TAMPA, Fla. - Should there ever be another debate on whether the Pittsburgh Steelers hired the right coach two years ago?
Not after Sunday night.
On the NFL's grandest stage, coaching against the same two coaches who were thought to be the leading candidates for the Steelers' head coaching job when Bill Cowher resigned after the 2006 season, 36-year-old Mike Tomlin continued the Steelers' great tradition by guiding his team to a 27-23 hard-fought victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium.
He didn't coach a perfect game, but as he has been saying all year, Steelers football is about 60 minutes, and that was proven again Sunday when the Steelers rallied for the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining.
''That's been our story all year,'' Tomlin said. ''We've got a team that doesn't blink in the face of adversity. It's never going to be pretty or perfect, if you will, but they've got a great deal of belief in one another. They've got a great deal of resolve, and it was on display.''
Tomlin is the one who made it possible.
Time and time this season, the Steelers came through with key drives or key plays late in games. It's Tomlin's 60-minute philosophy that ultimately made the Steelers world champions for the second time in four seasons.
''This is real big, man,'' Steelers running back Willie Parker said. ''We rode for [Tomlin], and coach Tomlin believed in us since day one.
The Rooney family chose Tomlin, a relative unknown, over Steelers assistants Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm. Whisenhunt has done a remarkable job turning around the Cardinals and coached a terrific game Sunday. Grimm has helped him bring the Steelers' standard of excellence to Arizona's former floundering franchise.
But Tomlin has clearly shown he was the right man for the Steelers' job. He became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl.
He has been the perfect fit for the Steelers because he's embraced - one of his favorite words - the organization's style of play.
He kept Dick LeBeau as his defensive coordinator, even though they didn't share identical defensive views. Plus, Tomlin turned the physical nature of the team up to an even higher level.
When Tomlin took over in 2007, the Steelers were coming off an 8-8 season after winning Super Bowl XL the previous year. They still had a lot of talent on the team, but they were also capable of continuing on a downward spiral because they lost center Jeff Hartings and linebacker Joey Porter.
Tomlin turned the Steelers back into division winners in his first season by stepping into a difficult situation and gaining the players' respect in little time.
He did make some questionable calls in the Steelers' playoff loss to Jacksonville last year, but he continued his development as a head coach with an outstanding 2008.
Now, he's on top of the world.
''I'm just so happy and proud of [the players],'' Tomlin said. ''If I could win any way, it would be like that. All people being involved and having to deliver for us is truly special.''
Buck Frank can be reached 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.