Exclusive with Hank Fraley, RMU/Steelers Center, 2000

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First, as the offensive line coach now for UCLA – tell me about about who has influenced you as a coach, and how?

It’s funny. Reflecting back, my dad was a huge influence. He coached me all the way up to high school in every sport – baseball, basketball…on the travel teams.. He influenced me. always wanted to coach – he was my first ever coach, from day one, since I was six.

Joe Hammond was my high school coach – hs a legendary coach in Maryland where I grew up. And of course I had Joe Walton and Dan Radakovich at RMU. Joe was a top fifty ballplayer at Pitt and coached for twenty-plus years in the league and in college.

I only spent one season in Pittsburgh and was heartbroken when I was released. But I had Cowher and Kent Stephenson as my offensive line coach there. After there was Camarillo in Tampa Bay and Marshall with the Jets – and Davidson who traded for me when he was with the Eagles.

These are all guys I learned from and molded myself after. I took bits and pieces from them – took pieces of what they taught me. I still stay in touch with most of them – even defensive coaches like Romeo Crennel who helped teach me to be a better person  – not just a football player.

So how do you view yourself as a coach?

I’m paying it back. At UCLA I envision myself as a teacher first. If you get beat, there are reasons. It’s not just about trying harder. I work with them on how to fix it – like taking a test. I try to give them the answers before the test and let their training make them succrssful.

Tell me a bit about how the college games differs from the NFL as a lineman and how you help players get ready for the NFL game?

The biggest difference I think from college to the NFL is that the hashmarks are wider so teams throw to the perimeter more – and faster.  The wider hashmarks make it easier. In the NFL defensive linemen are faster so they get to the perimeter faster – and the hashmarks aren’t as wide and things are more often in the middle of the field.

So how do you as a coach prepare players for the NFL style?

Well, I still work on pass protect. I still have them block like the quarterback is holding the ball for seven seconds. I try to do that in every practice and that;’s what it’s like at the next level – so they can still transition nicely. This way when you’re done at UCL:A you have the skills to do the job at the next level.

Even run blocking – it’s the same footwork whether you have five or seven guys in the box. You still need the proper footwork so you’re ready for the next level. A lot of teams just try to get their seventy to one-hundred plays in at practice, But here we’re trying to get them some techniques taught as well. You don’t always have to have all the talent – you just need the right technique to be an excellent player.

Tell me about choosing to play at RMU and working with Radakovich and Walton, who both also coached with the Steelers?

The first time I met Bad Rad – it was on a recruiting visit, I wasn’t being heavily recruited – I actually was just riding up there with a buddy, who was. Rad, he put two hands on me the first time he met me and pushed me back. “What are you going to do?” he asked me. I was just like, what does this old man want me to do!  I got lower and pushed him back and he said that was right – I needed to play with leverage, And that’s what Rad instilled in us all – to play technically sound – to play with leverage and balance. I laughed with my buddy after that about meeting Rad. I liked that demeanor though – Rad was out there but he taught us a lot.

Walton was proud of the young man I became, he told me, not because of the football player I was. Football doesn’t last long for everyone – but his emphasis on being good men, teaching kids to be good men – that;’s what sticks with me. It’s about what kind of men you will be.

As an undrafted free agent out of RMU, did you have many offers outside of the Steelers’ – and why did you accept the Steelers’ offer?

I did. Ralph Cindrich was my agent and he was out of Pittsburgh then. He actually is retired now and has a place down the street from me. It was a business decision to choose the Steelers – it was a smart decision we both made. It was not about money – I was offered a lot more money by other teams. But we looked at the Steelers roster – I mean, I knew I wasn’t beating out Dermontti Dawson! But there were a lot of veteran players on the line – they were up in age. And they weren’t taking on other interior guys.

So, it wasn’t just a feel-good RMU grad story. I actually never was a Steelers fan before then. It was just about how I could get on the field faster. Dernontti got hurt and they had other injuries – so they had to turn to me to play – they had no one left to turn to. So that’s how I got to play.

Who helped mentor you as a young guy entering the league?

I remember my first OTA’s Dawson pulled me aside and told me that if I needed anything his door was always open. I based my career off of that. Here this Hall of Fame player is holding his door open for some rookie. He never had to do anything like that.

He and I are good friends now. We had the same agent then – I didn’t know that at the time. Roger Duffy was great to me too.

It’s funny – I then went on to play for the Browns. I don’t really have a team now. I played for four teams and root for them all, though playing for Cowher was great and I’m very thankful to the Rooney family for the opportunity they gave me

Tell me a bit about how humor found it’s way into your experiences there?

Back then rookie hazing was still allowed though Cowher didn’t let it go overboard. I was always petrified to go get food because they’d make you sing. I tried to sneak in and get a lunch boxed up to take out but guys like Porter would recognize you and make you sing. I didn’t know many songs – but I remember them having me stand on a chair and sing I’m a Little Teapot.

I also remember the first time I worked on getting my balance in camp. Kimo Von Oelhoffen just gave me a club move and knocked me off of my feet. He was so powerful. It was embarrassing – it was at training camp in front of fans…I was learning fast!

Everyone thinks I’m from the ‘Burgh- it’s like a second home now. My son is at Moon Middle School – he’ll be a Tiger in a year. I’ll always have fond memories. I still come back and hang out with my college buddies – and now my son.

What advice would you give your players today as they enter the NFL?

My main advice is to show up. Be on time – be early. Be eager to work and happy to be there, We actually wear wristbands here that say “No complaining”. Enjoy life snd the process. Be early – it means a lot. When coaches see so-so working out an hour early they know you are taking care of business.

Be a student of the game – learn the game. Guys that made it – even ones with a lot of talent, they were the best students of the game. {Cleveland Browns} offensive tackle Joe Thomas is a good friend. He always took notes – he knew his opponent. We always said don’t complain – just go out and do it anyway, no matter what. Embrace it and move on.

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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