First, let’s talk about your coaching career – why did you decide to stay involved the game as a coach?
I think it was just how I was brought up to play. I just had good coaches and played in good cultures and locker rooms. I had really good high school coaches – Coach Wright, who’s in the Mississippi Hall of Fame, Coach Absen who was my track coach and even my coaches in Little League Baseball. Coach Haskins – they all set good examples.
In college – Stallings and Oliver at Alabama. Cowher, LeBeau, Horton, and Mitchell in Pittsburgh. I learned to coach the same way as some of those guys. Even Tomlin – you can’t leave him out. I had some of the best coaches ever in the game. Their examples showed me how to do it. They helped me. Those locker rooms – from Alabama to Pittsburgh – those were two historic programs. They way the vets helped the younger guys showed me how to embrace that. That desire to help younger guys is really what coaching is.
Any specific lessons or approaches stick with you today?
One thing I can say about Coach Cowher – nothing was ever etched in stone. Every day you had to prove yourself.
On the coaching side too, the biggest thing that helped me was learning to be consistent. Having consistent messages from OTAs to camp to the playoffs. We had some not great seasons where we went 6-10 and 8-8, but the messages were still the same. We didn’t panic. When you see guys do it like that you learn that’s how you have to do it. You can’t just blow like a leaf in the wind. You have to trust what you’re doing.
Speaking of mentoring, who helped mentor you as a young player, and how hard was it for you when you became the mentor of younger guys looking to take away your reps and job?
Ha – you know, when you have guys in my rookie year like Carnell Lake and Darren Perry, you have that. With guys like that – two guys that later became NFL coaches – that can only go one way.
As a competitor, you don’t worry about guys trying to take your job. If you’re fortunate, you play four preseason games, sixteen games and four playoff games. Thats twenty-four games in a season – and we used to play five preseason games. You have to believe you’re going to need those younger guys. They need to know what you know. Your checks and wins are attached to them. The competition makes you better. And there’s always a little more you know than they do. There’s no excuse for you not to work with them. You need to be a good teammate.
Stepping back…tell me a bit about getting drafted by the Steelers. Were you surprised?
Like most twenty-one or twenty-two year olds in college, you always think you should go higher, unless you’re the first overall pick. But it was one of the best moments of my life. It was a dream come true and it worked out well. When Mr. Rooney called and let me know I was being drafted and asked if I wanted to be a Steeler – its not like I was going to say no! But it was of one the best moments of my life.
And twelve years in one city. That is rare right? What do you attribute that too?
A lot of it was just staying healthy. Being available is important. From coaches to teammates, pushing each other to compete. Focusing on winning and keeping vets there to mentor the younger guys, that helps.
Pittsburgh is also a great city. It’s tough to leave. All of those things, those are the types of things that make you want to be in Pittsburgh. It was a blessing to stay that long. You just have to understand your role. A lot of guys miss out on that.
Any fun or memorable stories to share of your time there?
Hines’ and my lockers were right next to each other. He would get excited waiting for the gameplan every week and I would know when he was looking at the script. He would fuss so much when he read the script and found out he wasn’t getting the ball as much that game!
I also had a radio show I did when I was playing. One game James Farrior had a big play – in the huddle after the play I told him he needed to do my show on Tuesday. He said ok, and during the week I reminded him about doing it. He didn’t recall answering me during the game and saying yes. Those are some of the things that happen between the lines that people don’t know about. Things happen so fast in a game.
Lastly, especially as a current coach, what advice would and do you give young players entering the game today?
Well, that’s the reason I am coaching yes. To share this opportunity with them. I tell them they need to accept their role. Separate yourself. When the veterans are out, study the playbook. I think younger guys today feel entitled. This game is about respect. If you respect the game and your role, you can play for a long time.
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: