Not only did the Pittsburgh Steelers dramatically reform their inside linebacker position this offseason, they also added a new coach in Aaron Curry, coming over from the Seattle Seahawks after serving in multiple different assistant roles there.
And in doing so, he gets to work under one of the men to whom he has looked as a role model in this profession, long before he got here. He told Mike DeFabo of The Athletic that whenever he had the opportunity to come across a player who played for Tomlin, he would pick his brain, trying to figure out what he was taught and why.
“Being a Black coach in this profession and having very minimal opportunities to study somebody that looks like me in this profession in a leadership role impacted me”, DeFabo quoted him as saying in a recent article for the outlet. “I watched everything that he’s done from afar. Press conferences. Interviews. Game film”.
Curry was a 20-year-old entering his junior season at Wake Forest when Tomlin was hired as the Steelers’ head coach in 2007, replacing Bill Cowher following his retirement. He went on to become the fourth-overall pick, drafted by the Seahawks, to play linebacker, though his career as an athlete never quite lived up to his pedigree. But it did give him perspective, including watching others, about what success looks like.
Serving in a full-time position coach role for the Steelers, he has been handed an interesting assignment, given the turnover on the roster from a year ago. Gone are Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, and Myles Jack, replaced with Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, Tanner Muse, and Nick Kwiatkoski.
It’s a fresh start all around, and a clean slate for Curry to begin to build his resume as more than just a defensive assistant. And he’s appreciative of being able to do that under not just Tomlin, but also Teryl Austin as defensive coordinator. “I can be a head coach because I see one”, he said. “I can be a defensive coordinator because I see one”.
“I just really appreciate the responsibility and obligation that coach Tomlin has given me to coach the inside ‘backers”, he added, “because why not allow somebody to look back 20 years from now and say we did a damn good job?”.
Tomlin was named just the 10th full-time African-American head coach in NFL history at the time of his hiring in 2007. He is the longest-serving as head coach, whether consecutive or otherwise, for one franchise or otherwise, in NFL history. He also became the second, just a couple years after Tony Dungy, to win a Super Bowl.
He is also a great head coach and leader regardless of race, even if Curry values the element of representation that the opportunity to first study, and then work under Tomlin offers him. Now he doesn’t have to ask his players what Tomlin’s like. He’ll get to know that firsthand in every single meeting.