It was a quiet Saturday evening in late July, the kind of training-camp night, said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, that former coach Bill Cowher would have given the players off after a rugged week of practice. But rookie coach Mike Tomlin, 35, had other ideas. There would be the regular schedule of evening meetings, like on any other day. "We've got a new coach with a new way of doing things," Roethlisberger said that night. "Everything's important to him."
That intensity is paying off. On Sunday at Arizona, Tomlin has a chance to become the first coach in the Steelers' 75-year history to start his tenure 4--0, and he'll go against two former Steelers staffers—Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach Russ Grimm—whom he beat out for the Pittsburgh job. But those story lines won't distract Tomlin. For such a young coach it's impressive how he stays tuned into what's important to his team. "I start the week of preparation with It Is What It Is Wednesday," Tomlin said on Sunday night. "All eyes right here, right now. Forget the game you just played. The only thing that matters is today and implementing the base game plan. The next day, Thursday, will be the most important day, and so on. What I try to stress to these guys is, Live in the moment. Have short memories. Nothing else can help you win. It's nice to be 3--0, very nice. But come Wednesday, it won't matter."
Tomlin doesn't concern himself with convention. For instance, NFL 101 says don't burn out your running back in September. After three games Willie Parker has 74 rushing attempts, which puts him on pace for 395 this year. Yet Tomlin (above, with Parker) says, "We're going to ride Willie until the wheels come off." He's not going to give Parker the ball 10 times in the fourth quarter of a 20-point blowout—Tomlin milked the clock in Sunday's 37--16 rout of the 49ers by using backup Najeh Davenport—but he's willing to load up Parker for the occasional 32-carry game. Tomlin's way? It is what it is.