Less than two months removed from his team's victory in Super Bowl XLIII, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's phone has been ringing off the hook this offseason.
But when he got a call from Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin asking him to be the keynote speaker for the Vols' coaching clinic, Tomlin didn't even blink.
"Working with that man, shoulder-to-shoulder for five years, man, had the experience of a lifetime. Grew big-time as a coach and as a person," Tomlin said Saturday before taking in the Vols' practice in Neyland Stadium. "I owe a big debt of gratitude to Monte. So when Monte picks up the phone and calls and asks me could I come, the answer's very easy. It's just simply about handling logistics and making sure I get here."
So Tomlin got up at 5 a.m. Saturday, boarded a plane and spoke to some 400 area coaches before getting an up-close view of the Vols' workout.
His messages to those coaches were simple - and had Monte Kiffin's fingerprints all over them.
"Fundamentals over scheme," said Tomlin, who was Kiffin's defensive backs coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2001-05. "That's one of the core lessons that I learned from Monte Kiffin. Monte gets a lot of recognition as the architect of Tampa 2 (defense). The thing people need to understand is it's not the schematics that makes that a great defense. It's the installation. It's the understanding. It's the teaching. It's the fundamentals that make it special.
"We focus on the how and the why as opposed to the what - X's and O's are X's and O's. You play with 11. How you get those 11 to work together, what's the degree of understanding of what you're asking them to do, not only as individuals but collectively, that's the common ties that bond great defenses. That's why we play great defense at Pittsburgh. That's why we played great defense at Tampa when I was with Monte. That's why they'll play great defense here in Knoxville."
And Tomlin sees plenty of success in the future for UT's new coaching staff.
"They'll do great," he said. "It starts with great people. They are great people. They've got a definitive plan. We in this profession, we always experience bumps along the way. I anticipate that that's going to happen to them. They will push through whatever obstacles are in their way. That's the kind of people they are, that's the kind of coaches they are. They're going to be singularly focused and they're not going to stop, even in the midst of success."
Tomlin knows that success won't change Kiffin, either.
"A lot of times people think about not riding the emotional roller coaster when you don't have success. The thing that makes Monte a cut above is his response to success is definitive," he said. "Spectacular games, great defensive performances - (he's) back in the lab. Monday is Monday. He's rebuilding it. He's laying a new foundation for the week. He never changes. That's what makes him special."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.