Reports: Steelers to replace Cowher with Tomlin


Published: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers denied they are finalizing a four-year contract with Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin on Sunday, despite multiple media reports he will be coach Bill Cowher's successor.

The Steelers issued a statement saying they had not concluded a deal, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Fox Sports.com both reported the 34-year-old Tomlin was the choice. The Post-Gazette reported Steelers assistant coach Russ Grimm was told Sunday that Tomlin has been selected.

"We don't have anything," Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett said. "We will have no announcements today."

While the Steelers have not interviewed any candidates since meeting with Tomlin for 3 hours Tuesday and Grimm for six hours Wednesday, there was a flurry of reports — at times conflicting — over the weekend.

SI.com, Sports Illustrated's Web site, and, later, ESPN.com, reported Saturday the Steelers had decided on Tomlin, the Vikings defensive coordinator, or begun contract talks with him. On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review — citing unidentified sources — reported that Grimm, the Steelers' assistant head coach, was the choice rather than Tomlin.

Despite saying they would not hire a coach Sunday, the Steelers apparently decided to go ahead and land Tomlin after their third finalist, Chicago defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, became unavailable for interviews for the next two weeks. The Bears won the NFC championship game to advance to the Super Bowl, and he cannot be interviewed for another job until their season ends.

If the 34-year-old Tomlin is the choice, he would be the fourth consecutive coach hired by the Steelers who was an assistant coach in his 30s with another team before going to Pittsburgh. Bill Austin was 37 when he was chosen in 1966, as was Chuck Noll in 1969. Cowher was 34 when he picked in 1992. Both Noll (4-0 in Super Bowls) and Cowher (1-1 in Super Bowls) took teams to multiple title games.

Steelers owner Dan Rooney either made the choice or was involved in hiring all three coaches.

Tomlin has been the Vikings' coordinator only one season — he was a Tampa Bay assistant for five seasons before that — but clearly impressed the Steelers during two long interviews with his enthusiasm, knowledge of defense and organizational skills.

What could be tricky is assimilating Tomlin's preference for the 4-3 defense and Tampa 2 cover schemes into a Steelers defense that has long played the 3-4.

The Steelers have built its roster around players fitted for the 3-4, such as All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu and Pro Bowl nose guard Casey Hampton. Neither would seem to be nearly as well-suited for a 4-3 scheme in which the defensive ends, not the linebackers, are the primary pass rushers as in the 3-4 defense.

Also uncertain is whether Grimm, the assistant head coach for three seasons and the offensive line coach for six seasons, will want to stay and work for the coach who beat him out for the job. He is under contract for next season.

Grimm and former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt were seen as the clear front-runners since Cowher resigned on Jan. 5, but Whisenhunt later took the Arizona Cardinals' job without waiting to see if the Steelers would hire him.

Tomlin would become the first black coach in the Steelers' 74-season history and the sixth in the NFL. On Sunday, Bears coach Lovie Smith became the first black coach to take his team to the Super Bowl.

SEAHAWKS

Jim Mora is headed back to the Pacific Northwest, but Tyrone Willingham need not worry.

Mora isn't landing his self-stated "dream job" at the University of Washington. Instead, he's joining Mike Holmgren's staff, agreeing to become an assistant head coach for the Seattle Seahawks' less than three weeks after being fired as coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

"I'm thrilled to join not only what I believe is a quality organization, but for the chance to work with one of the finest head coaches in the league," Mora said in a statement. "That, coupled with the opportunity for my family to be in the great northwest is extremely exciting."

The team said Mora's title is assistant head coach/secondary, but his duties have not been defined.

FALCONS

Quarterback Michael Vick wasn't carrying marijuana when stopped by security last week at Miami International Airport, according to ESPN.

Citing anonymous NFL sources, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Vick wasn't carrying marijuana or any other illegal substance. The ESPN report also cited an anonymous Falcons source, who said the team expects to hear something formal by today.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wouldn't comment on the report. He told The Associated Press the league had received no information on the issue.

Last Wednesday, Vick reluctantly surrendered a water bottle to security at the Miami airport. He was not arrested and was allowed to board an AirTran flight to Atlanta.

The bottle was found to have a compartment that contained "a small amount of dark particulate and a pungent aroma closely associated with marijuana," the police report said.

Miami police have said it could take weeks to decide whether to file charges.

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