First, can you let readers know what you ate doing with yourself now?
I’m working in the athletic development department at Michigan State as the Senior Associate Director of Athletics. I’ve been with he university for over eighteen years. Most of that time was as the Lieutenant of the Michigan State police department.
How did you make that jump from police to working for the AD Department?
Yeah – I went the non-traditional route. As an officer I used to run workshops on character development for the student athletes. As a former student athlete, I helped those individuals understand the laws and to leave the school with usable benefits for their entire life. After years of doing these workshops I was asked to be on the search committee for a new head coach inn 2007. The then AD Mark Hollier asked me afterwards if I wanted to compete for the job I have now and I did.
Former Steeler Defensive Coordinator George Perles worked as the coach and AD there as well – any communication with him?
No – I never talked to him about the job…maybe he had something to do with it I don’t know…
Getting to you college career and NFL, were you surprised to be drafted by the Steelers in ’92?
I was surprised to be drafted. I was a good player in college – I played as a freshman and wanted to make sure I graduated in four years. I was invited to play in the Blue-Gray All-Star Classic game – I don’t think that’s even played any more. Well, I made a few plays and from there got invited to the combine. I had a good performance there and a few teams afterwards worked me out. I went from off the radar to being drafted in two months. I really just expected t be preparing for a career in law enforcement.
It was a whirlwind?
It all came quickly. I never worked out for Pittsburgh – I remember doing so for Cleveland and the Rams… Maybe the George Perles connection helped me with Pittsburgh, I don’t know.
Taking a step back – why law enforcement?
For me, it was an opportunity to help people. I saw officers in my community growing up and had good experiences with them. I was never the guy who wanted the sirens and to go after the bad guys, I wanted to help people – to be the person people called on when they needed help. That was the nature of law enforcement for me and I knew I wanted that.
The profession has changed – what are your thoughts on those changes?
I think technology has changed it. In the past interactions were private between officers and the person they were working with. Now with car cameras and cell phones, everything is public. I think it’s a good thing for both sides to help review conduct. I don’t think it’s a bad time for law enforcement. If you are holding on to the core values and adding value to the community, there is nothing to worry about. If you are one of those that shouldn’t be a police officer, they are identified now.
When you were drafted, who helped afterwards to mentor you as a rookie – on and off the field?
It’s interesting. When I was drafted – not sure if they still do it – but they had all the rookies come in the next weekend for mini-camp. I flew in that weekend – the first day was just rookies. I remember Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson were there – also D.J. Johnson.. On day one they kind of took me under their wing. Rod and Carnell gave ne pointers on the field. I stayed over the Summer and Rod had private workouts with the defensive backs at the University of Pittsburgh track and we all ran through the Pittsburgh hills and neighborhoods.
I got invited to play golf with those guys and we all got to know each other. They took me under their wing the entire Summer. It really showed me that NFL players were just like me – we all got along even thought we competed for the same job,
LeBeau was incredible too. HIs ability to talk to us as individuals and help us feel relaxed was amazing. It was the first year under Cowher too. It’s no wonder there were so many coaches from that staff that went on to become head coaches – they were all so good.
How did the team handle that first season under Coach Cowher?
I didn’t know any different since it was my first year, but no players talked about it in front of me. They held on to the traditions – the legend jerseys were till up. It was clear there was a new direction but no older players talked about having issues. Cowher was a player before and he was able to get the players’ respect. LeBeau too. You could really see the respect the players had for them.
How did humor come into play – how did it help everyone adjust?
We got through things with laughter. LeBeau always had his one-liners – would tell us to take it easy on him today! It made us feel relaxed.
Larry Griffin was the old man – the Yoda of the group. He had that gray hair and got abused because of his look. But he was only thirty-two or thirty-three.
And we had the rookie talent show – everyone had to do their skits in front of the team. It was a stressful time. The guy next to you – even your roommate – he might not be there net week But we all went out together – all played golf together. I remember those experiences. It was never cut-throat. I try to duplicate that now – did in my police work and now. To push teamwork . We were all in it together – that’s hard to duplicate.
Bubby Brister was my locker mate. Being a true rookie next to Bubby was interesting. He never made me feel like a rookie – he talked to me like I was a veteran. He was a superstar but he made me feel like a ten-year veteran. I remember we used to get paid every two week. I looked at mine right away, but there were times when Bubby never even opened his. I’m sure he made like fifty times more than me!
So you’re with the team for a year and a half then get released…what happened then?
It was very interesting. It was a Wednesday practice. I had a great practice – intercepted a pass and had a fun time running it back…I was on the active roster then. I went home – I was staying across the street and was cooking spaghetti for dinner – I remember that – when I got a call from the Director of Player Personnel telling me that Coach Cowher wanted to speak with me. I thought after that great practice he wanted to elevate me to the dime or nickel. So I ran over there – I was excited. I went to his office and he said that I had an incredible practice, but that tight end Craig Keith got hurt in practice and they weren’t going to put him on injured reserve. They needed another tight end, so that meant they were going to release me and put me on the practice squad. So it just meant I wouldn’t be on the active roster. I was like “Ok, cool…” and went home to my apartment to finish making my spaghetti.
The phone rang again, and this time it was the Cleveland Browns. They told me they picked me up from the waiver wire. I just said “huh?. I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t know anything about the waiver wire. I could tell he felt my disappointment in my voice….He told me they were excited to have me and they knew I was disappointed, but they needed me to go there that night. So that night I got rid of the spaghetti, drove from Pittsburgh to Cleveland and practiced with them the next day.
Did you get any grief fro the Cleveland players for coming from a rival, or from the Steelers when you came back to play for Pittsburgh the following season?
When I got to Cleveland they asked me a lot of questions about the Steelers defense. Capers had just started the zone blitz there. I felt protective of Pittsburgh. I was getting paid by Cleveland but felt protective of Pittsburgh! I didn’t want to tell Cleveland anything…
What advice would you give now to players trying to get to the NFL today?
I don’t like to be a dream killer. A typical career lasts one to three yeas and only a small percentage make it. I tell my student athletes to have a plan for the NFL and do the things you need to do while you are here to get your degree and improve your character. Think about your career past college and experience what you can while you are here. Interact with your professors and advisors and other students. Make those connections and take care of your character. At some point even if you make it to the NFL you can’t stay there – at some point it ends.
For those in the NFL, work hard and grind it out and do all you can to stay there. I didn’t have to deal with all of the things they have to deal with now. The friends and associates that come with you. You have to remember that you’re the person that made it there. You need to be loyal but they’re not getting up with you at six am to practice. Don’t feel obligated to have everyone come with you.