At last week's press conference, Mike Tomlin was relaxed, his normal mode when football isn't immediately on his plate
About 30 minutes after Mike Tomlin's plane touched down at Tampa International last Thursday, he was in the middle of a packed press conference. Things haven't slowed down since.
Tomlin is five days into his NFL career, five days of non-stop study at the side of Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin. The 28-year-old former University of Cincinnati coach, the man that has replaced departed Defensive Backs Coach Herman Edwards, is getting a crash course in Buc football and loving every minute of it.
If it's football, it should be intense, and it should be fun. That's his approach.
That's one of the first things Buc fans will learn about Tomlin as he takes over the tutelage of one of the most talented units in the league. There is a lot to learn, because his was a name completely unfamiliar to almost every Buccaneer fan about a week ago.
On Monday, Buccaneers.com had a first conversation with Tomlin, a Q&A about who he is and what he brings to the team. Tomlin's responses follow.
What do you believe motivated the Buccaneers to choose you as their new defensive backs coach?
"I'm probably not the right person to answer that question. I'm a detail guy, a high-energy when it comes to coaching football. I coach with passion, and I know that those are some of the things that coaches look for. When I decided to make football the business I will do for the rest of my life, I focused on being the best that I can be. Those are some of the characteristics that you've got to have if you're going to get after it.
"I believe how you present materials is important. Prior preparations are important ... being organized, covering what you need to cover, being brief but being thorough. I think all of those things probably came out in the interview and helped me."
You said that this is the profession you've chosen for the rest of your life. Had it not been football, what do you believe you would be doing?
"I'll tell you what, to be honest with you I've never even thought about it. My last semester of college, in the spring of my senior year, I got my first job in football and I still had two months of classes left. So I never really thought about it pursuing anything else. I'm sure I would do something related to working with people, because that's what I like to do. I've got to have a job where I can get around a little bit. I'm not a guy that can sit at a desk for a long time."
You are replacing a well-respected coach in Herman Edwards, but when introduced to the media last week, you said all you could do was 'be Mike Tomlin.' So what is Mike Tomlin like as a coach?
"First and foremost, you play football hard. This is a game that you play with a lot of passion, a lot of energy. You play it hard. I think if you're doing that, you're having fun. So that's what I do. I coach hard, coach with a lot of passion and have fun. Probably more than anything, if you characterize how I approach coaching, I like to have fun.
"That's why I do this for a living, as opposed to being a stockbroker or something like that. Nothing's wrong with being a stockbroker, of course, but that's not me. The highlight of my day is not balancing my checkbook or checking my retirement fund. That's what I meant when I said I was going to be myself. That's all I've ever done since I've been coaching, so there's no need to change what I do now."
You've only been on the job about five days. Have you talked to any of your defensive backs yet and, if so, what are your impressions?
"Yes, I'm starting to. I talked to Dex(ter Jackson) and Brian Kelly today. I talked to Ronde Barber and John Lynch, and I left a message with the others. Everyone's been great. They're fired up. That's the most impressive thing about this place – not this place being the National Football League or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the individuals around here. Everybody that I've come across is fired up. Wherever you work, you're fired up for different things. At Cincinnati, we were fired up to win the Conference USA championship. I don't necessarily look at it as, well, they're fired up to reach the Super Bowl. I just like the fact that they've got a goal and they're fired up about it. I can relate to that, even having never been in the NFL."
Can you feel a sense of urgency at One Buccaneer Place, even now in the middle of February?
"I think any time you're involved in football, there's a sense of urgency. When I lose that sense of urgency, that's when I will find something else to do. However, I sometimes perceive what people call 'urgency' as a negative thing. I think people around here are just fired up; I don't sense any negative feelings about the 2001 season."
Speaking of 'fired up,' what are your early impressions of the irrepressible Monte Kiffin?
"Oh, he's great. He's extremely, extremely sharp. In the coaching profession, you hear about guys and a lot of times their reputations are exaggerated. Monte has a great reputation, I've heard nothing but great things about him, and in the short time I've been with him I've seen that it's well deserved.
"He's a great football mind, and not only in terms of scheming. He spends as much time talking about coaching, mentality and morale, as he does schemes. I appreciate that because that's how I approach the game. We're going to be sound schematically and fundamentally but there's no substitute for getting guys to play hard. Run to the ball and play for each other – those kinds of things. With him mentoring me the five days I've been here, we've talked as much about the emotional side, the art of football as opposed to the science."
Do you believe player motivation is a strong suit of yours?
"I like working with people. I like seeing people get better and people working together. I think that's just got to be part of your nature as a coach, a characteristic you've got to have."
Most of the Buccaneer defensive backs are the type that let their play on the field do the talking. How do you like to see your players conduct themselves on the field?
"I like for them to play hard and have fun. That means different things to different people. I don't know what fun is to these guys yet. I don't want robots. I want guys to be themselves, play hard and have fun, to enjoy playing together."
As a player at William & Mary, what type of mold did you fit into?
"I wasn't a trash talker, but I was vocal. I was into the game, having fun playing the game. I loved to play the game. That was my deal."
This intensity that you bring to coaching, is it evident in the rest of your life, away from football?
"There's probably nothing else in the world that I'm intense about! You can ask my wife. It takes me two days to get a bag of trash from the kitchen to the garbage can outside. I'm an easy-going guy, and I was that way as a player. I was easy-going off the field, though not necessarily so on the field. I kind of take the same approach to my job."
You've been taking a crash course on the Bucs' defense since arriving last Thursday. How well are you absorbing the system?
"There are only so many ways you can do things defensively. Some of the things we're talking about, I've been exposed to before. It's terminology more than anything. 'Okay, yeah, I know that. Now I've got to learn what we call it here.' That sort of thing. I have been exposed to some new things that I haven't done, so it's a mix of both."
Are you concerned about the fact that two of the four secondary starters from last year could become free agents in March?
"I haven't been here long enough to really have an opinion about that, specifically. Now, if you say two starters aren't under contract, I'm sure that's an issue that the organization wants to address. But I haven't been around long enough to have an opinion one way or the other."
The other two defensive back starters just returned from the Pro Bowl. As a first-time coach in the NFL, do you believe it's better to inherit an unproven group of players or a crew that has already achieved much success?
"I'm blessed. This is a tough league to get into and I think you take your opportunities no matter what form they come in. I'm just excited and pleased to have an opportunity to coach guys that have been down the road. I don't mind that. I see that as a good thing. But, really, to somebody that's getting an opportunity to break into the league as a coach, you take the opportunity that presents itself."