Joey Porter, asst. LB coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
JP: Just try and give them the knowledge I have from this defense. I know the position. I know how the position is supposed to be played. I played under the same coordinator, the same coaches that these guys have now, so I kind of know what they want and how to do it, and I just try to help them with stuff that I used, stuff that I used to do that worked, and take what they've got and try to help polish their game.
Q: Can you help them emotionally too?
JP: That's to each person. Either you've got that type of passion for the game or you don't. When I was a player it kind of worked easier because I could be out there in the fight with them. Well, I'm not in the fight with you. So my words and stuff like that aren't going to carry the same weight, because I can't actually go out there and fight those battles with you. I can do all the rah-rah stuff I want to, but I'm still a coach, I'm still on the sideline. I don't have the opportunity to go out there and make that play to back up my words. That's different. I'm going to still coach like I coach. I'm still going to do everything I can do with the same passion that I have for the game because I love football, but I can't put the battery in their back to make them do anything special. They either have it or they don't.
Q: Where do you see those two guys right now?
JP: I see all the guys as a whole. I don't think it's fair for me to make assessments of where they're at in their game, when I have guys like Coach LeBeau, and Butts, and those guys. That's up to them to make the assessment of where they're at. My job out there is as a defensive assistant, just trying to help those guys get better. So the questions asked about where each guy is at, I don't feel comfortable making those assessments, because I think my job is too low on the totem pole to be saying what I think about a guy when I have legends like Dick LeBeau and Keith Butler and the assistant head coach, John Mitchell, are on that staff. That's their job.
Q: Do you sense that you have some guys that don't need the battery?
JP: Nah, I've got some guys who are just going to play football. It's a different era, a different league, but at the same time playing linebacker in this system you've got to have it. The standard was set here way before we were on board, something Lambert and them started years ago. You have a certain sense of urgency to play linebacker in this system. Every day you go to practice you look on the wall and the names are up there, so they know what we expect out of them, they know what the city of Pittsburgh expects out of them. I just think that comes with the territory when you play linebacker in Pittsburgh.
Q: How receptive are these guys?
JP: They're real good students. That's the good thing about it. I'm not running into anybody who's too big to learn. I've got a lot of young guys. The old guy in the room is Lawrence Timmons, and you know how he plays: He's a humble guy who will do whatever it takes to win football games. So I don't have any of those issues with guys who think they're too big to play the game of football. I coach it like I see it. I tell you when you're doing good and I tell you when you're doing bad, and I try to not make it personal because at the same time I'm just here to help.
Q: Have you noticed improvement in a couple of weeks?
JP: I felt like the first game was pretty good. There's always stuff on the tape that you're trying to get better at, but like I said it's kind of hard for me to make that assessment this early. We've only played one preseason game and to really know how much they've grown is you've got to watch a lot of tape of where they were a year ago. Now, are we picking up the defense and moving in the right direction? I definitely feel like we are.
Q: Do you miss playing, being that you're so close to it?
JP: You know, every morning I wake up thinking I got it. Until I go out there and try to do something, then realize I don't got it. But the kids are going to keep me young regardless, and that's what I love about it. I understand how LeBeau stays around the game so long, because it honestly will keep you young, man. We fool ourselves as coaches every day we wake up, like 'Damn, I think I got it today.' And I go out there and try to lift with 'em and I try to throw my cleats on, then I'm quickly reminded that my days are over. But it does feel good to be out there with them every day.
Q: How far would you like to take this up the totem pole, career-wise?
JP: Well, I'm a coach. Just like I was as a player, anything I do I'm going to do with everything I've got. There's not another job that I would want to have because it was like I was when you're a player: When you get paid to do something you love, it's not even a hard decision. I'm a coach now. That's what I want to do.
Q: Could you see yourself as a coordinator or head coach?
JP: I could see myself at my positiion until I outgrow it. I'm going to coach at my position and not on the fast track of looking for the next opportunity. I love my opportunity I have here, that I have now, and I'm going to look at it that way. I'm not sitting in this thing, thinking about a plan of where I'll be in five years. I want to be here next year. And I'm trying to get through this year. So hopefully I do enough to just keep that position.
Q: When you were playing did you think you would be a coach?
JP: Well, I did. I thought that I could do it. But at the time, watching my coaches grind with the hours, I was like, 'Whoa, man, really? You stayed up here all night?' Then we had some coaches who would come to work with a sleeping bag. I was like, 'Well, I kinda like my family a little bit. I don't know if I want to do it that much.' I had a great opportunity to go to college last year and do a GA job last year, and that's when I had a real opportunity to see what goes into this stuff. It's more that goes into college than in the pros. I did that. It wasn't the easiest job, but I got through it, and after getting through that I knew it was something I wanted to do.
Q: For you to play here under Dick and then come back here and coach under him, how special is that?
JP: I was just saying to Vince (Williams) and them today that they'll appreciate it later than they really understand it now. And I was telling them about the (James) Harrison interview when he started crying. That's how much that dude means to people. To play for a guy like Coach LeBeau is something special. That's why he is what he is, and when a guy says he loves him, they're not just thowing that word around, they really have true feelings for Coach LeBeau because of how he treated us as a player and how he is as a coach. There's nothing changed. That's why I'm appreciative to come back and coach and learn from Coach LeBeau. That's crazy, so I know I'm blessed to have this opportunity to not only come back home to Pittsburgh, but being in the same room with Coach LeBeau and really learning the reasoning and why we did things, what better way to start off my coaching career than have a legendary guy show me the ropes? That's why when you asked me if I had a fast track to go somewhere, no-o. I just want to sit under him as long as I can and learn. I'm in no rush. I love my position where I'm at and I want to be here with him as long as I can.
Q: Did you have any flashbacks being back here at St. Vincent?
JP: The first day I didn't know how to act. It was good to go to the lunch hall and see Shari, and see all the people who are still here from back in my days when I was a rookie. It's always good to come back to St. Vincent, even when I came back a couple years ago just for that day, it felt good. But staying in the dorms getting that old feeling again, that's the stuff that really fooled me because I was ready to practice and I had to realize that I can't. I was fooling myself. But it's fun. It's fun to be back.
Q: Is LeBeau excited by the young talent he has here?
JP: He's always excited about every new year, because every new year for him truly is a challenge. He's more concerned of the mesh of the defense, of how this team's going to grow. He makes a point to the young guys that each year is different. It's not the same defense it was a year ago, so you have a whole new start to try and be something special this year. And he just beats that into the young guys' heads over and over. He's a wizard of what he do. So he loves to get new players, older players, and put them together and get them to buy into the system and trust each other, because his system is proven. When I was with him I don't think we were ever worse than a top five defense. He's good at what he do. We know he's good at what he do. It's the young guys who don't really know the track record of LeBeau. It's up to the older guys to teach them to do their job, don't do anything special, play the defense, and it'll work out itself.
JP: Noooo. Them's still two of my guys. They laughed at me when I had to put on my whole coaching outfit for the game the other day. That was the first time they really gave me some mess. They were like, 'Oh, man, I can't believe you have those slacks on.' But besides that they've been cool. They don't call me coach. They just keep it Joey, Peezy. Like I said, it's good to be back home. You're back here coaching in this atmosphere. It's only four guys on the team I actually played with: Heath (Miller), Ben (Roethlisberger), Troy and Ike. So my relationships I have with them, I'll always have them because we won championships together and have been in many battles together. But they respect me as a coach.
Q: Speaking of the championship, what does this team need?
JP: We're young. We're in the growing process. I can't give you an assessment of what we need because I'm watching it gel as a group. Each team is different. When it happens, they'll know it. They'll know it before us.
Q: When did you know it in 2005?
JP: When our backs were up against the wall and we had to play Chicago, and we knew in that situation we couldn't lose any more games. And we won those four games and we knew every playoff game would be on the road, but we knew just to get in we couldn't lose no more. It was the same team we had that was 15-1 the year before, we just didn't know why we were playing bad early. And once we figured out we couldn't lose no more, the players took it upon themselves to say, 'We talked about getting Jerome (Bettis) to the Super Bowl and if we don't win this game it would be over.' And I think that game, Jerome coming in and running over (Brian) Urlacher, that just kind of set the tempo of 'You know what? The time is now. We can't lose no more and we can't look back.' And we didn't.