First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career- how you got started and what made you decide on this career path?
Next month I’ll be celebrating my 11th year as a Financial Advisor with Ameriprise Financial. In 1998 the NFLPA offered programs during the off season in order for players to start preparing for life after football. I had interest in this type of career so I signed up and spent 2 months experiencing what this line of work entailed. After retiring in 2001 I contacted the branch manager to inquire about job opportunities and the rest is history as they say.
What aspects of the job do you enjoy the most and why and how did life in the NFL help you in this new role?
The most enjoyable part of my job is interacting with my clients and helping them realize their financial dreams. The values of hard work and integrity that were instilled in me during my playing career plays a big role in developing relationships with current and prospective clients.
After being drafted by the Jets in the eight round out of Penn State and spending eight years there, you signed on with the Steelers in 1998. What made you decide to sign on with the Steelers and how much did you ability to play both center and guard help you in Pittsburgh?
I was a free agent in 1998 and Bill Parcells ( Jets head coach ) wanted to go with a younger center. There was some interest 2 years prior with the Steelers but nothing materialized. My versatility certainly helped since Pittsburgh lost their guard/center Tom Mylinski that same year. Remember, I was born in West Mifflin, Pa so I’ve been a Steeler fan my whole life. The opportunity to go and play for the Rooney family was a dream come true.
What players were most helpful in welcoming you to the team and the “Steelers way” of doing things, and how did they do so?
What impressed me the most about the players on the team was there were no egos in the locker room. Ironically, one of the players who helped me adjust was the same player who helped me in New York. Jim Sweeney was not only a good friend but a great player who assisted me in adjusting to the NFL life in New York and Pittsburgh. In addition to Jimmy, my neighbor Dermontti Dawson personified the definition of the “Steelers way.” To this day we remain in contact and get together we he comes back to the Hall of Fame here in Canton, OH.
How did you adjust to being a veteran and being responsible in part for mentoring young players coming into the league? Was it difficult mentoring younger players who were looking to take your playing time and roster spot?
In order for the team to be successful you need players to know and accept their roles within the team. To this point in 1998 when I signed with Pittsburgh Alan Faneca was drafted so it was just a matter of time until he was inserted into the starting lineup. I accepted that and went about my business helping Alan and the team in any way I could.
Some of those teams you played for over your four years there struggled under Bill Cowher to make the playoffs. How did Coach Cowher and the team handle that adversity and what do you think brought about the turn around that saw the team reach the AFC Championship in 2001?
Prior to signing with the Steelers I played in one playoff game in 8 years with the Jets. Since making the playoffs was an annual occurrence for the Steelers the years we didn’t certainly wasn’t well received. Coach Cowher stressed the importance of coming to work with the right attitude and believing in the program which has worked even though we are having a down year. Players bought into that concept and eventually turned things around.
As a lineman, how difficult was it transitioning from a pocket quarterback like Maddox to a very mobile player like Stewart? How did Stewart’s style change the way you approached your job?
My old high school coach always stressed “play to the whistle” which certainly applies to this question. As a lineman you have a good feel of how long it takes for a play to develop. If this time has elapsed but ball is still in QB hands you need to adjust and compete until you hear officials blow a whistle.
Humor plays a big part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the guys on the Steelers teams you played for that helped keep things light, and how did they do so? Any examples?
Before several regular season games I remember Levon Kirkland imitating Coach Cowher’s reaction to Dermonti Dawson getting injured during a game. Also, Dermontti had this fake brick he would throw at unsuspecting players who did anything they could to get out of the way
You retired after that 2001 season (your 12th in the NFL). What prompted that decision for you and how difficult was it for you at that point?
I played 12 seasons and have no regrets. I was very fortunate since I had no major surgeries and played for two great organizations who took care of their players and families.
What do you think of the direction of the NFL today and what advice would you give younger players looking to make it in the NFL?
Whether you’re a draft pick or free agent you must earn anything you get. Ask questions and don’t make the same mistake twice.