Mike Tomlin was a 29-year-old defensive backs coach at the University of Cincinnati when he showed up in Tampa for an interview. Nonetheless, Tomlin left an impression on then-Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
“Oh, it took me about 10 seconds to figure out this guy is going to be not a head coach, a Super Bowl winning head coach,” said Marinelli, now the Cowboys defensive coordinator. “You could see it in just two seconds. He’s tough. He’s a young man with old school football values. That’s the best compliment I can give him. That’s a compliment. He is tough; he is physical; he is demanding; he’s got great rapport with people. But I think he has a tremendous ability to communicate, to make the complex simple, to make the irregular regular. He can do that. The clarity of his words as you listen to him, very intelligent guy, but within it, he’s deeply embedded with the toughness and physicalness with how they play.”
The Bucs hired Tomlin, who spent five seasons there, before one season as the defensive coordinator of the Vikings earned him the head coaching job in Pittsburgh in 2007. In Tomlin’s second season with the Steelers, when he was only 36, Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl.
Tomlin and Marinelli will match wits Sunday when the Cowboys play at Pittsburgh.
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“He’s a great, dear friend of mine,” Tomlin said. “I love him. I’m happy for him in terms of the things he’s been able to do, not only down there, but just largely over the course of his career. He’s been an inspiration and a mentor-like guy to me.”