FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – When Dan Quinn began his coaching career in 1994 at William & Mary, little did he know that one particular player – a wide receiver for the Tribe – would end up becoming one of the biggest influences on his career and a trusted voice to this day.
That player's name is Mike Tomlin, the current head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin became the youngest NFL head coach to win a Super Bowl when the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. Tomlin has a record of 103–57 in his first 10 years with the team.
Quinn said he knew Tomlin had the "it" factor the first year he met him, so his rise to the top doesn't surprise him one bit.
"We hit it off right away," Quinn said of Tomlin. "You know someone has 'it' and I knew then – he was a captain of the team – I knew he had 'it.''
On Sunday, Quinn and Tomlin will square off for the first as head coaches when the Falcons face the Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. A 4 p.m. ET kickoff is scheduled.
Following Tomlin's senior season at William & Mary and Quinn's first year as a coach, the two joined the coaching staff at the Virginia Military Institute – a state-supported military college in Lexington, Va. Quinn oversaw the defensive line and Tomlin coached the receivers.
After one year with the Keydets, Tomlin and Quinn went their separate ways. But despite the distance, the two never lost touch.
Quinn took a job at Hofstra University and Tomlin became the wide receivers coach at Memphis.
Both made the jump to the NFL in the same year – 2001. Quinn accepted a job as the San Francisco 49ers' defensive quality control coach and Tomlin took over coaching the defensive backs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Both Quinn and Tomlin went on the become defensive coordinators before their head coaching gigs. Tomlin as the Vikings' defensive coordinator in 2006 and Quinn as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Through Quinn's various stops, Tomlin has always been someone he's looked to for advice.
"Through the years we've always just kept up," Quinn said. "He's always somebody that I look to that always handled things in a way that I really admired."
It's no coincidence both Tomlin and Quinn have experienced success as quickly they have. Both coaches take great pride in developing strong connections to their players – a leadership style that's proven to be successful on all ends.