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Dino Tomlin & Mike Tomlin @DinoTomlin on Twitter

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Dino Tomlin brings unique experiences as an NFL coach’s son into his Maryland career

The son of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is ready to make his own name in College Park.

Scottie Montgomery still remembers watching Dino Tomlin play baseball as a kid.

Back in his days as the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers coach, Montgomery and his infant son would accompany head coach Mike Tomlin as he attended the games at Frick Park. Coach Tomlin, being one of the most recognizable faces in town, was in full disguise mode. He watched his son’s games in a bucket hat and sunglasses, and the trio would sit hidden under a Sportbrella tent in the outfield.

“He wanted the kid to be able to play and not have all this hoopla around him,” Montgomery said.

As the younger Tomlin’s own athletic career has progressed, he’s started to make his own name. He became a high school star and a three-star recruit, and he’s now enrolled at Maryland. Montgomery — who still considers Mike Tomlin one of his greatest mentors in coaching — will be his offensive coordinator.

When I asked Montgomery about being reunited with Dino in College Park, he chuckled a few times before answering. He had been hoping for this all along.

An unexpected reunion

Back in Pittsburgh, where Montgomery coached for three seasons (2010-12), the two families lived close by and spent a lot of time together. Dino still remembers Montgomery’s oldest son, Cassius, as a baby and when his two other sons were born — everyone kept in touch after he left the Steelers organization.

So when it came time for Dino to start thinking about where he’d play college football, Montgomery tried to recruit him to East Carolina, where he was coaching at the time. Coach Tomlin wasn’t on board with his son playing in the American Athletic Conference.

“My dad was like, ‘He’s not going to East Carolina,’” Dino recalled.

He committed to the Terps on Nov. 6, 2018, following in the footsteps of his uncle Ed Tomlin, who played at Maryland from 1988-91. He didn’t know who his coach would be — the decision came less than a week after DJ Durkin was fired. Locksley hadn’t been hired, and Montgomery was still at ECU.

When Locksley started interviewing potential staff members, the Tomlins received another call. “Well, I’m going to get him anyway,” Dino recalled Montgomery boasting to his father. He would soon be announced as Locksley’s offensive coordinator.

“I was extremely excited,” Dino said. “It was like extra add-on because I was already excited to go to Maryland.”

When the pair reunited in person for the first time on Dino’s official visit in February, Montgomery was taken aback by how much he had grown. Dino said the same about Montgomery’s three sons, two of whom he still remembers being born. They had seen each other several times since Montgomery left the Steelers, but it had been a while.

“I heard his voice and it kind of crushed me because all of a sudden I was like, ‘Okay, I’m the old guy now,” Montgomery said. “I mean, to watch a kid grow from that age to where he is now, it’s impressive. ... It’s just very hard to explain how small they were. They were so small. And now they’re grown.”

‘All I’ve ever known’

Mike Tomlin has had a lot of success since taking over as the head coach of the Steelers in 2007, making the playoffs in all but four seasons with two AFC championships. But being 7 years old at the time, Dino doesn’t remember much of perhaps his father’s greatest feat, the 2009 Super Bowl championship.

“I wasn’t really old enough to understand how significant that is,” he said. “I just assumed it’s not that hard to win a Super Bowl or win a national championship.”

President Barack Obama welcomes the Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrating their Super Bowl victory at the White House in 2009.
Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images

It’s hard for Dino to put his life as the son of an NFL coach into perspective — “it’s all I’ve ever known,” he said. But he’s had some pretty unique experiences.

Two years ago, Dino got to play the quarterback position in a pocket drill during a Steelers training camp. TJ Watt, a 252-pound linebacker who is now a Pro Bowler, was defending the then 16-year-old, ready to pounce.

”I just remember being frightened,” Dino said. “You’re not supposed to move as much as I was moving, and I would get yelled at for running around as much as I was because I would make the play more difficult than it had to be.”

And while he’ll always look back on memories like that fondly, he always saw coaching as his father’s job. It isn’t always easy being the son of one of the most high-profile names in Pittsburgh.

In 2011, for instance, the Steelers lost Super Bowl XLV to the Green Bay Packers. Kids at school were upset and Dino took the heat. “Everyone would be harassing me about it,” he said.

“I enjoy watching them play and I always root for the Steelers. Obviously I want us to win, but I don’t get emotionally attached to it. I’m just not in a position to do that.”

Fast forward to his final year of high school, and Dino discovered a newfound appreciation for his father’s accomplishments. He was chasing a high school state championship with Shady Side Academy, but couldn’t capture the title. Coach Tomlin helped talk him through the disappointment.

“I quickly realized that if you want to be the best in your competition pool, like, how rare that is to do. I didn’t understand that when I was younger,” Dino said. “I came to the realization that I probably won’t ever win a championship ever again. And I’m not okay with that, but that’s something I learned from watching him every year get close but then not close enough.”

Mike and Dino Tomlin with current Steelers players at a community event in June.
@CoachTomlin / Twitter

Learning from the best

Growing up around a successful NFL team, whether it be games, camps, practices or daily drills, Dino has seen up close what it takes to play at a high level, and the habits needed to do so. He’s witnessed some of the best wide receivers to play the game — Antonio Brown, Santonio Holmes, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace and Hines Ward, to name a few — and he’s trained and learned from them.

“One thing I can say I’ve got out of it was it’s not as easy as people think,” Dino said. “Being an NFL wide receiver, but being a great NFL wide receiver ... there’s different levels that you have to go through of preparation to just be able to do it. It’s something that a lot of people don’t understand that I feel like I have a better understanding of.”

When he talks about himself as a football player, Dino doesn’t talk about being flashy or say he’s invincible or that he can do anything on the field. Instead, he takes a more realistic perspective because being around those guys has allowed him to dissect his own game.

“I’ve been able to understand what type of player I am and how that fits within a higher level of football,” Dino said. “In high school, it’s like give me the ball and I’ll just score or whatever, but as it gets more complex, then I have strengths and weaknesses. And being around those guys and ... how they’re able to use their strengths in those situations I feel like has helped me understand my game better.”

As he got older and more serious about his career aspirations, he trained at the Steelers facility every night and would often even run routes with the team. Whenever he got the chance to work one-on-one with a player, Dino would try to get a coaching tip from them.

Before leaving for Maryland earlier this month, he spent time with slot receiver Eli Rogers, who had to fight to earn his spot on the team after going undrafted in 2015. Rogers told Dino that he needs to keep his arms tighter on his breaks.

“In high school you can get away with having your arms loose, but in college the DB can read that and know when you’re about to make a break,” Dino said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to work on recently, just trying to keep my arms tighter so I don’t give as much away in my routes.”

The next chapter

Locksley has talked at length about changing the culture of Maryland football by creating not just a football team but a football family, with an emphasis on relationships with players. Dino already has an established connection with Montgomery, and he grew up around an organization that Montgomery said is built around that same mentality.

“Raise him like he’s yours because he’s been around you forever,” Montgomery recalled Mike Tomlin telling him after he took the job. His former boss also requested he coach his son as hard as he could.

Dino said he isn’t coming into his first year with any expectations; he understands that there’s a big chance he won’t see a lot of playing time. “It would be naive of me to say I’m ready to play right now, but I feel like mentally, emotionally I’m ready,” he said.

Regardless, he’s excited to have more structure in the college setting. He’s worked a lot in the weight room and on improving his game already with the Steelers, and he can’t wait to do the same with his new teammates in Maryland’s facilities.

And Locksley is confident his upbringing will benefit the Terps, saying, “Anytime we can add ... guys that grew up in the game, it makes our team better.”

“I have an affinity for coaches’ kids,” Locksley said. “They understand the importance of doing things the right way because they know if we don’t win, my dad might not have a job. So they come in with a little more maybe sense of urgency, a little more maturity about the daily process of how you approach things.”

Montgomery, who’s known Dino roughly half his life, has his own reasons to love the addition.

“I kind of joke all the time [that] we’re probably going to be very successful this time — this is the second time I’ve worked for Kiya and Mike [Tomlin],” Montgomery said. “So let’s just go get it done.”

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