Sam Clancy, Pitt Basketball/NFL-USFL Defensive End

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Sam Clancy:

First, can you let readers know what you are doing now for your alma mater Pitt and how you got involved in that role?

I’m currently the varsity letter club coordinator. My job basically is to re-connect Pitt with all of the former letterwinners- both men and women – that played here. I’m also an athletic gift officer for fundraising,

What brought you back to Pitt?

I came back in 2006 to finish my degree after I was let go by the Raiders when I was coaching there. During that time I helped Coach Wannstedt as an assistant coach in the weight room.  {Athletic Director} Steve Pederson came to me afterwards and offered me this job because I was well-known in the city and because Steve thought my personality could get people to come back to the university.

What lessons and coaches did you model your coaching style after and do you want to get back into coaching?

I took something from everybody really. By defensive line coach in Cleveland was very helpful. It’s one of those things where I played thirteen years professionally and took something from everyone.

I definitely want to get back into coaching, yes.

You were a standout basketball player at Pitt at a time when the program was not as strong as it is today. What are your thoughts on the way the Pitt program has progressed over the recent years?

We played in the Eastern Eight at the time and moved to the Big East right after I left. I wish I could have played in the Big East.

Our move to the ACC is outstanding for the program. With us and Syracuse moving to the ACC, we’re definitely the number one conference in basketball.  The program under Jamie Dixon and Pederson has been going in the right direction. Now the move will help with recruitment – we can get better athletes.

We’ve always been ranked in the top ten over the past ten years. This will help us get better athletes. The only drawback is that when y0u get better athletes in many cases they leave early for the NBA. But that’s a good problem to have. 

Despite being a standout player in college, you didn’t find yourself in the NBA after your college career. What was the biggest obstacle for you in making it to the NBA?

My biggest issue was that I was an undersized power forward. I played center at Pitt and had great jumping ability and at 240 pounds, I could handle the contact. I had an average jump shot though and lied about my height (laughing). Pitt had me in their program guide at 6’7″, but I was really 6’5  3/4″. I tried to stretch my neck to look taller (laughing).

I got drafted by Phoenix in the third round and was the last guy cut that year. They had Truck Robinson who had the same body type as I did. They just couldn’t have two undersized power forwards, though they said they did like me as a player.

So, they sent me to the Continental Basketball Association and I played there for a year before it folded and that was the last time I played professional basketball.

Of course, you then found yourself being drafted by Seattle – of the NFL – without ever having played college football. How did this come about? How did you become a viable NFL prospect without ever having played college football?

I give the credit to Pitt’s football coach Jackie Sherrill. I never played for him but I did go out for Spring ball for him my senior year. Jackie always wanted me to play football – he was a great salesman and said he could make me into an All-American football player. I was an All American player in high school.  

I played Spring ball for two weeks as a backup defensive end – and in the scrimmages he’d have the second team defense line up against the first team offense. Every play seemed like it was designed to run right at me. I was involved in probably three of every five plays. Jackie said  guys like Mark May and Russ Grimm were struggling against me. So Jackie kept asking me to play, but I hurt my ankle and decided to stop and go back to basketball.

But, after the Continental Basketball League folded I got a call from Seattle. Jackie had called them and told them I would be a great camp guy. Remember, back then they had over a hundred and fifty guys in camp. Well, I was in Billings, Montana at the time. I looked around – I had nothing else to do so I said sure!

If I didn’t get that call I probably would have tried to play oversees, though it wasn’t big overseas like it is today.

Who helped mentor you most as a young player trying to find your way in the NFL – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples?

There were a couple guys. I was drafted in Seattle as a tight end. I moved to defensive line my second year when Chuck Knox became coach.  Jacob Green was my first mentor. He was an all-pro defensive lineman that could rush the passer.

I went to the USFL for two years after those two years in Seattle. I learned how to play there. The talent was not as good as it was in the NFL – it was a step lower though you did have a lot of NFL players there.

Frank Lautamer, the defensive line coach for the Maulers, was also the defensive line coach for Seattle when I was there. He helped me to pattern my game after Jacob Green’s. When I was in Cleveland Carl Hairston really helped me a lot.

Was there resentment towards you as you made a career for yourself in the NFL from those that had played football in college? Especially as you first began your football career?

There was no resentment, no. Guys were always willing to teach me. You never gave vets problems – I knew that. If you resist them, some could make your camp miserable. I roomed with the first round pick that season in Seattle so we’d get hazed sometimes-  thirty pound buckets of water dropping on us when we opened up our door – stuff like that. But that was it.

Your football success didn’t come overnight. How long did it take before you really felt like you had mastered the defensive end position and your pass-rushing technique?

It took about three years to stop making the physical mistakes. Back then, basketball players didn’t lift weights – we thought it messed up our shot (laughing). So it took those three years to develop my body and the footwork to be able to be consistent and to be able to get off blocks.

You spent a couple of years in the USFL – one with the Pittsburgh Maulers in 2004. How did the USFL differ and what was our playing experience like in Pittsburgh?

The Maulers was a great experience. I ended up having sixteen sacks that season – second in the league. After the Maulers I played for one year with Memphis and played with the greatest defensive lineman ever to play the game – Reggie White.

The USFL gave me confidence to play in the NFL.

What are some of your greatest memories – both at Pitt and as a professional football player? What makes them so?

At Pitt, I was a kid who grew up to be a young man. When I played professional ball, I was there to make a living and feed my family. I had two kids. So I always looked at it as two different paths to life that I went through.

I remember going to Cameron Field House to play Duke in ’79. They were ranked third in the country then. I had a steal near the end of the game and raced down the court, missed a jump shot, got the rebound, and made the winning basket. They had four All-Americans on that team. It was the biggest moment at Pitt up to then.

We played our hearts out. I still hear Mike Gminsky saying that I single-handedly beat Duke that game, but that’s not true. We all played our hearts out.

Making the Pro-Am team and playing for Bobby Knight in ’79 was special too. We won the gold medal then in San Juan Puerto Rico.

For football, the two AFC championship games I played in in Cleveland in ’86 and ’87. Just having the opportunity for the chance to play in the Super Bowl before losing to Elway. Those were great experiences.

I also remember beating the Steelers. Being from Pittsburgh and having had been a Steelers fan, it takes a long time to get that out of your system.

We had never beaten Pittsburgh at Three Rivers up to that point. Malone was the quarterback and Pittsburgh was down by one but driving for the winning score. They were already in field goal range when I fought through the offensive line and sacked Malone and forced a fumble that we recovered to win the game.

It was a sweet moment for me. I had relatives in the stands wearing Steelers jerseys too, some whom I gave tickets to.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Just that I was blessed to have this career. I;m not sure how many people could have done what I have done.  I was blessed – and you have to have some luck too.

It was all fun. And if I had to do it again, I’d do it the same way.

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