"I didn't mean he'd be a HEAD coach in the NFL by 35," said Scherer, hired last week as the Carolina Panthers' quarterbacks coach and passing-game coordinator.
Tomlin's job at Memphis was to guide the scout team, a collection of reserves who mimicked upcoming opponents during practice. Scherer's son Scott quarterbacked the scout team.
"Scott had been around football his whole life," Scherer said. "But all he would ever talk about was Coach Tomlin."
Fate really began toying with Tomlin after his season at Memphis.
One of Scherer's assistants, Jim Marshall, became head coach at Division I-AA Tennessee-Martin. He hired Tomlin full-time and gave him a recruiting territory that included Memphis' East High School.
Tennessee-Martin was courting East's tailback, but so was Division I-A Arkansas State. Tomlin, Arkansas State coach Joe Hollis and his offensive coordinator, Randy Fichtner, descended upon the school the same day.
"Mike tried one of my old recruiting tactics," said Fichtner, now Tomlin's receivers coach with the Steelers.
The ploy is as simple as it mischievous. Linger with the high school coach, cutting into your rival's time.
Fichtner and Hollis appreciated the kid's brashness. The three talked some football, and at day's end Fichtner chased Tomlin down the hallway, handed him a business card and asked for his cell-phone number.
Within weeks, Tomlin joined Hollis' staff. He had worked at Tennessee-Martin for less than three months and without coaching a game.
At Arkansas State, "Mike was like a sponge," said Hollis, retired in Alabama. "He wanted football 24 hours, seven days a week. … Each day was really a workday for him, whether it be recruiting, practice or game day. He was the total package. …
"He cares about everyone else before himself. Good things happen to people like that."
Hollis knew he wasn't going to keep a young talent such as Tomlin in Jonesboro, Ark., for long. Sure enough, after two seasons, 1997 and '98, University of Cincinnati coach Rick Minter called Hollis looking for an assistant.
Cincinnati offered a better program in a more vibrant community. Tomlin wanted them, but did they want him?
"I generally tell people that I can meet a guy and inside of one to two minutes know whether I want to proceed (with the interview)," said Minter, now Marshall University's defensive coordinator. "Mike was that kind of guy. He has 'it,' and you knew he had it from the moment you met him. … He has a glow about him.
"He was very, very good with our players. Attentive to detail, enthusiastic. Could be tough on kids. Mike's like the Pied Piper. … You just knew, some day, Mike Tomlin's going to be a head coach."
Tomlin worked at Cincinnati in 1999 and 2000, after which Minter received a call from Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, an old friend from their time together at North Carolina State and Arkansas.
Tampa Bay's defensive backs assistant, Herman Edwards, had just become the New York Jets' head coach, and Kiffin asked Minter about possible candidates. Minter recommended Tomlin.
Smitten by a minority internship with the Cleveland Browns the previous summer, Tomlin was eager to try the NFL. The Buccaneers hired him, starting the longest tenure of Tomlin's career — five years.
Tampa Bay won a Super Bowl with Tomlin on the staff, and in 2006, the Minnesota Vikings appointed him defensive coordinator. One year later, the Steelers, a season removed from their record-tying fifth Super Bowl victory, chose Tomlin to replace Bill Cowher.