Roots from Dungy coaching tree help trace Tomlin's success

TAMPA, Fla. -- Lovie Smith refers to Mike Tomlin as a "cousin" from the same NFL coaching tree.

They never actually worked together, but they were assistant defensive coaches at different times for Tony Dungy with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And it's primarily for that reason that Smith, now the head coach of the Chicago Bears, plans to attend Super Bowl XLIII, where Tomlin will lead the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Arizona Cardinals.

"We're all proud to be part of that tree," Smith said. "Tony had a big influence on all of us. Even though all of us are doing things a little bit differently, we're from those same principles.

"You see, right now, that's what Mike's doing. For instance, dealing with players. Players want you to treat them like men, expect them to act like men, and they want you teach them and to be excited about what you're doing. And that's what Mike is all about."

Earlier this month, Smith added recently fired Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli to the Bears' staff. Smith recalls the high praise that Marinelli had for Tomlin when the two were assistant coaches for the Buccaneers.

"I can remember Rod talking about Mike, saying, 'He's special. He's a young guy with old-school values,'" Smith said.

When Smith guided the Bears to Super Bowl XLI, where they lost to Dungy's Indianapolis Colts, he was in his third season at Chicago's helm and 48 years old. Smith marvels at the fact that Tomlin managed to lead the Steelers to the big game in only his second season as their coach, at age 36.

"There are coaches that coached a long time and never got the opportunity to coach their teams in the Super Bowl," Smith said. "To be able to do it in two years is a remarkable achievement for anyone. You have to be lucky, but luck is when preparation and opportunity meet. You have to come in with a plan that you believe in fully, and the cupboard can't be bear. We had talent in Chicago; Mike had talent, too. And there's a lot of tradition that's behind you with both teams.

"I've enjoyed watching the Steelers play. You're talking about a tough, physical football team, and that's how you want your team to be described."

Smith was proud that he and Dungy were the first African-American coaches to reach the Super Bowl. He's also proud that Tomlin has a chance to become the second African-American coach to win the game and receive a phone call from the first African-American president of the United States.

"It's kind of fitting a little bit to have a black guy leading his team to the Super Bowl in the same year we have President (Barack) Obama coming into office," Smith said.

Have a question for Vic? Send it to, and the best ones will be answered on

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.