Chicago Sun-Times

Mike Tomlin: Choosing between the 3-4 and the Tampa Two

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Mike Tomlin entered the NFL as a 29-year-old defensive backs coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001, hired by Tony Dungy at the same time Lovie Smith was heading out the door to become the defensive coordinator in St. Louis.

Smith was on the fast track to becoming the coach of the Bears, and Tomlin was a fast riser, as well, stopping in Minnesota as defensive coordinator in 2006 after five seasons with the Bucs, and then being tabbed by the Rooney family in 2007 as only the third coach in franchise history since 1969. Tomlin cut his teeth in the league on the Tampa Two scheme. It's what he implemented in one season with the Vikings, too, a defense now run by ex-Bear Leslie Frazier.

But when Tomlin arrived in Pittsburgh, he assessed his roster of players and coaches, and knew he was better using the 3-4 scheme in place that was being run by Dick LeBeau. Another Lombardi Trophy later for the Steelers, he made the right decision. Tomlin was asked on a conference call today about the Tampa Two and whether or not its losing popularity. Can you even call it the Tampa Two any more? Raheem Morris put an end to it with the Bucs when he hired Jim Bates as defensive coordinator.

"I don't know that that defensive philosophy or approach will ever go out of style,'' Tomlin said. "Things kind of moves in cycles in the NFL and I think people are gravitating toward the 3-4 defense at this present time, but there is nothing broken with that system. It's tried and tested. It requires a great deal of attention to detail and discipline, and if you're committed to it, no question you can play top quality football with it.''

The Bears had a solid defensive effort in the opener at Green Bay, allowing only 227 yards and getting four sacks. So the subject was taken a step further with Tomlin. If he was transplanted to a new city tomorrow and allowed to build his program from scratch, the ground up, what defensive scheme would he put in place?

"Really, I'm always guided by the people I am working with,'' he said. "I think that ultimately you have to play to the strengths of your players, and that's what I am doing here. We have top quality 3-4 people so that is what we're going to do. It depends on the nature of the athletes in the city that I landed in whether I played in this system or played in Tampa Two.

"Really, they're very similar at the end of the day when you think about it. It requires great discipline, attention to detail, having an understanding of what is going on around you, how what you do fits into the big picture. Once you get past who is drawn where, the things that make great defenses go regardless of scheme are very similar. It would have been very foolish for me to try to fit a square peg in a round hole [in Pittsburgh].''

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Wow! This is what is meant by a coach who can "take his'n and beat your'n; then take your'n and beat his'n".

You have to be a great coach to even get past your first job in the NFL as an assistant, let alone succeed. Most great coaches have a system that they have learned from others and then developed over the years that they teach and succeed with. They find players who can play in their system, teach it, and away they go. It is the main reason it usually takes 2-4 years for a coach to build "his" team. When he has the type player he needs, then you find out if that particular coach is good enough to succeed in the NFL.

Mike Tomlin is an elite coach who stands out from even his peers of great coaches. What separates an elite coach from a great coach is the ability to adjust the coaching system to the personnel you have at hand. What he says in his quote above is that it doesn't matter to him which system he uses, he adjusts to use the system that will best use the available players' talent.

That was really good stuff Brad.

I think it should be called the Tampa Six since it always gives up 6!!

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on September 16, 2009 10:13 PM.

Lovie responds to Cutler critics Martz, Mora Sr. was the previous entry in this blog.

Bears make claim for DE McBride, but miss out on him is the next entry in this blog.

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