Dean Dingman, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1991

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First, can you let us know what doing with self since your time in the NFL?

When I was in Pittsburgh as a rookie, I started working for a sports agent and began representing players. I represented Ariel Solomon and Justin Strelczyk. After representing some more players, I moved to California and transformed myself into an entrepreneur – I started a gold company that installed synthetic gold courses in people’s homes. I also started a magazine – Image Magazine –  that went out to over 65,000 homes per month.

My old college position coach at Michigan then was Les Miles and he and I kept in touch. He wanted me to come and coach for him. Well, in 2010 the business climate changed and I thought I should try it. I moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and became the Assistant Director of Football Operations for LSU. I work with Coach Miles now facilitating between the fundraising, training, and administration and other departments.

How hard was it for you to adjust to post-playing life?

It was tough mentally. At the University of Michigan, I had great mentors. We were told that we were always one play away from not playing anymore. That was ingrained in me but I still dreamed of playing. But I tore my knee up my rookie year and I wasn’t the player I was anymore – so it was time to move on. I thought I was ready – the day after the surgery I started to lose weight so I would be in shape – I didn’t want to be one of those guys that weighed way too much after they played the game.

It was great at first. Then reality started settling in when you get to that first training camp you don’t go to now. I was practicing and preparing every year since seventh grade. for football camp.   Your mind every year gets you ready for this hard, physical thing. Now, in August, your mind is getting ready again but there’s now ay to work that energy out. You tell yourself you were ready, but there’s still this mental and physical void.

One day you’re playing then it’s all done. It’s all different. You were part of a team and organization now you’re just an individual with no support staff. You go through changes – you search for ways to fill the void. You make mistakes but keep m0vig forward. You have such passion for sports and competition – I can see how some say it’s like a drug. It’s very hard to find anything like that again.

How did you?

I was lucky. I had some successful businesses. But I was still searching. I had a friend who had an extra ticket to a Tony Robbins seminar in California. I went to it and it was amazing. All of the things he was talking about – setting goals, working hard, achieving things – those were things Bo Schembechler taught at Michigan.

I applied those things to my businesses and career. I filled myself with other, different things. I have to be thankful for what I have been given, and I rarely look back. I don’t think of myself as a guy who played football anymore.

You were drafted by Pittsburgh in ’91. What were your thoughts on being drafted by the Steelers – especially since they were deep on the line with Dawson, Long,  Strzelczyk, Ilkin, Jackson and others already there?

I was drafted in the eighth round – and everyone who is drafted looks at who’s there on the team. They let a couple of guys go in free agency and drafted a lineman – Tom Ricketts – in round one. I went in there looking for a chance to compete. Wherever you go, they are three-deep at your position. You have to beat out somebody and stay healthy.

Who helped mentor you as a rookie- both on and off the field – and how did they do so?

All of the guys were great guys. Strelczyk was a young guy then. I became close friends with Ariel Solomon. Hinkle, Brister, O’Donnell…all were great guys. We all got along. The NFL is interesting – they are all looking for people who can help and fit in the locker room.

My biggest adjustment was just realizing that it’s a job now. In college, it’s a bunch of 18-20 year-olds living in dorms or apartments. Then in the NFL it’s only 45-47 men. It’s so different. It turns into a job. As a person growing up who loves sports, it’s a tough transition.

What was Chuck Noll’s last season in Pittsburgh. Was there any indication that was the case when you were there? What was the feeling at the time?

I didn’t get that at all. I was young and naïve then – I just did what I was told. I worried about where I needed to be and about learning the offense.

You were injured your rookie season and placed on IR. What happened that it knocked you out of the NFL?

I hurt it in training camp – in Latrobe, practicing. I was blocking downfield – maybe I stepped into a divit, I don’t know. But I tore my ACL. I knew it was severe when it happened – it was totally different than when I hurt myself I the past. I knew it was bad.

What did the team tell you?

They had it scoped and it was a torn ACL. I had the operation and had it all replaced. It was a pretty new operation then. I opted to go to the University of Michigan and have the surgery performed there. The surgery came out good. I came back to Pittsburgh and the knee was perfect. But, my other knee wasn’t ok. I had torn cartilage in high school when I wrestled then tore it a few more times afterwards – there was no cartilage left – just bone on bone. That slowed me down. It wasn’t my just-operated on knee – it was my other one that did it. That knee was actually flagged by many teams when I was in the draft. I knew I would have a limited time on it, but hoped for more. I had no extension or flexibility – I couldn’t run fast.

How did humor affect that Steelers team?

Bubby Brister of course was the cause of some serious laughing. It was usually because of something he was doing in the nude in the locker room. Him and {Trainer} Ralph Berlin – there was always something between those two. Brian Blankenship was fun to be around….

With any team – it’s not about what happens, it’s about being around those guys. The comradery. It’s not the huge moments….nothing compares to that comradery.

What advice would you give young players entering the game today?

That’s what I do as part of my job now. I educate the players on the process and help them realize their potential. The draft  process has evolved over the past twenty years. I help them prepare for the drills and the tests. Back then, you just showed up and figured it all out and did what they told you to do. Now, you work out and prepare for the combine.

I also really try to educate guys on what their options are when their career is over. Have options – use your degree, or find a marketable skill. Set up your life after football. The idle times are the worst for a former athlete. You get in your own mind – and it’s usually not with positive thoughts. You marinate on things and go to negative places. Athletes are used to being busy all the time. Everything was scheduled. You have to take that burden off of yourself by having something else to think about. Football will end.

Any last thoughts for readers?

I was fortunate to be drafted by the Steelers – the Rooneys are a great family. They hire great people. You realize in life that there are people with hidden agendas. But Mr. Rooney – he hired such good people who had the best interests of the players at heart. And the players they brought in – none of them were angels, but they were all good guys at heart.

Even Colbert and Tomlin today. Those guys come down to LSU and they are really good people – great guys. Phil Kreidler  – their scouting coordinator – was a rookie intern or assistant scout when I was a rookie. Unfortunately, he was the bad news bear guy then – the one who told you to go to the office when you were being cut. Now I see him at LSU….

Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades To order, just click on the book:

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