Another in a series of stories previewing: Steelers Training Camp presented by Xfinity.
At this time three calendar years ago, Mike Tomlin was 35-year old rookie head coach about to officiate his first NFL training camp. He remembers that time well.
"I was very conscious not to have too detailed of a vision of what the job would entail, because I didn't have any head coaching experience," said Tomlin. "It was my first time sitting in that seat. And also, it was my first time working in this particular organization. I had been in other organizations, enough of them to know that they're different and all run differently. I was very conscious about not having too many pre-conceived notions about the details of the job, but I haven't been surprised about what the things are that need to get done, or how I've had to go about doing it."
In the time since being hired, Tomlin has shown the stuff required to be a head coach in the NFL, and the Steelers recognized that in the form of a two-year extension to his contract, a development that binds him to the team through the 2012 season, with an option in the agreement that could extend it to 2013. In the NFL coaches' contracts are guaranteed, and so extensions typically are a sign from management of a job well-done.
"I understand the sentiment, and from that standpoint I'm very grateful and excited about it," said Tomlin. "But I love my job. There's no other place I want to be. I love working for Art Rooney. I love working for Steelers Nation. They're always going to get my best, contract or no. I don't clock in every day with the contract or money on my mind, I just don't. I love what I do, I love where I do it. I'm having big fun."
In the NFL, it's only fun if there's winning, and the Steelers have done a good bit of that during Tomlin's short tenure. There were division titles in 2007 and 2008, and the franchise's sixth Super Bowl title at the end of 2008. There have been no losing seasons under Tomlin, and the team's regular season record since 2007 is 31-17 (.646).
"One-for-three. That's how I evaluate myself," said Tomlin. "In baseball terms, that isn't bad, but we're in the business of football. I understand that largely I'm going to be measured, we're going to be measured, by the ability to win Lombardis. I like that. That's how I evaluate my own performance."
There is a belief throughout professional sports that coaches' abilities to perform can be tied to their own contract status. If a locker room picks up the scent of a lame duck, there can, and have been, problems. Tomlin acknowledged that this can be an issue in his profession, but he refused to believe it would have affected him in this Steelers locker room.
"Every situation is different, but I have been in this league long enough to know there's a potential for that," said Tomlin. "I wasn't overly concerned with that being an issue here, because of the kind of people we have."
Winning consistently in the NFL is about having good people, and with this contract extension the Steelers showed they believe they have a good coach in Tomlin. By winning Super Bowl XLIII at the age of 35 he became the youngest coach in NFL history to do so. But success in the NFL is a moving target, and to maintain it everyone – players, coaches, front office – has to continue to grow in the job. That's certainly true for the head coach.
"I have more patience than I thought I would have," said Tomlin. "Patience is something I have to work at. By nature, I am not a patient person. I've displayed more patience in professional situations than I thought I was capable of displaying, and I think that's a characteristic of leadership I needed to work on. I need to continue to work on that.
"Listening is another skill I'm very conscious of. A lot of times, in a position of leadership you don't have to worry about pace or patience, because everyone marches to your beat. I like to exercise patience when it's appropriate. I like to be a good listener."