A look at the list of NFL head coaches who were hired at an earlier age than Mike Tomlin displays an interesting mix. Lane Kiffin was the youngest coach ever when he was hired in 2007 and he was fired not long into this past season, his second as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Also on the list of youngest coaches at the time of their hiring, though, are all-time greats like Don Shula and John Madden.
Tomlin is off to a good start toward being one of the better NFL coaches hired at a young age. Under his leadership, the Steelers won a Super Bowl in only his second year as head coach.
Brought over after spending a year as the Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator, Tomlin carries himself calmly on the sideline. He’s not quite as constantly intense as his predecessor with the Steelers, Bill Cowher. He also, of course, lacks Cowher’s jutting-jaw.
Despite his youth, Tomlin had the players’ attention from the start as he is quick to tell players they’ve done a good job and not afraid to call them out when they make a mistake.
Just as important to the team’s success the past two years have been the coaches with whom Tomlin has surrounded himself. The coaching staff is a mixture of coaches who were there when Tomlin took over and others who were brought in by him.
The most well-known of the assistant coaches is defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau. He is entering his 50th season in the league, either as a player or coach. As a defensive coach, LeBeau is famous for his zone blitzing schemes.
Along with LeBeau, almost every assistant coach for the Steelers has years of experience. John Mitchell and Lou Spanos have both been with the team since the early 90s and therefore have coached in three Super Bowls for the Steelers. Spanos has spent his entire NFL coaching career with the Steelers. He started as an intern with the team’s scouting department and has been with Pittsburgh ever since.
The assistant coach who could be most closely watched this season will be Larry Zierlein, the team’s offensive line coach. Zierlein was an assistant offensive line coach with the Bills before joining the Steelers. He replaced Russ Grimm, who was impressive enough as the team’s offensive line coach to be considered for the head coaching position when Cowher resigned in 2007.
The offensive line, always a strong point under Grimm, was one of major weaknesses of the team in 2008. While much of that was because of personnel changes and injuries, Zierlein will be expected to have the group performing better this season.
An unexpected strong point for Pittsburgh in 2008 was its overall special teams play. Special teams had been a weakness in recent years, but under the tutelage of special teams coach Bob Ligashesky, the Steelers’ coverage and return units were consistently strong last season. Ligashesky had been the Rams’ special teams coach before joining the Steelers when Tomlin became head coach.
The whole coaching staff brings important experience to their posts and that experience has given Tomlin the ability to concentrate on motivating his players and keeping their psyches strong.
The rest of the coaches:
Bruce Arians – Offensive Coordinator
Ken Anderson – Quarterbacks Coach
Keith Butler – Linebackers Coach
James Daniel – Tight Ends Coach
Randy Fichtner – Wide Receivers Coach
Ray Horton – Defensive Backs Coach
Amos Jones – Asst. Special Teams Coach
Kirby Wilson – Running Backs Coach
Harold Goodwin – Quality Control, Offense
Garrett Giemont – Conditioning Coordinator