Site Administration The College of William and Mary
W & M HOME

Steelers head coach Tomlin ('95) to deliver commencement speech

Mike Tomlin. Courtesy photo.

Mike Tomlin. Courtesy photo.


Related content
Press release: O'Connor to deliver law school's commencement address;
Press release: Student and baccalaureate speakers announced

(Williamsburg, VA) – Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, a member of the Class of 1995, is scheduled to deliver the 2008 commencement address at the College of William and Mary on May 11, 2008. In addition, Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and member of the Class of 1969, will receive an honorary degree at the ceremony.

William and Mary Chancellor and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will also be in attendance and deliver welcoming remarks.

Tomlin, who just finished his first year as coach of one of the National Football League’s most storied franchises, and Ellenson, a distinguished rabbi, scholar and leader of the Jewish Reform Movement, will both receive honorary doctorates of humane letters during the commencement ceremony at William and Mary Hall.

“As a young alumnus whose accomplishments belie his age, Mike Tomlin offers an inspiring example for our new graduates, and we look forward to hearing from him,” said W. Taylor Reveley III, interim president of William and Mary. “We’re thrilled to welcome Coach Tomlin back to his alma mater. We are also delighted to honor Rabbi David Ellenson for his distinguished career as a scholar, educator, and mentor. With these two extraordinary alumni returning to William and Mary, 2008’s Commencement promises to be a very special day for our graduates and their families.”

Mike Tomlin
Tomlin was named the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach on Jan. 22, 2007, replacing a coaching icon and 2006 Super Bowl champion coach Bill Cowher. The new head coach immediately endeared himself to Steelers fans by going 10-6 in his first season as coach and becoming just the second coach in team history to post a winning record, win a division title and earn a playoff berth in his inaugural season.

Tomlin as a member of the Tribe.Well-known to Tribe faithful during his time as an undergraduate, Tomlin was a three-year starter at wide receiver for William and Mary between1990-94. He finished his William and Mary career with 101 receptions for 2,046 yards and a school-record 20 touchdown receptions. A first-team All-Yankee Conference selection in 1994, Tomlin established a school record that year with a 20.2 yards-per-catch average.

Tomlin’s strong leadership skills were evident even during his playing days at Zable Stadium. In the locker room, Tomlin was known as a leader and a motivator.

“In Mike's time here at William and Mary, he displayed outstanding character and leadership,” said William and Mary Head Coach Jimmye Laycock. “He had a way of bringing the best out of those who were around him. Since he has moved on from this campus, he has risen to the highest level of his profession in a very short time. That he has been able to accomplish so much, so soon, is a great reflection on his intelligence and ability. He possesses the kind of personality that draws people to him. Mike has always been, and continues to be, a great representative of our university.”

In just over a decade since his undergraduate days, Tomlin has quickly established a remarkable coaching resume. Shortly after graduating from the College, Tomlin’s coaching career began in 1995 as a wide receivers coach at Virginia Military Institute. He later served as a graduate assistant at the University of Memphis, where he worked with the defensive backs and special teams units, as well as two seasons at Arkansas State University, where he coached wide receivers in 1997 and defensive backs in 1998. A year later, Tomlin was hired to coach the defensive backs at the University of Cincinnati. When he took over the Bearcats’ secondary was ranked 111th in the country. A year later, the unit improved to 61st overall. Under Tomlin’s direction in 2000, the Bearcats ranked eighth in the nation in interceptions as well as fourth nationally in total turnovers.

The defensive success at both Arkansas State and Cincinnati quickly got the attention of NFL coaches. The following year, Tomlin got a call from then-Tampa Bay Buccanneers’ Head Coach Tony Dungy to take over the secondary of one of the league’s top defensive units. Tomlin spent five seasons in Tampa Bay and led one of the NFL’s most productive defensive backfields. In 2003, Tampa Bay -- and its top-ranked defensive unit -- won the NFL championship in Super Bowl XXXVII. During that game against the Oakland Raiders, Tomlin’s secondary unit recorded four interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns.

In 2006, Tomlin took over as the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings and guided the unit quickly into one of the league’s best. During that year, the Vikings ranked eighth in the NFL in total defense and first against the run while not allowing a 100-yard rusher the entire season. The following year, Tomlin was hired to take over the Steelers and became the second-youngest head coach in the NFL.

While at William and Mary, Tomlin was known for both his football skills and his leadership and enthusiasm for the classroom. A sociology major, Tomlin was known for taking an active role in class discussion and a deep interest for helping at-risk youth.

David Aday, a professor of sociology and American studies at the College, taught Tomlin in two courses and said he remembers the former student well. Tomlin, who grew up on the Peninsula and graduated from Newport News’ Denbigh High School, visited Aday’s office regularly to discuss both his academics and the world around him.

“He was an eager and thoughtful student, deeply concerned about problems of crime and education, and dedicated to helping young men who are at risk, especially as victims of and participants in crime,” Aday said. “He was one of those students I remember because he took such an active role in those courses.”

Tribe pride remains a strong part of the Tomlin family. Tomlin returned to Williamsburg last summer to speak at the annual Football Reunion. His wife, Kiya (’96), was a gymnast while a student at the College. The couple has three young children.

Rabbi David Ellenson
Rabbi Ellenson leads the nation’s oldest Jewish seminary and is just the eighth president in the school’s more than 130-year history. Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) is the nation's oldest institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. Today, HUC-JIR has four learning centers across the world in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York.

Ellenson has been a member of the HUC-JIR faculty since 1979, including serving as its president since 2001. A well-known teacher, scholar and mentor, Ellenson – also the I.H. and Anna Grancell Professor of Jewish Religious Thought -- is internationally recognized for his publications and research in the areas of Jewish religious thought, ethics, and modern Jewish history. Ellenson is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem and a fellow and lecturer at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Ellenson’s extensive publications include “Tradition in Transition: Orthodoxy, Halakhah and the Boundaries of Modern Jewish History,” which was published in 1989; “Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and the Creation of a Modern Jewish Orthodoxy, which was published in 1990 and that same year nominated for the National Jewish Book Council's award for outstanding book in Jewish History; and 1994’s “Between Tradition and Culture: The Dialectics of Jewish Religion and Identity in the Modern World.” His latest book, “After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity,” a compilation of essays on Jewish values and identity, the challenge of emancipation, denominational responses, modern responsa, and contemporary works of legal and liturgical creativity, was published by Hebrew Union College Press in 2004.

After graduating from William and Mary in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in history, Ellenson was ordained at HUC-JIR in 1977 and received his Ph.D from Columbia University in 1981. Born in Brookline, Mass., Ellenson was raised in Newport News and graduated from in 1965 from Newport News High School. He is married to Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, who was ordained at HUC-JIR, in 1983. They have five children. Ellenson’s brother, James, is also a William and Mary graduate – receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1978 and a law degree in 1981.

© 2014 The College of William & Mary