First, let me know what you’ve been doing with yourself since the NFL?
After the NFL I got involved in financial services and started the Golden Ratio business with offices in Palm Springs, California, Oregon, and Washington. My experiences in the NFL learning to handle my own finances got me into it. I got my securities license and became successful, getting into asset management and employee benefits for organizations and individuals.
In 2007, I went into venture capital, looking for new opportunities. I started a company with a friend – NACC Inc. – where we worked with homeland security and transportation security on large scale deployment contracts, working with companies like Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin to install TSA equipment across the country. Our largest project ran from 2009-2016 where we integrated the entire Western region – over 156 airports – with all of their checkpoint security equipment
You’re also involved with the Sports Conflict Institute – tell me a bit about that?
It started art the University of Oregon where they had me come in as part of their advisory board. The whole idea is to focus on the management and business side of sports. It’s geared towards people who want to get into the profession of athlete representation. We also advise and partner with organizations who bring in technical enhancements to sports training on whether they are good ideas to implement.
So lot’s going on – how hard was that post-NFL adjustment for you?
That’s a great question and I speak about this a lot. Athletes – and NFL players specifically – have the best framework in which to be successful businessmen. They reached the top of the most competitive profession. The skill sets learned to study opponents and strategies … the practice and execution. It takes a lot from a physical and mental standpoint. It’s a high level of mental execution that athletes sometimes don’t think about. They get caught up in the physical but don’t realize how much mental learning and transfer it involves.
It’s a paradigm that it’s all wrapped up in their athletic identity, You strip that away from them and they fall down a bit. They aren’t the same person any more. It’s interesting. If they are able to take that same desire and discipline and translate that into business. The NFL is a pressure situation and if they can build on the strength, resiliency and character they learned to transfer that into business, they could be successful.
For me, I never let sports make my identity but I allowed it to enhance it and shape my business identity. There’s a level of work and responsibility I learned in the NFL that, because of that, I was able to take into the business world and succeed. For me it was a natural progression.
Taking a step back, let’s talk abut your time in the NFL. Were you surprised to be drafted by the Steelers?
I was not shocked to be drafted by the Steelers. They showed interest early on and brought in a number of execs to my workout. There was a lot of communication with my agent leading up to the draft.
I was shocked at how low I was picked, but that’s the way it goes sometimes in those situations.
I will say I was pleased to have the opportunity to be a part of the Steelers. The principles I learned there I use in my own business. The expectation of excellence and motivation. The Steelers didn’t have different players than many of the other teams – they all have good players. It’s how you motivate them – just like in a business. That’s the difference. Look at the Steelers, Patriots, and Eagles. They treat men like men. They expect them to be accountable to do a job. Consistency, persistence, and hard work – Cowher used to say that all of the time. That’s actually on my company logo now. Nothing else makes you more successful than those things. There is an expectation that you are accountable as a man and play to the bar of their lineage. If not, you aren’t going to be there for long.
Who helped mentor you as a Steeler to help those learnings stick?
It starts at the top. I remember walking down the hall and Nr. Rooney grabbing my hand, asking how I was doing, The team shows a personal interest in you – as a person.
John Jackson was an outstanding mentor too. He wasn’t just a mentor to me, he was a mentor to everyone – he was a fundamental cornerstone to the team and organization. The way he conducted himself and spoke of excellence. To be around him was phenomenal.
Any funny stories of your time there?
The team just had so many characters, Stai and Strelczyk were two interesting individuals. I remember walking by their room in camp and seeing them playing guitar together in their underwear, singing songs and jamming. And the crazy funny things Justin would say sometimes .
Another good story outside of football was when me and John Jackson went to Squirrel Hill. We were invited to an event at a jewelry store and were talking to these guys. Let’s just say they were goodfellas. They were serving caviar and I never tried it an had no interest in eating raw fish eggs, so I said “I’m ok.” They asked again and i said no again, but John nudged my shoulder and told me to eat the caviar. He told me later that was the main guy, and you don’t say no to the main guy!
Who were some of the toughest guys you remember facing?
I can tell you I never met a man as solid as Joel Steed. It was like running into a cement wall. He had to be the most powerful noseguard I can even think about playing.
Levon Kirkland – they listed him as 270 pounds, but if he was anything short of 290 they were lying! And the man could run. Picking up him on a blitz in the hole – there was never a guy like him. When he hit you it was like a train wreck.
Holmes was a great player – and Lloyd. When I was there he was near the end of his career and he camp to rookie camp to get some extra work in. He was the first person I lined up against and went by me in what must have been 2.3 seconds. I looked over at Coach Stephenson and he told me that was an eleven-time Pro Bowler! The second time we lined up I locked his ass up but he was fast.
I was the first rookie offensive tackle in ten years to start for the Steelers.
Was it a struggle and frustrating to get playing time there?
It wasn’t a struggle because that was the best offensive line in the business then. You look at those guys, starting with Dawson, who I don’t think people realize how good he was. He as a top five offensive lineman of all time. He was 270 pounds – he looked like a grocery clerk. He wasn’t a big, bulky guy. But he knew how to play the position better than any offensive lineman I’ve ever seen. I can’t explain it. There was something electric about him. Nobody else had it He’d take a 350 pound noseguard and put him on his butt. I could lift twice as much as him in the weight room but he was on another level of greatness.
So, being on a team with an offensive line with guys like him, Strelczyk, Stai, Jackson. – with three pro Bowlers – I wasn’t going to see the field. But I was able to learn from the best. I was in their faces all the time, asking what I could do to be like them. I think they respected that and were eager to help me because of it.
How hard was it to leave Pittsburgh?
It was tough. It was a whirlwind. I thought I was going to be in Pittsburgh for the long-term. But the circumstances …I felt like I was Superman losing his cape. I felt like I lost the desire to play after I left Pittsburgh. I felt like I didn’t do anything wrong when I got suspended and that messed with me mentally, to be honest. You have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be honest to be successful, and I lost some of the passion to play.
When I went from Pittsburgh to the Redskins it was like night and day. It was horrible. Norv Turner was the coach then and I remember my first game being on the sidelines there and their receiver – Westbrook – was cussing out Turner, using every cuss word he knew. If that was Cowher there would have been a fist fight between the two and every Steelers player would have joined in to stomp on him. There was no structure or culture. No leadership. To be a great leader in sports – dealing with the A type of A type athletes – you have to be a strong leader. You can’t treat everyone the same. You need different expectations for different players. The Redskins were just horrible and they still suffer from some of those symptoms. No leadership or expectation of excellence. No structure. You can win a few games and have some success but by and large you fail. You can’t compete with people who are committed to be successful.
So, any thoughts then for kids entering the NFL today?
Use the NFL as the platform that it is. There’s no better business to be involved in. Too many people look at the NFL as a way to open up other businesses. There’s no better business though than to be an NFL player – you won’t make more money in any other business. So treat yourself like a business financially and physically. Be responsible and execute and structure yourself to be successful.
Then you can prepare yourself for like outside of the NFL. There’s no rule that says if you make one-million you have to spend one-million. You see some players driving their $20,000 cars still. You’re still young when you’re done with the NFL. At best, you’ll be in your mid-30’s. So, remember that and be in the business of yourself. Use your connections and resources, and in the offseason use those to prepare yourself for the business world.
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: