that make Mike Tomlin one of the best coaches in football also make him one of the most interesting coaches in football. He knows who he is, what's important to him, and how to compete on his own terms. In this vivid, remarkably well-researched portrait, John Harris fills in a lot of blanks and traces the long journey that Tomlin took to reach the top of his profession. It makes for a compelling, readable biography, and a window into Tomlin’s remarkable character.”
—Michael MacCambridge, author of America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation and Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work
“Coach Tomlin played an instrumental role in my career. His presence and drive for the game of football and life were infectious. He saw things in me that I didn't see inside myself. While I'm proud to bear the responsibility of living up to the standard of being a Pittsburgh Steeler, I will always be proud to say I was coached by the great Mike Tomlin.”
—Willie Colon, former Steelers offensive lineman and current sports analyst for FS1’s The Carton Show
"In his new book, author John Harris, a former beat writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, offers a different look at Mike Tomlin. . . . The book is full of interesting stories about the men who molded Tomlin, especially in his younger days just starting out and finding his coaching footing."
—Alex Kozora, Steelers Depot
"Tomlin, The Soul of a Football Coach is, indeed, soulful. It's also inspirational, educational, and a book that gives unparalleled, detailed insight into how a young Black coach navigated his way around, over, and through the seemingly impenetrable good ole boy network to become a Super Bowl champion and a model leader of men. Reading about his journey is a soul-enriching experience—sports fan or not."
—Curtis Bunn, award-winning journalist at NBC News BLK and founder of the National Book Club Conference