When the Arizona Cardinals grabbed their only lead late in Super Bowl XLIII on a two-play drive that began on -- you guessed it -- their 36-yard line and ended on Larry Fitzgerald's catch-and-run touchdown that dropped the Steelers behind 23-20, all was set for Pittsburgh's furious finish. Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger turned to a player whom Tomlin once believed required a makeover.
Holmes said of their meeting: "He told me how he was going to handle it; I did not want to hear that. But he did what was best for the team and for me."
"I think it took real guts for coach Tomlin to do that with such a big game on the line and knowing how much Santonio means to our team," Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said. "When he did that, he put action behind the words he had been preaching. He did something that raised the accountability of everyone. That was a decision that had a lasting impact on this team."
Just like the one that Tomlin made concerning Polamalu in the coach's first season with the Steelers.
Tomlin allowed Polamalu, a Greek Orthodox Christian, to worship at a monastery more than a one-hour drive away from Phoenix in the early morning hours on the same day of a September road game at Arizona. Tomlin kicked curfew aside for Polamalu so that this player could fulfill a wish, a personal mandate that meant everything to him.
So, tough love, admiring love -- little difference for Tomlin. Every situation with his players, he knows, requires its own clarity.
This is a cutting-edge coach who gets it. If you are going to sell it to your team, sell your brand, your concepts, your beliefs and your blueprint. Your message resonates best when you are as good a listener as you are a talker. Young football players need that as much as discipline. They need quality in their coach, along with the quantity of tasks demanded.
Mike Tomin says yes, he is a football coach, and that is what he does, but it is not who he is.
He comes from the Tony Dungy coaching tree and said that Dungy "paved the road. I just have to walk down it."
Tomlin took notes, paid attention, got his chance to lead and used his knowledge gained.
"That's the business of coaching," Tomlin said of his relationships with his players. "Working with these players, you are a life coach in many ways and have to wear many hats. I embrace that more than the X's and O's. I get more enjoyment from that than the other things. I'm an unrealistic dreamer. That's my story."
His story as a coach appears far from complete.
The Steelers have hired just three coaches since 1969, and now each one -- Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Tomlin -- has won the Super Bowl. This victory helps cement Tomlin's tenure, his style, his presence with the Steelers for a lengthy ride. He knows his next team will not feature the same 53 players. This group is history, it is done, he said.
"There are tough decisions you have to make in this role as a leader," Tomlin said. "I do not run from that. I do not make those decisions with a punitive mindset."