Mike Tomlin and Sean McDermott share loads in widespread.
Each are strong NFL coach of the year candidates, guiding groups that largely had middling preseason expectations to the verge of playoff entry. Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers and McDermott’s Buffalo Payments enter Week 15 in position to earn AFC wild-card spots.
Each are straight-shooting leaders whose rosters are likely to mimic their personalities.
Each are teaching lifers, leaping into their chosen occupation proper out of school.
And talking of school, Tomlin and McDermott had been teammates at William & Mary in 1993 and ’94. Longtime Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock cannot wait to see his protégés sq. off for the primary time Sunday night time at Heinz Area.
“I am extraordinarily excited,” Laycock, who retired following the 2018 season (his 39th at W&M), advised USA TODAY Sports activities. “That is the primary professional recreation I have been to in without end.
“Simply consider the importance of it, having two former gamers as head coaches within the Nationwide Soccer League on the identical time. I do not know if it is ever occurred. (Editor’s be aware: The league has not but decided whether or not Sunday will mark the primary occasion of school teammates teaching in opposition to one another in an NFL recreation.)
“However folks do not come to William & Mary with the concept of being an NFL coach — I do not suppose that is often at the back of their thoughts.”
In all probability correct.
Based in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1693, William & Mary is the second-oldest establishment of upper schooling in America, trailing solely Harvard (based in 1636). W&M has produced three U.S. presidents (Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler) and, extra lately, former secretary of protection Robert Gates and former FBI director James Comey.
Although the college hasn’t been a pipeline of NFL gamers — Tomlin and McDermott had been all-conference performers for a perennial Division I-AA (now Soccer Championship Subdivision) powerhouse, however neither performed professionally — it does have a wealthy historical past of using and producing completed coaches.
Professional Soccer Corridor of Famer Marv Levy was the Tribe’s head man for 5 years earlier than being succeeded by Lou Holtz in 1969. Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s first assistant gig was right here in 1994, when Tomlin and McDermott had been taking part in. LSU assistant Joe Brady is a rising star.
And it isn’t solely soccer. Ex-USWNT coach Jill Ellis performed soccer at W&M earlier than attaining World Cup glory from the sideline.
Tomlin, 47, and McDermott, 45, have remained very shut with Laycock and discuss him with deep reverence.
“I am positive Sean shares the identical mentality about coach Laycock,” Tomlin stated Tuesday. “Coach is a blueprint for me and at all times has been — simply his method to teaching, to instructing, to instructing — the supreme confidence that he has not solely in his plan, however the course of and the best way that he relays that confidence to gamers and challenges gamers.
“Man, it’s going to be an honor to have him right here.”
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Laycock, 71, who’s by no means attended a Steelers recreation since Tomlin’s hiring in 2007, will watch Sunday from the coach’s suite however can even have a subject go and appears ahead to spending time with two gamers who starred for his program. Tomlin was a three-year starter at wideout and nonetheless holds the college document for yards per catch (20.1). McDermott was a security who as soon as made 20 tackles in opposition to Virginia after being thrust into the lineup as a sophomore. Each had been group captains.
“Two very totally different people,” stated Laycock. “Each of them clearly excellent gamers, no query.”
Totally different paths to the highest
Laycock was caught off guard by Tomlin’s post-graduation profession alternative.
“I used to be shocked when Mike advised me he needed to enter teaching,” he stated. “He beloved soccer, he was at all times keen about every part — he was the sort of man who’d come to observe and by no means have a foul day. He was at all times upbeat. However I actually did not know if he understood what teaching was going to ivolve as far as hours and lack of pay. … However he satisfied me.”
Nonetheless, Laycock saved shut tabs on Tomlin.
“I might at all times double verify to see if, ‘Mike, are you continue to having enjoyable and having fun with your self?'” he recounted. “He’d say, ‘Coach, I find it irresistible.’ That is what he’d at all times inform me. That follows via to at present.
“He was a type of sort of guys that acquired together with all people. All people preferred him. … He was at all times himself, not phony. And that is one of many issues I feel has allowed him to go so far as he is gone now. He did not attempt to be one thing that he isn’t. He’s who he’s, and he is comfy in his personal pores and skin.”
Tomlin initially oversaw receivers at VMI in 1995, then started climbing the ladder (Memphis, Arkansas State, Cincinnati and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) earlier than his lone yr as a defensive coordinator in 2006 for the Minnesota Vikings, who ranked eighth total and first in opposition to the run.
“I knew when Mike grew to become a coordinator within the NFL, I advised folks, ‘He will be a head coach earlier than lengthy, folks will probably be very impressed with him,'” Laycock remembers of Tomlin, who summarily grew to become the youngest one to win a Tremendous Bowl (at age 36 to cap the 2008 season) and has by no means had a dropping document in 13 years with Pittsburgh.
“Actually it occurred fairly rapidly.”
Conversely, Laycock by no means had any doubt concerning McDermott’s future.
“Soccer meant rather a lot to him, it was very apparent,” stated Laycock, who made McDermott a graduate assistant at W&M in 1998. A yr later, he was a 25-year-old on the backside of the skilled rung on Andy Reid’s first Philadelphia Eagles employees.
“There wasn’t any query in my thoughts that he had what it took to be a coach — the work ethic, the intelligence, the flexibility to get together with folks, decision-making, all these issues.”
After serving as defensive coordinator for the ultimate two seasons of his 12-year hitch in Philly, close to the place he grew up, McDermott took the identical job with the Carolina Panthers in 2011. Six years later, he was given the reins in Buffalo — Tomlin texted that scoop to Laycock — and instantly led the Payments to their first playoff berth in 18 years.
Requested if he is rooting for a tie recreation Sunday, Laycock chuckled.
“Let’s have a look at what the playoff state of affairs seems to be like,” he replied. “I am pulling for them on a regular basis, that is for positive.”
It is also clearly obvious that Tomlin and McDermott pull for one another, sustaining an abiding admiration that is endured for many years.
“I’ve identified Sean McDermott for a very long time,” stated Tomlin. “Man, that man is a high quality coach.
“Sean’s a category man in each manner, man. Love him, cannot say sufficient about him. Been the identical man. … I’ve identified him since I used to be most likely 20 and he was 18 — he was extra mature than I used to be. He is the identical man. Class man in each manner.”
Requested about Tomlin’s affect, McDermott replied: “What an incredible instance of what it means to do issues the best manner, each on the sphere as a captain — the best way he led the soccer group — however off the sphere as effectively.
“He is been a mentor of mine, and I’ve discovered from him and watched him as effectively from afar and what he is accomplished on the sphere with the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
W&M gamers supply distinctive perspective
But maybe testimonies from William & Mary teammates — roughly 35 are anticipated Sunday as half of a bigger faculty contingent — solid essentially the most spectacular mild on Tomlin and McDermott.
“The one factor that strikes me about each of them, folks discuss how success and notoriety would not change sure folks,” stated Charlie White, W&M’s beginning heart within the mid-1990s.
“However I can not consider a greater instance of two individuals who’ve actually risen to extraordinary ranges inside their occupation however really have not modified a bit.”
White’s relationship with each has deepened over time at alumni occasions.
“They really actually are nonetheless the identical guys and nonetheless the nice teammates they at all times had been,” he added. “Each utterly true to their core values. And in addition, their public personas as coaches are nonetheless very, very reflective of what I bear in mind of them as teammates.”
Practically 1 / 4 century later, White, who will probably be at Sunday’s recreation, keenly remembers how Tomlin carried himself.
“He is at all times been a charismatic presence — relentlessly constructive,” he stated. “At all times very vocal, at all times very inclusive in his management, the sort of man who at all times made all people really feel like they had been vital to him.
“He has an impact on folks.”
Pittsburgh native Terry Hammons lined up at receiver reverse Tomlin. They dubbed themselves “The Bomb Squad” at W&M. The Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brothers stay very tight.
“It is at all times surreal to me, even now 13 years later, that my boy is the pinnacle coach of my group,” stated Hammons. “It would not get outdated.”
He notes how uncommon it’s for a large receiver to be voted group captain however underscores Tomlin’s distinctive relatability with folks from all walks of life.
“He has an incredible present that goes unrecognized,” stated Hammons, who believes Tomlin hasn’t obtained ample credit score over time whereas meshing so many outsized Steelers personalities and is now being belatedly lauded for crafting an 8-5 document regardless of rampant accidents to an offense that had already misplaced Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell within the offseason.
“Having the ability to get AB to present up and play? He cannot even get on the sphere with some other coach apparently,” he stated. “You must handle guys as people. Invoice Belichick acquired one recreation out of him.”
Although Tomlin sometimes tasks an intensely critical persona in information conferences, leaning on phrases like “the usual is the usual,” Hammons desires folks to know he is usually acquired a glint in his eye, an incredible humorousness percolating behind these shades.
“He flips it on and off, he is so humorous,” he says of Tomlin’s perceived stoicism.
Hammons associated a go to to coaching camp in 2007, Tomlin’s first with Pittsburgh. He recollected his buddy introducing him to proprietor Dan Rooney — “I needed to drop to my knees,” laughed Hammons — whereas watching stars Troy Polamalu, James Farrior and Hines Ward undergo their paces.
“Mike instantly was a drill sergeant, patrolling the sphere whereas observe is happening,” remembered Hammons. “And at one level, he walks by and leans over and says, ‘Hey, T Hamm, you see this whistle proper right here? If I blow this whistle, the Pittsburgh Steelers will run over right here!’ Each every now and then, he’ll simply say one thing off the wall.
“However I’ve to confess, now I say ‘the usual is the usual’ to my daughter.”
McDermott was (and is) generally known as “Mac Daddy” by his Tribe teammates, who reminisce a few powerful, extremely intense teenager. He was a champion wrestler at La Salle Faculty Excessive College outdoors of Philadelphia however needed to earn his scholarship after arriving at William & Mary.
“Like McDermott, I used to be a walk-on,” stated White. “Though I used to be older, you discover guys like that and the best way they work. He really is, if not the hardest and hardest-working man I’ve ever seen, actually certainly one of them.”
White, admittedly not the most important fan of professional soccer, thinks the McDermott-Tomlin matchup carries much more significance except for its historic rarity.
“I feel the additional you go down the meals chain in soccer, the nearer you get to the true virtues of the game. And, to me, Tomlin and McDermott are such high-quality folks, they usually signify every part that’s really good in regards to the sport.
“It is made me really feel nice to have my son be a Steelers and Payments fan. These are the sort of males — the sort of fathers they’re, the sort of residents they’re — it is an actual blessing they’re function fashions.
“They’re such nice representatives of William & Mary. It makes me actually proud.”
Observe USA TODAY Sports activities’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis