TAMPA, Fla. (BP)–Since becoming head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers two years ago, Mike Tomlin has talked often of his appreciation and respect for former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, who first brought him into the NFL as an assistant coach.
Until this week’s Super Bowl XLIII between the Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, Tomlin had never had the international platform to follow his mentor Dungy and speak about his faith in Jesus Christ. But that’s exactly what he did before hundreds of reporters in Tampa.
“First and foremost, I want people to know who I am and what the most important thing is in my life, my relationship with Jesus Christ,” Tomlin said in response to a Baptist Press question about his personal faith.
“Football is what we do; faith is who we are all the time.”
Tomlin, who attends Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Center Alliance Church, was mentored by Dungy, who hired him as a defensive backs coach with Tampa Bay before Dungy moved on to Indianapolis.
When then-Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher retired, Tomlin was ready for the promotion, stemming from his time with Dungy, leading men onto the football field and leading men’s hearts off the field.
“I want to lead with a servant’s heart,” Tomlin stated to media members who will be covering Sunday’s Super Bowl.
“The biggest thing I learned from Tony Dungy was an unyielding belief in his message of faith,” Tomlin recalled. “It was displayed all the time with him. He was extremely consistent and that’s what I want to take to maximize my faith.”
Tomlin’s first expression of his faith during Super Bowl week came as no surprise to Steelers assistant coaches and players who have heard the same spiritual passion in private.
“It’s a great blessing when a man of God is leading your team,” defensive end Nick Eason said. “It’s like a godly father in the household.”
Tomlin said he is glad to share his faith in sport’s brightest media spotlight, noting, “We embrace and appreciate this platform.”
Amos Jones, the Steelers’ assistant special teams coach, was baptized on the same day with his dad, Sam, at West End Baptist Church in Aliceville, Ala., where his mother still attends.
Having a Christian head coach has made a big difference to the team and has contributed to the Steelers’ Super Bowl run, Jones said.
“I think his [Tomlin’s] faith in the Lord is a blessing,” the Jones said. “It’s just a peace of mind knowing that he has everybody’s best interest at heart.
“Mike and I share the same faith and it’s amazing how many times something he might say to the team in the locker room could have a spiritual meaning.”
Like most coaches, Jones has held plenty of jobs in his lengthy career in both college and NFL ranks, but he has always had the Lord as his one constant.
“I have always been blessed by the Lord. When I didn’t have a job, He provided one. He gave me this job and allowed me to go to the Super Bowl. It’s been a blessing,” Jones said.
In the often hard-hitting world of the NFL, Jones said his wife Stacey has reminded him to see God’s hand everywhere.
“She sits in the stands and can see the defensive backs praying together on the sideline. She sees Troy Polamalu, encouraging and praying with people.”
Linebackers coach Keith Butler sat in the stands during Tuesday’s media day silently watching the frenzied interaction between players and hoards of reporters.
“This isn’t life-or-death pressure,” Butler said of Super Bowl week. “It’s not like life or death in eternity without God.
“Is this game important? Yes. Is it the most important thing? Not even close.”
Art Stricklin, a Baptist Press sports correspondent based in Dallas, is in Tampa covering activities leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl.