Troy Polamalu’s career was defined by growth and then change during the middle of his career. Once Bill Cowher, who Polamalu described as a “father figure” retired after 2006, the Steelers brought on a young, 34-year old head coach in Mike Tomlin. For a superstar such as Polamalu who had grown with Cowher as his quasi-mentor, it was a dramatic shift.
However, the Hall of Famer only had praise for Tomlin when he remembered the seven seasons in which Tomlin was his head coach. Not only on a personal level but on a team management level, Polamalu sees Tomlin’s accomplishments as extraordinary for the NFL.
“He was 34 years old and a head coach, what an amazing responsibility,” Polamalu said. “The confidence to undertake such a task, especially with him being an African-American head coach.”
For Polamalu, Tomlin’s job also being with the Steelers, who were coming off two legendary coaching stints with Cowher and Chuck Noll, caused a heightened pressure on him. A pressure that Polamalu says Tomlin filled with poise and confidence.
“To me, it was really great to see how he was able to enforce his way among players not only older than him but also players who had already figured out how to have success,” Polamalu said. “For him to then mold that into his own identity, was very special and significant.”
On a personal level, Polamalu credits Tomlin in allowing himself to embrace who he was and look at just other things outside of the football field. To Polamalu’s personal experience, Tomlin’s greatest gift is allowing players to be comfortable in who they are.
“But, for Coach Tomlin, in a lot of ways he was another father figure to me, but he allowed me to be me,” Polamalu said. That was very special to me. He allowed me to miss certain things because I wanted to go to church. Like Easter. He let me really value the things I valued outside of football. To me, that’s what makes him very special. So in both ways to me he was and is a future Hall of Fame coach.”
Polamalu will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 7.