If Vikings coach Brad Childress had any doubts about hiring 33-year-old Mike Tomlin as his defensive coordinator in 2006, those doubts disappeared when Childress saw how the current Steelers coach handled outstanding safety Darren Sharper, a college teammate of Tomlin's at William & Mary.

"When you make a transition from player to coach, which he had done for a few years, to come back and be in the same locker room with a guy you played with in college and direct that guy, and have that guy take orders from you, it just speaks to his ability to communicate and his leadership and his command," Childress said.

Childress wasn't surprised when the Steelers hired Tomlin to be their head coach after he served as Vikings defensive coordinator for only one year.

"It was only a matter of time," Childress said.

And Tomlin quickly delivered, becoming only one of seven head coaches in NFL history to win a Super Bowl in his second year when the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII in February.

Childress helped with Tomlin's fast track to the top by hiring the young fellow who had been the secondary coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Childress recalled his decision to hire Tomlin, saying:

"I knew he was a talented guy. ... You do your homework and who you see out at workouts and get to know a little bit of him from different people and then you kind of drill down and get to know the guy."

The Steelers have hired young coaches before, so Childress wasn't caught off-guard when they inquired about Tomlin.

"Bill Cowher was an unusual guy when he got that job in his early 30s, and there is no age perimeters. You don't have to be 50," Childress said.

"You knew [Tomlin would] do a great job, and my hat's off to the Rooneys [owners of the Steelers]," said Childress, who said he couldn't lie so as to keep Tomlin when he had a conversation with Art Rooney Jr. "I couldn't tell him, 'Hey, he's lousy, leave him alone.'"

Childress might not be looking forward to facing Tomlin and the Steelers on Sunday because he admires Tomlin so much.

"He's is a very good communicator," Childress said. "He's direct, yet he's got a good way about him, a good sense of humor, but not afraid to let guys know where they stand. He'll be a tough guy to go against. There's only 32 of these jobs, and all of [the head coaches] have done a few things before they got there."

U needs to rebound

Speaking about last week's loss to Penn State, Gophers wide receiver Eric Decker said: "I think after a hard loss like that, you have to look at the game tape and see what improvements you need, because there obviously are a lot of improvements we need to make. I thought we were real close on a lot of plays. It comes down to all 11 guys doing their job together ... making sure they do their job every play and be consistent."

Decker, who recently was named the Gophers' outstanding men's scholar- athlete, said Saturday's game at Ohio State will be a good test of the team's character.

"Exactly, how guys bounce back after a hard loss -- if there's a resiliency. And how we stick together," he said. "That's going to be the biggest thing, is the trust factor and knowing that guys still trust each other making plays and knowing the defense realizes that we can score points and knowing we need the defense to stop them and give us a chance with a short field. It really does test the team."

Decker said the fact that the Gophers beat Purdue and Purdue beat Ohio State should give his team some confidence.

"I thought we played well against Purdue," he said. "Our special teams did a great job, defense made some big turnovers. Offensively we ran the ball well -- we didn't have to pass much. So it does give us some confidence going in, but you know Ohio State is going to be up for this game because they're a great program and have a great coach and great leadership. So it's going to be a challenge for us, but we're excited about it."

Well, the Gophers have won two games at Ohio State since 1949, so you wonder if there is any hope that they'll win Saturday.


The death of Joe Hutton Jr. reminded me of how hard I tried to get his father to become coach of the Minneapolis Lakers when they originated. But Joe Hutton Sr. wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to coach his son Joey at Hamline and turned down a salary double what he was getting paid. And speaking of Hutton Jr.'s contribution to the Lakers: His final-second basket in the 1952 championship game at Rochester, N.Y., helped the team win one of six NBA titles.

Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and his talented band, Tripping Icarus, will appear at the 7th Street Entry tonight starting at 11:30 p.m. ... The undefeated Iowa football team has three starters from Minnesota who would have really fit in the Gophers lineup. Rafael Eubanks, a Cretin-Derham Hall graduate, is the Hawkeyes' starting center and an outstanding senior. One reason for their outstanding defensive line is another Cretin-Derham Hall graduate, sophomore Broderick Binns, along with Karl Klug, a junior from Caledonia.

Harun Abda, the 2009 Minnesota Class 2A 800-meter champion from Fridley, has been cleared by the NCAA to compete with the Gophers. ... Incidentally, the Big Ten indoor track meet will be held on the U of M campus Feb. 27-28. The Gophers men will have an opportunity to defend their indoor title at that time.

The Washington Wizards waived former Gopher Vincent Grier. Grier appeared in only one of the Wizards' seven preseason games.

Wild right winger Petr Sykora has scored 20 or more goals in each of his past 10 NHL seasons, sharing the longest active streak in the NHL with Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Nashville's Jason Arnott, according to Elias Sports Bureau. ... The Wild is one of only six NHL teams to have two 300-goal scorers -- Owen Nolan (407) and Sykora (301).

Wild prospect Kris Foucault has eight points (five goals and three assists) in 13 games with the Calgary Hitmen, who are a league-best 10-3 in the Western Hockey League. ... Seven of the 10 players that received an "A" rating on NHL Central Scouting's most recent list of prospects are from Minnesota.

Chaska native Brad Hand, who got a big signing bonus as a second-round draft pick of the Florida Marlins in 2008, finished the season with the Class A Greensboro Grasshoppers with a 7-13 record and a 4.86 ERA.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com