EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -From the moment he first stepped on the practice field with the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Tomlin made his presence felt.
While head coach Brad Childress and the rest of the offensive staff quietly installed their complex West Coast offense in 2006, the first-time defensive coordinator could be heard loud and clear throughout the team's facility hollering ``Yes, sirrrrrr!'' and imploring his linebackers to ``blow up a fullback today, please!''
Tomlin's players fed off that bravado and fire, and the Vikings finished the season ranked eighth in total defense and first against the run in terms of yards allowed.
``I just thought he was obviously a good football coach, but (also) a very good communicator,'' Childress said this week. ``I thought he had a good way about him. He was bright-eyed. He had a great sense of humor, a good laugh. He wasn't stiff. He was a guy that you knew related well to his players.''
It was clear early in Tomlin's tenure - which lasted all of one year - he was on track to become a head coach. But the Pittsburgh Steelers surprised everyone in the winter of 2007 by hiring the 34-year-old to run one of the league's flagship franchises.
When the Steelers play the Vikings at the Metrodome in a preseason game on Saturday night, Tomlin will make his first appearance at the place he made a name for himself in the NFL coaching circuit.
``It's an exciting trip for me. I have some good friends there,'' Tomlin said. ``Although I wasn't there a great deal of time, it felt good to be a part of what we were building there. I thought it was going to be potentially special. I root for those guys because they're close and personal friends of mine. It will be professionalism of course on Saturday night, but it will be great to see them all - players, coaches, front office people.''
Despite his quick departure, Tomlin forged strong bonds with several players.
``I'm definitely looking forward to it,'' Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin said. ``He was my first defensive coordinator in the pros. While he was here he taught me a whole lot, and I'm still playing by some of his rules now.
``It's going to be a joy to go out there and play in front of him and just to show off a little bit how far I've come.''
Tomlin was a secondary coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for five seasons before Childress hired him in his first year with the Vikings. His lack of coordinator experience was a question, but Tomlin quickly proved his skill. He helped turn a defense that ranked in the league's bottom third for most of the previous decade into a capable, playmaking unit during a trying 6-10 season.
``Mike did a great job here and had a tremendous relationship with the players,'' special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said. ``Just seeing him work with our defense and the way they came around in such a short period of time, I was very impressed with what he did.''
Childress was hired to take a no-nonsense attitude toward a team that had its share of trouble off the field in previous years, but was viewed as distant and rigid by several players. Still learning how to work with Childress, who loosened up more in his second year, the group gravitated toward Tomlin's charisma and geniality.
``Everybody got along with him,'' defensive end Ray Edwards said. ``He knew how to communicate with everybody, and that was very big on my part.''
Though Tomlin only spent one season in Minnesota before a 10-6 debut with Pittsburgh, the Vikings had no hard feelings about him leaving. Opportunities to lead one of the NFL's most hallowed teams don't come often. Tomlin is only the third coach of the Steelers since 1969.
``That's everybody's dream,'' Edwards said. ``He always talked about being the best at what he does. Definitely going up to being a head coach and taking that next step and being the best is what he's trying to do.''
The starters will log their heaviest playing time of the preseason against the Steelers, providing plenty of opportunities to show their old boss they're doing fine without him under defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
``It's been a long time,'' safety Darren Sharper said. ``I'm sure we'll have a lot of conversations that will be going back and forth. He knows us better than maybe we know ourselves, because he sat there and watched every day in practice and meetings and watched our every move. He knows our strengths. He knows our weaknesses, but when it comes to playing a game a lot of it doesn't matter. It all comes down to who executes.''

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