As I was pondering the subject of mentoring , I thought it would be worthwhile to examine the careers of the two coaches of this year’s Super Bowl: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (born in Pittsburgh), and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin. Both of these coaches are successful (Tomlin is going to his second Super Bowl, having won in his first visit), and both are coaches of two of the NFL’s most successful franchises, which are lucky enough not to have too many lost seasons . Let us examine, in light of the importance of mentoring, just how these two men got to the pinnacle of their professions, and what mentoring they received along the way.
Mike McCarthy’s Mentoring Path
First, since I am less familiar with his career, let us examine the coaching career and trail of mentors for Green Bay Packer coach Mike McCarthy, Pittsburgh born, whose career has largely been on the offensive side of the ball . Let us first examine his career stops and then see what mentors he had along the way:
- 1987-1988: Graduate assistant at Fort Hays State
- 1989-1991 QB coach at University of Pittsburgh
- 1992 WR coach at University of Pittsburgh
- 1993-1994 Office Quality Control Assistant for Kansas City Chiefs
- 1995-1998 QB coach for Kansas City Chiefs
- 1999 QB coach for Green Bay Packers
- 2000-2004 Offensive Coordinator for New Orleans Saints
- 2005 Offensive Coordinator for San Francisco 49ers
- 2006-present Head Coach of Green Bay Packers
So, the career progression for Mr. McCarthy has been very steady–starting on the college ranks, progressing to the pros in a modest position, then as a position coach, then as a coordinator, and finally as a successful head coach. This is a solid progression. Let us examine which mentors he had a long the way that helped him become the coach he is today. The coach at Fort Hays State in 1987 and 1988 was an undistinguished coach named John Vincent . McCarthy’s head coaches at the University of Pittsburgh were Paul Hackett, who gave him his opportunity to coach (and was not a very successful college coach either at Pitt or USC, where he was a coach at the beginning of my time there) , and Johnny Majors . Neither college coach was successful. The head coach of Kansas City during his entire tenure there was Marty Schottenheimer, a very successful coach in the regular season, less so in the playoffs . Therefore McCarthy can be considered part of the Schottenheimer tree, and one of the more successful members of that coaching family. Interestingly enough, Paul Hackett was the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1993-1997, and presumably he brought along McCarthy as a protege of his to the NFL, making the student a better coach than the “master,” so to speak . McCarthy’s head coach at Green Bay was Ray Rhodes , whose lone year there was a mediocre 8-8 season, but whose coaching tree includes Super Bowl winning coaches like Jon Gruden and Sean Payton. Sherman Lewis  was McCarthy’s offensive coordinator in Green Bay. During his time in New Orleans, McCarthy was a pretty successful offensive coordinator for Jim Haslett  , missing out on the disastrous Katrina season of 2005 while he was serving the last year of his tutelage in San Francisco under Mike Nolan, whose specialty was defense . Amazingly enough, despite a 4-12 season for San Francisco in his only year there, McCarthy was able to win the head coaching job in Green Bay, where he has remained ever since then, compiling a 48-32 record and going to the playoffs three times so far, and the NFC Championship twice. He had quite a lot of mentoring along the way, though.
Mike Tomlin’s Mentoring Path
In contrast to the steady progression of Mike McCarthy up the coaching ranks, the rise of Mike Tomlin to coaching success was much more meteoric, with most of his early career spent in the college ranks before a speedy rise through the professional ranks, culminating in what has been a very successful career so far with the Pittsburgh Steelers , a franchise known for its coaching stability, having had only three head coaches in the last 40 years, winning 6 NFL championships so far during that time. Tomlin’s success has done nothing to diminish the luster of the Steelers. Here is a look at Tomlin’s career so far:
- 1995: WR coach at Virginia Military Institute
- 1996: Graduate Assistant at the University of Memphis
- 1997: WR coach at Arkansas State
- 1998: DB coach at Arkansas State
- 1999-2000: DB coach at University of Cincinnati
- 2001-2005: DB coach for Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- 2006: Defensive Coordinator for Minnesota Vikings
- 2007-present: Head coach for Pittsburgh Steelers
Let us now examine what mentors Mr. Tomlin enjoyed during his rapid rise to the top of the coaching profession. Let us note before that, though, that Mike Tomlin began as a WR coach and then made a successful transition to coaching defenses, showing a very admirable flexibility on both sides of the ball, in coaching secondaries and wide receivers, as Pittsburgh has been known during Tomlin’s time in Pittsburgh as a very good team in training young wide receivers to be stellar successes, besides their powerful defense.
Mike Tomlin began his career under the tutelage of Bill Stewart at VMI. Stewart happens to be the current head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers . Ironically enough, Stewart resigned from VMI under pressure under accusations for using racial slurs at black players, despite his serving as the first mentor for Mike Tomlin, who stood up for his coach. The head coach at Memphis while Tomlin was there (this was not easy to find) was a fellow named Rip Scherer, who later became a QB coach in Cleveland . Tomlin’s head coach at Arkansas State was Joe Hollis, another obscure character . Then, at the University of Cincinnati, Tomlin served under Rick Minter (again, a very obscure character, and not a terribly successful head coach) . However, Tomlin’s promotion to the NFL made him a part of the very successful Tony Dungy coaching tree in his first season , and he continued on to serve under Jon Gruden, gaining his first Super Bowl ring in his second season as a DB coach . In his lone year in Minnesota as a coordinator, Tomlin served under head coach Brad Childress , but we will give the credit for Tomlin’s own mentoring to Dungy and Gruden, given that they are the only two notably successful coaches in Tomlin’s entire coaching history (though Bill Stewart deserves considerable credit as well for starting Tomlin on his career and recognizing him first).
In A Nutshell
In a nutshell, then, let us summarize the importance of mentoring for both Mike McCarthy and Mike Tomlin. Both owe a considerable debt to only moderately successful coaches–McCarthy to Hackett for his early positions at Pitt and his shot at the pros with Kansas City, and Tomlin to current West Virginia coach Bill Stewart for his start as a position coach. Both paid their dues under some obscure or bad coaches before getting their chance to coach in bigger jobs. Both were mentored, though, by some of the most successful coaches in NFL history: Marty Schottenheimer, Tony Dungy, and Jon Gruden are all head coaches who are at least at or near the elite level (and both Dungy and Gruden, like Tomlin, have won Super Bowls), and at least Dungy and Schottenheimer are borderline NFL Hall of Fame candidates for coaching (Dungy perhaps more than borderline). Now, having reached the heights of NFL success as coaches, these two men may serve as mentors for those coming up the ranks as assistant coaches and position coaches themselves, and may serve as mentors for future generations of successful head coaches, leaving their imprint on the way the game of football is played for many years to come.