There was a lot for William & Mary fans to cheer about December 15. The world watched as two alumni and Tribe teammates squared off on the NFL’s game of the week.
The university’s own Sean McDermott ’98 and Mike Tomlin ’95 took center stage as the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers played on NBC’s nationally televised Sunday Night Football.
The youngest coach to ever win a Super Bowl, Tomlin became head coach of the Steelers in 2007. McDermott, who is preparing his team for a playoff run, took over for the Bills in 2017. The pair played together at Zable Stadium during the ‘93 and ‘94 seasons. Both captained the Tribe under retired head coach Jimmye Laycock ’70.
“It’s wonderful to see the national spotlight on the success and leadership of our alumni. Mike Tomlin and Sean McDermott showcase W&M’s unique approach to academics and athletics,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “We value excellence in all we do. We’re definitely on a roll.”
Laycock and more than 50 alumni, friends and staff, including Athletics Director Samantha Huge and current Head Coach Mike London, attended the game. Two-time World Cup Champion Coach and W&M alumna Jill Ellis ‘88 narrated the opening video for NBC’s broadcast, featuring the iconic Wren Building and Zable Stadium. Game coverage featured the coaches’ history, friendship and shared mentor in Laycock.
According to media reports, this was the first NFL matchup between two former teammates turned head coaches. Before kickoff Sunday, media coverage of Tomlin’s and McDermott’s ties spanned local columns, television outlets and a front page spread in the sports section of USA Today. ESPN.com and the NFL Network also took notice.
“Just think of the significance of it, having two former players as head coaches in the National Football League at the same time. I don't know if it's ever happened,” Laycock told USA Today prior to the game.
On the field, McDermott and his Bills clinched a playoff spot with their 17-10 win over the Steelers, their second playoff berth in McDermott’s three seasons following an 18-year drought. Off the field, the game was also certainly a win for the Tribe.
Media have both Tomlin and McDermott pegged as top contenders for NFL coach of the year honors; post-season play was at stake for both teams Sunday. Both credit Laycock.
“I'm sure Sean shares the same mentality about coach Laycock. Coach is a blueprint for me and always has been — just his approach to coaching, to teaching, to instructing — the supreme confidence that he has not only in his plan, but the process and the way that he relays that confidence to players and challenges players,” Tomlin told USA Today.