William & Mary alumnus Mike Tomlin (’95) became the youngest head coach in history to lead a team to a Super Bowl win Sunday when his Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23.
Tomlin, 36, is in just his second year as head coach of one of the National Football League’s most storied franchise. The Steelers took the lead for good Sunday when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes in the back of the endzone for a touchdown pass with 35 second to play in the game. A short time later, Tomlin, who played football for the Tribe in the 1990s, was celebrating a victory.
Since the conference championship games two weeks ago, Super Bowl fever – and the national exposure for the two teams and their head coaches that comes with it – has taken hold. And the world has learned what many at William & Mary already knew -- Mike Tomlin, and his quick rise to national prominence, represents a special story in American sports.
Numerous articles and broadcasts, including recent stories in the New York Times and on ESPN, have featured Tomlin and his connection to William & Mary. NBC announcer Al Michaels even made reference to Tomlin's undergraduates days at William & Mary during Sunday's broadcast. Tribe Football Head Coach Jimmye Laycock ('70) has been a favorite source for the media in the days leading up to the game. Laycock appeared for nearly five minutes last week on ESPN2's "First Take" program to discuss Tomlin and his connection to the nation's second oldest college.
“When he became a coordinator in the National Football League, I told people it's just a matter of time now before he becomes a head coach,” Laycock said in a story leading up to the big game on ESPN.com. "His presence, his personality, his intelligence and the way he gets along with people are terrific. And with his leadership, he has a great way of being confident but without being cocky in the way he does things.”
The William & Mary family knows Tomlin well – both from his playing days on the Tribe football team and his continued involvement in his alma mater as an alumnus. Tomlin has returned to the Williamsburg campus many times in recent years, including serving as keynote speaker at last year’s Commencement Exercises. A sociology major as an undergraduate, William & Mary presented Tomlin with an honorary doctorate of humane letters at the 2008 graduation.
During his commencement address, Tomlin reminded graduates that they were prepared for the “game of life.”
“Whatever it is your heart’s desire to do, you can do,” Tomlin told the William & Mary Class of 2008 said. “Your experience here has sharpened your sword for battle. I encourage you to trust that preparation.” Tomlin went on to tell the graduates that first five minutes of action never determines the outcome of the game.
“Life is more than the scoreboard, it’s how you play,” he said. “We have to exhibit the honor, the integrity, the class that’s indicative of a William & Mary alum.”
In June, Tomlin returned to campus to help dedicate the Jimmye Laycock Football Center, named for the Tribe’s longtime football coach.
“This is an awesome place,” Tomlin said in an Alumni Association article on the football center dedication. “I couldn't measure the impact (Coach Laycock) has had on me personally and professionally. He's still the coach.”
A three-time starter at wide receiver for William & Mary between 1990-94, Tomlin finished his Tribe football career with 101 receptions for 2,046 yards and a school-record 20 touchdown receptions. A first-team All-Yankee Conference selection in 1994, Tomlin established a school record that year with a 20.2 yards-per-catch average.
Laycock said the William & Mary football program has the same goals as that of the College.
“We strive to be a first-class operation in all facets – on the field, in the classroom and around the community,” Laycock said last week. “Mike makes an outstanding ambassador for the program, as his successes, I believe, mirror those of many other alumni we have produced that have also achieved a great deal in a wide variety of professions. We’re thrilled to be able to watch him on the national stage this Sunday.”