By Mike Bires
LATROBE — In just over three weeks from now, Dan Bylsma begins the process that Mike Tomlin started three weeks ago.
That’s building the foundation for a title defense.
These two amazing coaches reached the pinnacle of their professional earlier this year, Tomlin and his Steelers winning the Super Bowl before Bylsma and his Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
On Wednesday, Bylsma came to St. Vincent College to catch up with Tomlin and watch the Steelers at practice.
“It is an unbelievable experience,” said Bylsma, who was wearing a black jersey with the words “Steel City Champions” inscribed across his chest.
“We are here to see how the Steelers do things. The one great thing is that we have one of the best teams in all of sport right here in the city in the Steelers. This is a chance for us to come and be friends with them like they are with us.”
Bylsma came to Latrobe with a small entourage that included team president David Morehouse, assistant coach Mike Yeo, media relations director Tom McMillan and a few other front office staff members.
Besides meeting with Tomlin, Bylsma spent most of practice chatting with Kevin Colbert, the Steelers’ personnel director who’s an avid hockey fan and season-ticket holder to Penguins games.
“It’s an unbelievable thing not only for the Steelers and the Penguins, but for the city to have the ‘City of Champions’ back,” Bylsma said. “I think it’s an unbelievable thing to have that kind of sports fraternity here in Pittsburgh.”
On Feb. 15, Bylsma, 38, replaced Michel Therrien as coach of the Penguins, who were struggling to just make the playoffs after losing to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals. Under Bylsma’s direction, the Pens righted their ship and finished the regular season by going 18-3-4.
Then they began a remarkable post-season run that ended with a Game 7 victory over Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals.
Four months earlier, at age 36, Tomlin became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl after the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals.
“We’re kind of going through similar issues,” said Tomlin, who is now 37. “I’m a little further down the road than he is, you know basking in the glow if it all. But it’s good to see those guys. You know, I’m a big supporter of those guys.”
Tomlin and several Steelers attended many of the Pens’ home games during the playoffs.
“I’m from Texas, and there ain’t too much hockey down there,” nose tackle Casey Hampton said. “Watching it on TV, I never liked it. But going to the games is fun.”
Bylsma said that his conversations with Tomlin and Colbert on Wednesday included questions about how the Steelers’ organization operates, especially after a championship season.
“This was a chance for us to come (to camp) and not only be fans of them like they are of us, but also to come and see things and learn something from them,” Bylsma said.
“We’re fans first and foremost. But the opportunity to come here and watch how they’re doing things, how they approach training camp and how they’re dealing with a season after a championship, is something we would like to learn from.
“It’s great to have the opportunity to come here and watch how they’re doing things, watch what they do, how they approach training camp, to chat about how they’re dealing with the season after a championship and what they think their mentality is.”