Open mike: Dick Hoak

Dick Hoak spoke at a Boy Scout Banquet at the Greensburg Country Club last May. He talked about Jeannette High, Penn State U, and of course the Steelers, where he played and coached for 45 years before retiring this year. It's an interesting transcript. Take a couple days.

DICK HOAK

Greensburg Country Club, May 24, 2007

It's nice to be here. I was just at the Fayette Council down in Fayette County. I spoke there at the Boy Scout Banquet. As I told them, I'm not going to give you a motivational speech. I'm not very good at that. I'm a man of few words. I can't stand up here and talk for 15 to 20 minutes. What I can do is give you my background – things I've done in my career – and then I want to open this up. You can ask any question you want. The only thing I will not answer is anything about e-mail. I never had an e-mail. I never had a computer, so don't ask.

Tony (DeNunzio) and I go way back and when I met Tony in 1961, when I came out of Penn State, Jeannette was just starting a bank called Jeannette Federal Savings and Tony kind of ran the bank. I was out in Arizona playing in a college all-star game. At that time, the draft was held in December. The game was played the day before New Year's. And what happened was we played the Southwest All-Stars. It was the National All-Stars against the Southwest All-Stars, and one day we had practice. They put us on the bus and drove us to Las Vegas. When I got off the bus, there was a guy standing there. He had a 10-gallon hat on and his name was Harry Gilmer. He was a scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn't know who he was, and he came up to me and said, ‘Are you Dick Hoak?' And I said, yeah. I was just getting off the bus. And he said, ‘We just drafted you.' Well, I thought he meant I was going to go into the service. Back in those days, who cared about the NFL draft? It's changed so bad. But anyway, he took me into a room there in Las Vegas and he offered me a contract. He offered me a contract for $10,000 with a $500 bonus. That was good money back at that time, but I didn't sign. I told him I wanted to go home and talk it over with my parents and my brothers. I had two older brothers who helped me a lot of decisions. So I got home and then Happy Lewis, who was a coach for West Virginia at one time; he was also a scout with the Steelers at that time. He came to my house and he offered me the $10,000, $500 signing bonus. I said, well, I need six credits at Penn State. I'd gone for four years and I was six credits short of graduating. In my family, there was nobody who could afford to go to college. I was the first one to ever go to college in my family. So, what happened was, I said give me $9,000 and a $1,500 signing bonus. I didn't have a whole lot of confidence in myself, and that way, if I didn't make the team, I could use that money to go back and get the six credits. My older brother had graduated with Tony, so I got this check for $1,500 and my older brother said, ‘Come on, we'll go down to Tony DeNunzio's bank and we'll give the money to Tony.' So I went down there and it was the first time I met Tony. I gave him the $1,500. I told him, you take this $1,500 and see what you can do with it, try to make me some money. So I gave it to him back in 1961. Do you know what that fifteen hundred is worth today? Fifteen hundred. He never lost any of that money.

Tony's a big man in Jeannette. I remember when they had Man of the Year Banquet in Jeannette one year and Tony was the Man of the Year. It cost you $50 to go to this banquet. The same night, Frank Sinatra was in Pittsburgh at the Civic Arena and he was only charging $40. That's how big a man he is in Jeannette.

But anyway, I started to play football when I was nine years old. I played for the Sacred Heart midgets. The coaches were Fran Halldoner, Don Japalucci, Chuck Kratovil, Paul Hartung. The first game I ever played – which, when I spoke at this banquet down in Fayette County, one of the guys I played with and I've been friends with ever since, he was in the audience, he played for the other team, the Mt. Pleasant midgets – I scored four touchdowns. My older brothers were very critical of me. Anytime I played a football game, there was a conference the next day in the kitchen. My two brothers were there, my uncle was there, my dad was there, and I was told about what I did wrong. But my one brother liked to sleep in. We were having the conference there in the morning and he heard us talking downstairs, and he hollered down the steps, ‘Well, what did you do?' I said, well, I scored four touchdowns. He said, ‘Is that all?' That ticked me off. He and I just never had a real good relationship after that [laughter]. No, he was very instrumental in the things I've accomplished and done.

So I played with the midgets. I went on to play for Jeannette High School, won the WPIAL championship, played basketball. In fact, I have a basketball story a lot of you people don't know. A lot of you people know Dick Groat? Dick Groat's got his number retired at Duke for basketball. He played professional baseball and he played professional basketball. We played a game at his high school, Swissvale High School, my senior year. Dick Groat had the single-game scoring record on that floor with 37 points. I scored 39. I ended up beating Dick Groat's record. I tell Dick about it every time I go up to Champion Lakes. But anyway, I played basketball there. I went to Penn State and played quarterback when I was a freshman and senior; I played running back when I was a sophomore and junior. I had a great time at Penn State. It was a great place. I know there are a lot of people from Pitt here; I root for Pitt when they don't play Penn State. But it was a great place, a great time in my life. I came out of Penn State and played for the Steelers. My first three years we had pretty good teams. After that it was all kind of downhill. We weren't very good. We played at Forbes Field, played at Pitt Stadium, and Pitt Stadium had two tunnels. One was in one corner of the end zone and the other was in the other corner of the end zone. Things got so bad, we would try to sneak out on the field. One week we'd come out this tunnel; next week we'd come out the other tunnel. They were up there throwing snowballs at us, so we tried to keep them guessing.

It got bad toward the end. Then I coached in high school, Wheeling Catholic High School. I retired in 1970 and went to coach Wheeling Catholic High School for one year. I was up in the gymnasium teaching gym class and I got a phone call. I picked it up. The gym building was separate from the high school. I picked the phone up and it was Carl DePasqua. Carl DePasqua was the head coach at Pitt, and Carl was an assistant for awhile with the Steelers while I was playing. Carl said, ‘Dick, are you ready to get into college coaching?' And I said, sure. He said, ‘I'll get back to you in two weeks, but you have a job here. We'll set up the interview and you come up in two weeks. There are some things I have to straighten out.' Well, a couple days later, the phone rings again. I pick it up and it's a secretary and I thought it was Carl's secretary, but it was Coach Noll's. Coach Noll said to me, ‘Dick come on up. Max Coley' – who was the backfield coach – ‘left and went to Denver. Are you interested in coaching?' I said, of course. He said, ‘Come on up and we'll talk.' Well, I set up the interviews, both of them, the same day. The first was with Coach Noll, so I went into Coach Noll and we talked. It wasn't much of an interview. He knew what he wanted to do before I got there and he gave me the job. Now, I had an interview a little bit later with Coach DePasqua, and I called Coach DePasqua and said, look, coach, I've been offered a job with the Steelers and I'm going to take that, and he said, ‘You're crazy if you don't.' Well, I stayed there 35 years. If that job wouldn't have come along, and I'd have taken the Pitt job, they all got fired that year, so I don't know where I would've been right now. It's funny the way your life takes some turns. It all worked out pretty good.

I've got a lot of stories. I played with a lot of great guys, a lot of characters: Bobby Layne, Ernie Stautner, John Henry Johnson, Big Daddy Lipscomb. I played with some of the young guys. I actually played with Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw for awhile. I coached some great players. So if anyone has any questions, fire away.

Q: Are you surprised that Coach (Bill) Cowher is going to be on reality TV?

A: No. He'll do anything to get on television. No, I'm not surprised at all. I'm just surprised it's not Dancing With The Stars.

Q: What was he like to work with?

A: He was a very good man. He and I never had a problem. A lot of the guys that worked for him, they … no, he never really bothered me. A lot of guys who worked for him, you know, he was tough. He demanded a lot from people. That's a tough job being a head coach. There are only 32 of those jobs and you're depending on 10, 12 other guys to do their job, so he was demanding. Me and Coach Noll were altogether different. Coach Noll was very laid back. He didn't believe in motivational speeches. He didn't believe in getting you fired up. He believed in: You're getting paid a lot of money, you motivate yourself. Coach Cowher gave a lot of speeches. He gave a Knute Rockne speech every day. But they were two very good coaches, excellent coaches. I was very fortunate to go 35 years coaching and only work for two coaches.

Q: Who's the best back you coached?

A: Ah, you're not going to pin me down on that one. The two best backs I coached were Franco (Harris) and Jerome (Bettis). They were both a little bit different guys. Franco was faster than Jerome, probably not as strong, had great vision. Jerome was a lot more powerful than Franco was. Franco was a 225-pounder who ran like a 195-pounder. He had great vision. He could see the whole field. He never ran where he was supposed to. He was a great player. Both were excellent players and both are going to be in the Hall of Fame. Jerome will be in the Hall of Fame.

Q: Did you play under Joe Paterno?

A: Joe was an assistant. That's how long ago I played. A lot of you people don't remember that he was actually an assistant. Joe took over in '66 and my last football season was 1960. Rip Engle was the head coach, but the two guys who actually ran the team at the time were Joe Paterno and Cedric Tore [sp]. They were the two main guys that ran the team. Rip would run up and down the sidelines hollering for guys who graduated four or five years ago. He would call Sam Valentine. Sam Valentine graduated four years ago! No, Rip was a good coach. Joe and Tore, you knew when Rip left, one of those two was going to get the job. When Joe got the job, the other guy had to go. They couldn't work for each other. So Joe got the job. Tore worked for him for two years and then they moved him into some kind of fundraiser thing. But Joe, yeah, he was on my case a lot. He'd come after me pretty good.

Q: Did you hear about him making the team clean the trash out of the stadium?

A: Yeah. Yeah.

Q: What do you think about that?

A: I don't know. I'm not up there. When you went to college back then, when you were on scholarship, you had a job where they gave you $15 a week for laundry. My job was -- the stadium at Penn State was different than it is now; it was all the way at the other end of campus by the Nittany Lion and Rec Hall and my freshman dorm was right there and I could see the front gate of the stadium -- and my job was, on Sundays, I had to watch the front gate of the stadium. I don't know what I was watching, but that was my job so I sat there and watched the front gate. Nothing ever happened. Some guys, it was changing the lights when they burned out, and the lights never burned out. That's what they call laundry money.

Q: Barry Foster didn't play very long and then he just walked away. Did that surprise you?

A: It probably surprised you people, but to anybody that dealt with Barry it wasn't surprising anything he did. Barry probably had as good a one year as any running back I've ever seen. Barry had the Steelers' single-season record and he rushed for 100 yards in 12 straight games. Barry's father passed away when he was very young, and so when he was like 11 years old he was the man of the house and he grew up not trusting anybody. He didn't have any friends. He didn't trust anybody. He was kind of a little bit hard to deal with. If he had the slightest injury he was not going to play. That's what happened to him. He had 1,690 yards. The next year he came back with a little bit of an injury and he won't practice, he won't play. He still rushes for about 700, 800 yards. He and Bill didn't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, so the next year we sent him to Carolina. We traded him to Carolina and Carolina cut him. The next year, the Cincinnati Bengals signed Barry and they gave him a $1 million check. It was a bonus. He went out and practiced once. He came back in and gave them the check back and said he didn't want to play anymore. That's the kind of guy he was. I get a call from him every once in a while. The last couple years he was trying to get into coaching.

Q: Which running back did you enjoy coaching the most?

A: Probably Jerome. Jerome was a different guy than Franco. Jerome's a little more outgoing. He's a little more colorful than Franco. Franco came to work and did his job. Franco was a great, great football player. This crap about him running out of bounds and all that, he was smart. He'd run out of bounds when we were winning by twenty-some points. When the game was ever on the line, Franco never ran out of bounds. When you hear that, that's not true. He was a great football player. He's a good person too.

Q: The Steelers passed on Tony Hunt in the third round this year. What did you think of that?

A: The only time I saw Tony Hunt – I never studied him – I saw him play for Penn State, and I didn't think Tony – I think he's an excellent back, don't get me wrong – I didn't think he had much of a burst. When he got out into the open, I never saw him run away from anybody. But he was drafted in the third round. That's still pretty good.

Q: What was Art Rooney, Sr. like?

A: Art Rooney, Sr. was the greatest guy there ever was. At Three Rivers Stadium, our offices were at one end of the building and we had a little kitchen at the other end where we would go for lunch. And during the offseason we couldn't wait to get down there for lunch to listen to Mr. Rooney tell us stories about the old days. My favorite story that he told was the Pittsburgh Steelers were the last team in the NFL to put the quarterback under the center. They were using the single-wing in the '50s, and every game, the first play was Fran Rogel up the middle. The chant became, ‘Hi diddle diddle, Fran Rogel up the middle.' That was the cheer. The coach was Walt Kiesling. So finally, Mr. Rooney got tired of the cheer. So he went up to Walt and told Walt, ‘Listen, the next game you are starting with a forward pass on the first play.' Well, the first play they came out and threw a forward pass to, I think, Elbie Nickel or Lynn Chandnois. One of them catches it and runs 75 yards for a touchdown. But, the Steelers were offside. It got called back and Mr. Rooney said, ‘I know Walt Kiesling told that guy to jump offside because if it worked he wouldn't want me doing the game plan again.'

Q: What's your assessment of Coach (Mike) Tomlin?

A: I don't know Mike. I've met him a couple times. I wasn't in on those interviews but he must be pretty good. They hired him as a coach and they usually don't make a whole lot of mistakes. I'd have liked to have seen Russ Grimm or Ken Whisenhunt get it. They were friends of mind. But everything's worked out good. I don't know. I hope he's successful. It's the first time he's been a head coach. A lot of times, it's not just the head coach, (but) the people that he hires, the assistant coaches. You'd better have a pretty good staff. I know the guys that were there when I left. They're still there. They're good coaches. I don't know any of those new guys he brought in. I know the one guy can't be too smart with that computer. Geez.

Q: What do you think of Ben Roethlisberger?

A: Ben's a good quarterback. He was hurt last year with the motorcycle thing and the appendectomy. That kind of bothered him a little bit I think. He had the new receiver coming in, Santonio Holmes, who had a good year. But Ben will be fine. You have a chance because you have Ben. You have a quarterback. Now you've just got to protect him.

Q: What was the best Steeler team you ever coached?

A: Probably the best Steeler team we ever had was after we won the first two Super Bowls, that next year (1976). That was probably our best team. We didn't win because we went down to Baltimore and beat Baltimore, killed Baltimore, (but) Franco got hurt, Rocky (Bleier) got hurt, Frenchy Fuqua got hurt. So we go out to Oakland the next week and we were playing the one-back offense before anybody ever heard of the one-back offense. We didn't know what the heck we were doing and they ended up beating us for the (AFC) championship. That team shut out three teams in a row, somebody scored nine points, somebody scored seven points – something like that – and then we shut out two more teams. We used to talk to ourselves before we went out on the field and we'd go, ‘Do you think those guys can score?' That was probably the best team.

Q: So why didn't you come out of retirement to help that one-back attack?

A: No, I couldn't come out of retirement, not with that crew I coached with. No, that's another story. We were up too late.

Q: What were your thoughts on Plaxico Burress? And what happened to Duce Staley?

A: Well, Plaxico is a good receiver, just -- these kids today, they're different. I mean, they're really different. Plaxico tried to test you all the time. He was a good receiver. He didn't like to run across the middle. If you ever noticed, when he caught the ball, down he went. He didn't want to run across the middle. Duce Staley? What happened to Duce, we got him and he gets off to a great start. He's healthy and he's leading the NFL in rushing after six or seven games. And he gets hurt. Then he doesn't come back till late in the year. We brought him back and we played him, we alternated him, and he was pretty good. Then we go to training camp and he practiced one time and has to have his knee operated on. Now we're into the second or third game before he can do anything and Jim here and the rest of the reporters want to know why Duce isn't healthy and why he isn't playing. It was because he hadn't been hit all training camp. So then we finally put him in as our third-down back and he missed two blitzes the very first game and got the quarterback killed. That's what happened to him – injuries. Duce was a good guy, a good guy to coach, a very good guy to coach. I liked him a lot. It was just after the injury we couldn't use him.

Q: Can Willie Parker stand up to the pounding that backs take today?

A: Yes. Willie runs harder than you think he does. He's not going to move any piles. If there's no hole there, he's not going to knock anybody backwards. If you give him the least little bit of a crack, and he can see that crack, he'll break tackles in the secondary because of his speed, when he gets going full speed. And Willie's stronger than you think he is. Willie weighs about 210. Everybody's saying they need another back – which they do, give him a break every once in a while – but he is just a great kid and he's only going to get better. We were very, very fortunate to get Willie Parker. I'd never seen him. After the draft, you start to call these free agents. They give you a list of people to call and he wasn't even on the list. You work with one of the scouts and I worked with Dan Rooney, Jr. So I came out of the draft meeting and after about 10 minutes he comes down the hall and said, ‘Hey, I got your two backs. We don't have to sign anybody else.' One was Willie Parker and one was some fullback from Syracuse who didn't make it. I said, who's Willie Parker? And he said, ‘This is a kid I watched in high school and went to North Carolina and he never played but I think he should've gotten a chance.' We had just gotten Willie to fill in at training camp. Now he's a starter and he's an excellent player and he's going to get better.

Q: What can you tell us about changes over the years in the game? And what changes would you like to see made?

A: A lot of us would like to see them get rid of the punters and the field-goal kickers. You pay them so damn much money you can't pay the rest of the guys. Nah, I'm just kidding. The biggest change in pro football from when I first started is specialization. When I first started, you played 22 guys, offense and defense. Then somebody got the brainchild to run the third wide receiver on the field. So now they're whipping up on the defense, so the defense finally figured out that you had to put in an extra defensive back. Then somebody put another tight end in, so the defense put another linebacker in. So now, you see 22 guys on first down, on second down six go in on each side. That's the biggest change in pro football, that and the media coverage.

Anything else? Okay, I'll tell you one more story about Bobby Layne. Bobby Layne was the greatest character that ever played pro football. He was a beauty. In those days, they did things that today would be in the paper and there would be a lot of trouble. But Bobby, we'd go play preseason games and he'd do some crazy stuff. One time he and Sonny Jurgensen, who played for the Redskins, they went out and had a few drinks the night before the preseason game. So they came in and we were playing a game. The first half, I don't think Jurgensen completes a pass; I don't think Bobby completes a pass. So the dressing rooms were right together and we were going off the field. I was walking behind Bobby and Sonny says to Bobby, ‘Bobby, boy I can't hit those receivers today.' And Bobby says to Sonny, ‘Hit them? I can't even see them.'

Back in those days, when I started playing, you had a job during the offseason. You didn't make enough money not to do anything in the offseason, so you had some kind of a job. We had a guy named Tom Tracy who came from Detroit, and we would play Sunday and he'd fly back to Detroit after the game. He worked for a Pontiac dealership. Then he'd drive a brand new Pontiac back to Pittsburgh Monday night and try to sell it to one of the rookies. Sometimes he did; sometimes he didn't. I remember he brought a green Bonneville back and that thing was huge. He brings it back, tries to sell it, he can't sell it. We were going to play – I can't remember the team – at Pitt Stadium, so Bobby borrows that Bonneville the night before the game. Bobby was out at one of the nightclubs and it was late, maybe two or three in the morning, the night before the game, and he's coming back. He takes that Bonneville and knocks a streetcar off the tracks. He totals the Bonneville and goes out the next day and passes for 400 and some yards and it was a record for a long time until Tommy Maddox broke it. There were some characters back then. He got up to speak in Detroit at one of those alumni banquets. He had the dais there and he started to talk and he fell right off the back of the dais. He was a character.

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Steel City Insider Top Stories

\r\n\r\nDICK HOAK\r\n\r\n

Greensburg Country Club, May 24, 2007\r\n\r\n

It's nice to be here. I was just at the Fayette Council down in Fayette County. I spoke there at the Boy Scout Banquet. As I told them, I'm not going to give you a motivational speech. I'm not very good at that. I'm a man of few words. I can't stand up here and talk for 15 to 20 minutes. What I can do is give you my background – things I've done in my career – and then I want to open this up. You can ask any question you want. The only thing I will not answer is anything about e-mail. I never had an e-mail. I never had a computer, so don't ask.\r\n\r\n

Tony (DeNunzio) and I go way back and when I met Tony in 1961, when I came out of Penn State, Jeannette was just starting a bank called Jeannette Federal Savings and Tony kind of ran the bank. I was out in Arizona playing in a college all-star game. At that time, the draft was held in December. The game was played the day before New Year's. And what happened was we played the Southwest All-Stars. It was the National All-Stars against the Southwest All-Stars, and one day we had practice. They put us on the bus and drove us to Las Vegas. When I got off the bus, there was a guy standing there. He had a 10-gallon hat on and his name was Harry Gilmer. He was a scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn't know who he was, and he came up to me and said, ‘Are you Dick Hoak?' And I said, yeah. I was just getting off the bus. And he said, ‘We just drafted you.' Well, I thought he meant I was going to go into the service. Back in those days, who cared about the NFL draft? It's changed so bad. But anyway, he took me into a room there in Las Vegas and he offered me a contract. He offered me a contract for $10,000 with a $500 bonus. That was good money back at that time, but I didn't sign. I told him I wanted to go home and talk it over with my parents and my brothers. I had two older brothers who helped me a lot of decisions. So I got home and then Happy Lewis, who was a coach for West Virginia at one time; he was also a scout with the Steelers at that time. He came to my house and he offered me the $10,000, $500 signing bonus. I said, well, I need six credits at Penn State. I'd gone for four years and I was six credits short of graduating. In my family, there was nobody who could afford to go to college. I was the first one to ever go to college in my family. So, what happened was, I said give me $9,000 and a $1,500 signing bonus. I didn't have a whole lot of confidence in myself, and that way, if I didn't make the team, I could use that money to go back and get the six credits. My older brother had graduated with Tony, so I got this check for $1,500 and my older brother said, ‘Come on, we'll go down to Tony DeNunzio's bank and we'll give the money to Tony.' So I went down there and it was the first time I met Tony. I gave him the $1,500. I told him, you take this $1,500 and see what you can do with it, try to make me some money. So I gave it to him back in 1961. Do you know what that fifteen hundred is worth today? Fifteen hundred. He never lost any of that money. \r\n\r\n

Tony's a big man in Jeannette. I remember when they had Man of the Year Banquet in Jeannette one year and Tony was the Man of the Year. It cost you $50 to go to this banquet. The same night, Frank Sinatra was in Pittsburgh at the Civic Arena and he was only charging $40. That's how big a man he is in Jeannette.\r\n\r\n

But anyway, I started to play football when I was nine years old. I played for the Sacred Heart midgets. The coaches were Fran Halldoner, Don Japalucci, Chuck Kratovil, Paul Hartung. The first game I ever played – which, when I spoke at this banquet down in Fayette County, one of the guys I played with and I've been friends with ever since, he was in the audience, he played for the other team, the Mt. Pleasant midgets – I scored four touchdowns. My older brothers were very critical of me. Anytime I played a football game, there was a conference the next day in the kitchen. My two brothers were there, my uncle was there, my dad was there, and I was told about what I did wrong. But my one brother liked to sleep in. We were having the conference there in the morning and he heard us talking downstairs, and he hollered down the steps, ‘Well, what did you do?' I said, well, I scored four touchdowns. He said, ‘Is that all?' That ticked me off. He and I just never had a real good relationship after that [laughter]. No, he was very instrumental in the things I've accomplished and done. \r\n\r\n

So I played with the midgets. I went on to play for Jeannette High School, won the WPIAL championship, played basketball. In fact, I have a basketball story a lot of you people don't know. A lot of you people know Dick Groat? Dick Groat's got his number retired at Duke for basketball. He played professional baseball and he played professional basketball. We played a game at his high school, Swissvale High School, my senior year. Dick Groat had the single-game scoring record on that floor with 37 points. I scored 39. I ended up beating Dick Groat's record. I tell Dick about it every time I go up to Champion Lakes. But anyway, I played basketball there. I went to Penn State and played quarterback when I was a freshman and senior; I played running back when I was a sophomore and junior. I had a great time at Penn State. It was a great place. I know there are a lot of people from Pitt here; I root for Pitt when they don't play Penn State. But it was a great place, a great time in my life. I came out of Penn State and played for the Steelers. My first three years we had pretty good teams. After that it was all kind of downhill. We weren't very good. We played at Forbes Field, played at Pitt Stadium, and Pitt Stadium had two tunnels. One was in one corner of the end zone and the other was in the other corner of the end zone. Things got so bad, we would try to sneak out on the field. One week we'd come out this tunnel; next week we'd come out the other tunnel. They were up there throwing snowballs at us, so we tried to keep them guessing.\r\n\r\n

It got bad toward the end. Then I coached in high school, Wheeling Catholic High School. I retired in 1970 and went to coach Wheeling Catholic High School for one year. I was up in the gymnasium teaching gym class and I got a phone call. I picked it up. The gym building was separate from the high school. I picked the phone up and it was Carl DePasqua. Carl DePasqua was the head coach at Pitt, and Carl was an assistant for awhile with the Steelers while I was playing. Carl said, ‘Dick, are you ready to get into college coaching?' And I said, sure. He said, ‘I'll get back to you in two weeks, but you have a job here. We'll set up the interview and you come up in two weeks. There are some things I have to straighten out.' Well, a couple days later, the phone rings again. I pick it up and it's a secretary and I thought it was Carl's secretary, but it was Coach Noll's. Coach Noll said to me, ‘Dick come on up. Max Coley' – who was the backfield coach – ‘left and went to Denver. Are you interested in coaching?' I said, of course. He said, ‘Come on up and we'll talk.' Well, I set up the interviews, both of them, the same day. The first was with Coach Noll, so I went into Coach Noll and we talked. It wasn't much of an interview. He knew what he wanted to do before I got there and he gave me the job. Now, I had an interview a little bit later with Coach DePasqua, and I called Coach DePasqua and said, look, coach, I've been offered a job with the Steelers and I'm going to take that, and he said, ‘You're crazy if you don't.' Well, I stayed there 35 years. If that job wouldn't have come along, and I'd have taken the Pitt job, they all got fired that year, so I don't know where I would've been right now. It's funny the way your life takes some turns. It all worked out pretty good.\r\n\r\n

I've got a lot of stories. I played with a lot of great guys, a lot of characters: Bobby Layne, Ernie Stautner, John Henry Johnson, Big Daddy Lipscomb. I played with some of the young guys. I actually played with Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw for awhile. I coached some great players. So if anyone has any questions, fire away.\r\n\r\n

Q: Are you surprised that Coach (Bill) Cowher is going to be on reality TV?

\r\n\r\nA: No. He'll do anything to get on television. No, I'm not surprised at all. I'm just surprised it's not Dancing With The Stars.\r\n\r\n

Q: What was he like to work with?

\r\n\r\nA: He was a very good man. He and I never had a problem. A lot of the guys that worked for him, they … no, he never really bothered me. A lot of guys who worked for him, you know, he was tough. He demanded a lot from people. That's a tough job being a head coach. There are only 32 of those jobs and you're depending on 10, 12 other guys to do their job, so he was demanding. Me and Coach Noll were altogether different. Coach Noll was very laid back. He didn't believe in motivational speeches. He didn't believe in getting you fired up. He believed in: You're getting paid a lot of money, you motivate yourself. Coach Cowher gave a lot of speeches. He gave a Knute Rockne speech every day. But they were two very good coaches, excellent coaches. I was very fortunate to go 35 years coaching and only work for two coaches.\r\n\r\n

Q: Who's the best back you coached?

\r\n\r\nA: Ah, you're not going to pin me down on that one. The two best backs I coached were Franco (Harris) and Jerome (Bettis). They were both a little bit different guys. Franco was faster than Jerome, probably not as strong, had great vision. Jerome was a lot more powerful than Franco was. Franco was a 225-pounder who ran like a 195-pounder. He had great vision. He could see the whole field. He never ran where he was supposed to. He was a great player. Both were excellent players and both are going to be in the Hall of Fame. Jerome will be in the Hall of Fame.\r\n\r\n

Q: Did you play under Joe Paterno?

\r\n\r\nA: Joe was an assistant. That's how long ago I played. A lot of you people don't remember that he was actually an assistant. Joe took over in '66 and my last football season was 1960. Rip Engle was the head coach, but the two guys who actually ran the team at the time were Joe Paterno and Cedric Tore [sp]. They were the two main guys that ran the team. Rip would run up and down the sidelines hollering for guys who graduated four or five years ago. He would call Sam Valentine. Sam Valentine graduated four years ago! No, Rip was a good coach. Joe and Tore, you knew when Rip left, one of those two was going to get the job. When Joe got the job, the other guy had to go. They couldn't work for each other. So Joe got the job. Tore worked for him for two years and then they moved him into some kind of fundraiser thing. But Joe, yeah, he was on my case a lot. He'd come after me pretty good.\r\n\r\n

Q: Did you hear about him making the team clean the trash out of the stadium?

\r\n\r\nA: Yeah. Yeah.\r\n\r\n

Q: What do you think about that?

\r\n\r\nA: I don't know. I'm not up there. When you went to college back then, when you were on scholarship, you had a job where they gave you $15 a week for laundry. My job was -- the stadium at Penn State was different than it is now; it was all the way at the other end of campus by the Nittany Lion and Rec Hall and my freshman dorm was right there and I could see the front gate of the stadium -- and my job was, on Sundays, I had to watch the front gate of the stadium. I don't know what I was watching, but that was my job so I sat there and watched the front gate. Nothing ever happened. Some guys, it was changing the lights when they burned out, and the lights never burned out. That's what they call laundry money.\r\n\r\n

Q: Barry Foster didn't play very long and then he just walked away. Did that surprise you?

\r\n\r\nA: It probably surprised you people, but to anybody that dealt with Barry it wasn't surprising anything he did. Barry probably had as good a one year as any running back I've ever seen. Barry had the Steelers' single-season record and he rushed for 100 yards in 12 straight games. Barry's father passed away when he was very young, and so when he was like 11 years old he was the man of the house and he grew up not trusting anybody. He didn't have any friends. He didn't trust anybody. He was kind of a little bit hard to deal with. If he had the slightest injury he was not going to play. That's what happened to him. He had 1,690 yards. The next year he came back with a little bit of an injury and he won't practice, he won't play. He still rushes for about 700, 800 yards. He and Bill didn't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, so the next year we sent him to Carolina. We traded him to Carolina and Carolina cut him. The next year, the Cincinnati Bengals signed Barry and they gave him a $1 million check. It was a bonus. He went out and practiced once. He came back in and gave them the check back and said he didn't want to play anymore. That's the kind of guy he was. I get a call from him every once in a while. The last couple years he was trying to get into coaching.\r\n\r\n

Q: Which running back did you enjoy coaching the most?

\r\n\r\nA: Probably Jerome. Jerome was a different guy than Franco. Jerome's a little more outgoing. He's a little more colorful than Franco. Franco came to work and did his job. Franco was a great, great football player. This crap about him running out of bounds and all that, he was smart. He'd run out of bounds when we were winning by twenty-some points. When the game was ever on the line, Franco never ran out of bounds. When you hear that, that's not true. He was a great football player. He's a good person too.\r\n\r\n

Q: The Steelers passed on Tony Hunt in the third round this year. What did you think of that?

\r\n\r\nA: The only time I saw Tony Hunt – I never studied him – I saw him play for Penn State, and I didn't think Tony – I think he's an excellent back, don't get me wrong – I didn't think he had much of a burst. When he got out into the open, I never saw him run away from anybody. But he was drafted in the third round. That's still pretty good. \r\n\r\n

Q: What was Art Rooney, Sr. like?

\r\n\r\nA: Art Rooney, Sr. was the greatest guy there ever was. At Three Rivers Stadium, our offices were at one end of the building and we had a little kitchen at the other end where we would go for lunch. And during the offseason we couldn't wait to get down there for lunch to listen to Mr. Rooney tell us stories about the old days. My favorite story that he told was the Pittsburgh Steelers were the last team in the NFL to put the quarterback under the center. They were using the single-wing in the '50s, and every game, the first play was Fran Rogel up the middle. The chant became, ‘Hi diddle diddle, Fran Rogel up the middle.' That was the cheer. The coach was Walt Kiesling. So finally, Mr. Rooney got tired of the cheer. So he went up to Walt and told Walt, ‘Listen, the next game you are starting with a forward pass on the first play.' Well, the first play they came out and threw a forward pass to, I think, Elbie Nickel or Lynn Chandnois. One of them catches it and runs 75 yards for a touchdown. But, the Steelers were offside. It got called back and Mr. Rooney said, ‘I know Walt Kiesling told that guy to jump offside because if it worked he wouldn't want me doing the game plan again.' \r\n\r\n

Q: What's your assessment of Coach (Mike) Tomlin?

\r\n\r\nA: I don't know Mike. I've met him a couple times. I wasn't in on those interviews but he must be pretty good. They hired him as a coach and they usually don't make a whole lot of mistakes. I'd have liked to have seen Russ Grimm or Ken Whisenhunt get it. They were friends of mind. But everything's worked out good. I don't know. I hope he's successful. It's the first time he's been a head coach. A lot of times, it's not just the head coach, (but) the people that he hires, the assistant coaches. You'd better have a pretty good staff. I know the guys that were there when I left. They're still there. They're good coaches. I don't know any of those new guys he brought in. I know the one guy can't be too smart with that computer. Geez.\r\n\r\n

Q: What do you think of Ben Roethlisberger?

\r\n\r\nA: Ben's a good quarterback. He was hurt last year with the motorcycle thing and the appendectomy. That kind of bothered him a little bit I think. He had the new receiver coming in, Santonio Holmes, who had a good year. But Ben will be fine. You have a chance because you have Ben. You have a quarterback. Now you've just got to protect him.\r\n\r\n

Q: What was the best Steeler team you ever coached?

\r\n\r\nA: Probably the best Steeler team we ever had was after we won the first two Super Bowls, that next year (1976). That was probably our best team. We didn't win because we went down to Baltimore and beat Baltimore, killed Baltimore, (but) Franco got hurt, Rocky (Bleier) got hurt, Frenchy Fuqua got hurt. So we go out to Oakland the next week and we were playing the one-back offense before anybody ever heard of the one-back offense. We didn't know what the heck we were doing and they ended up beating us for the (AFC) championship. That team shut out three teams in a row, somebody scored nine points, somebody scored seven points – something like that – and then we shut out two more teams. We used to talk to ourselves before we went out on the field and we'd go, ‘Do you think those guys can score?' That was probably the best team.\r\n\r\n

Q: So why didn't you come out of retirement to help that one-back attack?

\r\n\r\nA: No, I couldn't come out of retirement, not with that crew I coached with. No, that's another story. We were up too late.\r\n\r\n

Q: What were your thoughts on Plaxico Burress? And what happened to Duce Staley?

\r\n\r\nA: Well, Plaxico is a good receiver, just -- these kids today, they're different. I mean, they're really different. Plaxico tried to test you all the time. He was a good receiver. He didn't like to run across the middle. If you ever noticed, when he caught the ball, down he went. He didn't want to run across the middle. Duce Staley? What happened to Duce, we got him and he gets off to a great start. He's healthy and he's leading the NFL in rushing after six or seven games. And he gets hurt. Then he doesn't come back till late in the year. We brought him back and we played him, we alternated him, and he was pretty good. Then we go to training camp and he practiced one time and has to have his knee operated on. Now we're into the second or third game before he can do anything and Jim here and the rest of the reporters want to know why Duce isn't healthy and why he isn't playing. It was because he hadn't been hit all training camp. So then we finally put him in as our third-down back and he missed two blitzes the very first game and got the quarterback killed. That's what happened to him – injuries. Duce was a good guy, a good guy to coach, a very good guy to coach. I liked him a lot. It was just after the injury we couldn't use him.\r\n\r\n

Q: Can Willie Parker stand up to the pounding that backs take today?

\r\n\r\nA: Yes. Willie runs harder than you think he does. He's not going to move any piles. If there's no hole there, he's not going to knock anybody backwards. If you give him the least little bit of a crack, and he can see that crack, he'll break tackles in the secondary because of his speed, when he gets going full speed. And Willie's stronger than you think he is. Willie weighs about 210. Everybody's saying they need another back – which they do, give him a break every once in a while – but he is just a great kid and he's only going to get better. We were very, very fortunate to get Willie Parker. I'd never seen him. After the draft, you start to call these free agents. They give you a list of people to call and he wasn't even on the list. You work with one of the scouts and I worked with Dan Rooney, Jr. So I came out of the draft meeting and after about 10 minutes he comes down the hall and said, ‘Hey, I got your two backs. We don't have to sign anybody else.' One was Willie Parker and one was some fullback from Syracuse who didn't make it. I said, who's Willie Parker? And he said, ‘This is a kid I watched in high school and went to North Carolina and he never played but I think he should've gotten a chance.' We had just gotten Willie to fill in at training camp. Now he's a starter and he's an excellent player and he's going to get better.\r\n\r\n

Q: What can you tell us about changes over the years in the game? And what changes would you like to see made?

\r\n\r\nA: A lot of us would like to see them get rid of the punters and the field-goal kickers. You pay them so damn much money you can't pay the rest of the guys. Nah, I'm just kidding. The biggest change in pro football from when I first started is specialization. When I first started, you played 22 guys, offense and defense. Then somebody got the brainchild to run the third wide receiver on the field. So now they're whipping up on the defense, so the defense finally figured out that you had to put in an extra defensive back. Then somebody put another tight end in, so the defense put another linebacker in. So now, you see 22 guys on first down, on second down six go in on each side. That's the biggest change in pro football, that and the media coverage.\r\n\r\n

Anything else? Okay, I'll tell you one more story about Bobby Layne. Bobby Layne was the greatest character that ever played pro football. He was a beauty. In those days, they did things that today would be in the paper and there would be a lot of trouble. But Bobby, we'd go play preseason games and he'd do some crazy stuff. One time he and Sonny Jurgensen, who played for the Redskins, they went out and had a few drinks the night before the preseason game. So they came in and we were playing a game. The first half, I don't think Jurgensen completes a pass; I don't think Bobby completes a pass. So the dressing rooms were right together and we were going off the field. I was walking behind Bobby and Sonny says to Bobby, ‘Bobby, boy I can't hit those receivers today.' And Bobby says to Sonny, ‘Hit them? I can't even see them.'\r\n\r\n

Back in those days, when I started playing, you had a job during the offseason. You didn't make enough money not to do anything in the offseason, so you had some kind of a job. We had a guy named Tom Tracy who came from Detroit, and we would play Sunday and he'd fly back to Detroit after the game. He worked for a Pontiac dealership. Then he'd drive a brand new Pontiac back to Pittsburgh Monday night and try to sell it to one of the rookies. Sometimes he did; sometimes he didn't. I remember he brought a green Bonneville back and that thing was huge. He brings it back, tries to sell it, he can't sell it. We were going to play – I can't remember the team – at Pitt Stadium, so Bobby borrows that Bonneville the night before the game. Bobby was out at one of the nightclubs and it was late, maybe two or three in the morning, the night before the game, and he's coming back. He takes that Bonneville and knocks a streetcar off the tracks. He totals the Bonneville and goes out the next day and passes for 400 and some yards and it was a record for a long time until Tommy Maddox broke it. There were some characters back then. He got up to speak in Detroit at one of those alumni banquets. He had the dais there and he started to talk and he fell right off the back of the dais. He was a character.\r\n\r\n

To discuss this story, click here.\r\n

","mobileBody":" \r\nDICK HOAK\r\n\r\n

Greensburg Country Club, May 24, 2007\r\n\r\n

It's nice to be here. I was just at the Fayette Council down in Fayette County. I spoke there at the Boy Scout Banquet. As I told them, I'm not going to give you a motivational speech. I'm not very good at that. I'm a man of few words. I can't stand up here and talk for 15 to 20 minutes. What I can do is give you my background – things I've done in my career – and then I want to open this up. You can ask any question you want. The only thing I will not answer is anything about e-mail. I never had an e-mail. I never had a computer, so don't ask.\r\n\r\n

Tony (DeNunzio) and I go way back and when I met Tony in 1961, when I came out of Penn State, Jeannette was just starting a bank called Jeannette Federal Savings and Tony kind of ran the bank. I was out in Arizona playing in a college all-star game. At that time, the draft was held in December. The game was played the day before New Year's. And what happened was we played the Southwest All-Stars. It was the National All-Stars against the Southwest All-Stars, and one day we had practice. They put us on the bus and drove us to Las Vegas. When I got off the bus, there was a guy standing there. He had a 10-gallon hat on and his name was Harry Gilmer. He was a scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn't know who he was, and he came up to me and said, ‘Are you Dick Hoak?' And I said, yeah. I was just getting off the bus. And he said, ‘We just drafted you.' Well, I thought he meant I was going to go into the service. Back in those days, who cared about the NFL draft? It's changed so bad. But anyway, he took me into a room there in Las Vegas and he offered me a contract. He offered me a contract for $10,000 with a $500 bonus. That was good money back at that time, but I didn't sign. I told him I wanted to go home and talk it over with my parents and my brothers. I had two older brothers who helped me a lot of decisions. So I got home and then Happy Lewis, who was a coach for West Virginia at one time; he was also a scout with the Steelers at that time. He came to my house and he offered me the $10,000, $500 signing bonus. I said, well, I need six credits at Penn State. I'd gone for four years and I was six credits short of graduating. In my family, there was nobody who could afford to go to college. I was the first one to ever go to college in my family. So, what happened was, I said give me $9,000 and a $1,500 signing bonus. I didn't have a whole lot of confidence in myself, and that way, if I didn't make the team, I could use that money to go back and get the six credits. My older brother had graduated with Tony, so I got this check for $1,500 and my older brother said, ‘Come on, we'll go down to Tony DeNunzio's bank and we'll give the money to Tony.' So I went down there and it was the first time I met Tony. I gave him the $1,500. I told him, you take this $1,500 and see what you can do with it, try to make me some money. So I gave it to him back in 1961. Do you know what that fifteen hundred is worth today? Fifteen hundred. He never lost any of that money. \r\n\r\n

Tony's a big man in Jeannette. I remember when they had Man of the Year Banquet in Jeannette one year and Tony was the Man of the Year. It cost you $50 to go to this banquet. The same night, Frank Sinatra was in Pittsburgh at the Civic Arena and he was only charging $40. That's how big a man he is in Jeannette.\r\n\r\n

But anyway, I started to play football when I was nine years old. I played for the Sacred Heart midgets. The coaches were Fran Halldoner, Don Japalucci, Chuck Kratovil, Paul Hartung. The first game I ever played – which, when I spoke at this banquet down in Fayette County, one of the guys I played with and I've been friends with ever since, he was in the audience, he played for the other team, the Mt. Pleasant midgets – I scored four touchdowns. My older brothers were very critical of me. Anytime I played a football game, there was a conference the next day in the kitchen. My two brothers were there, my uncle was there, my dad was there, and I was told about what I did wrong. But my one brother liked to sleep in. We were having the conference there in the morning and he heard us talking downstairs, and he hollered down the steps, ‘Well, what did you do?' I said, well, I scored four touchdowns. He said, ‘Is that all?' That ticked me off. He and I just never had a real good relationship after that [laughter]. No, he was very instrumental in the things I've accomplished and done. \r\n\r\n

So I played with the midgets. I went on to play for Jeannette High School, won the WPIAL championship, played basketball. In fact, I have a basketball story a lot of you people don't know. A lot of you people know Dick Groat? Dick Groat's got his number retired at Duke for basketball. He played professional baseball and he played professional basketball. We played a game at his high school, Swissvale High School, my senior year. Dick Groat had the single-game scoring record on that floor with 37 points. I scored 39. I ended up beating Dick Groat's record. I tell Dick about it every time I go up to Champion Lakes. But anyway, I played basketball there. I went to Penn State and played quarterback when I was a freshman and senior; I played running back when I was a sophomore and junior. I had a great time at Penn State. It was a great place. I know there are a lot of people from Pitt here; I root for Pitt when they don't play Penn State. But it was a great place, a great time in my life. I came out of Penn State and played for the Steelers. My first three years we had pretty good teams. After that it was all kind of downhill. We weren't very good. We played at Forbes Field, played at Pitt Stadium, and Pitt Stadium had two tunnels. One was in one corner of the end zone and the other was in the other corner of the end zone. Things got so bad, we would try to sneak out on the field. One week we'd come out this tunnel; next week we'd come out the other tunnel. They were up there throwing snowballs at us, so we tried to keep them guessing.\r\n\r\n

It got bad toward the end. Then I coached in high school, Wheeling Catholic High School. I retired in 1970 and went to coach Wheeling Catholic High School for one year. I was up in the gymnasium teaching gym class and I got a phone call. I picked it up. The gym building was separate from the high school. I picked the phone up and it was Carl DePasqua. Carl DePasqua was the head coach at Pitt, and Carl was an assistant for awhile with the Steelers while I was playing. Carl said, ‘Dick, are you ready to get into college coaching?' And I said, sure. He said, ‘I'll get back to you in two weeks, but you have a job here. We'll set up the interview and you come up in two weeks. There are some things I have to straighten out.' Well, a couple days later, the phone rings again. I pick it up and it's a secretary and I thought it was Carl's secretary, but it was Coach Noll's. Coach Noll said to me, ‘Dick come on up. Max Coley' – who was the backfield coach – ‘left and went to Denver. Are you interested in coaching?' I said, of course. He said, ‘Come on up and we'll talk.' Well, I set up the interviews, both of them, the same day. The first was with Coach Noll, so I went into Coach Noll and we talked. It wasn't much of an interview. He knew what he wanted to do before I got there and he gave me the job. Now, I had an interview a little bit later with Coach DePasqua, and I called Coach DePasqua and said, look, coach, I've been offered a job with the Steelers and I'm going to take that, and he said, ‘You're crazy if you don't.' Well, I stayed there 35 years. If that job wouldn't have come along, and I'd have taken the Pitt job, they all got fired that year, so I don't know where I would've been right now. It's funny the way your life takes some turns. It all worked out pretty good.\r\n\r\n

I've got a lot of stories. I played with a lot of great guys, a lot of characters: Bobby Layne, Ernie Stautner, John Henry Johnson, Big Daddy Lipscomb. I played with some of the young guys. I actually played with Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw for awhile. I coached some great players. So if anyone has any questions, fire away.\r\n\r\n

Q: Are you surprised that Coach (Bill) Cowher is going to be on reality TV?

\r\n\r\nA: No. He'll do anything to get on television. No, I'm not surprised at all. I'm just surprised it's not Dancing With The Stars.\r\n\r\n

Q: What was he like to work with?

\r\n\r\nA: He was a very good man. He and I never had a problem. A lot of the guys that worked for him, they … no, he never really bothered me. A lot of guys who worked for him, you know, he was tough. He demanded a lot from people. That's a tough job being a head coach. There are only 32 of those jobs and you're depending on 10, 12 other guys to do their job, so he was demanding. Me and Coach Noll were altogether different. Coach Noll was very laid back. He didn't believe in motivational speeches. He didn't believe in getting you fired up. He believed in: You're getting paid a lot of money, you motivate yourself. Coach Cowher gave a lot of speeches. He gave a Knute Rockne speech every day. But they were two very good coaches, excellent coaches. I was very fortunate to go 35 years coaching and only work for two coaches.\r\n\r\n

Q: Who's the best back you coached?

\r\n\r\nA: Ah, you're not going to pin me down on that one. The two best backs I coached were Franco (Harris) and Jerome (Bettis). They were both a little bit different guys. Franco was faster than Jerome, probably not as strong, had great vision. Jerome was a lot more powerful than Franco was. Franco was a 225-pounder who ran like a 195-pounder. He had great vision. He could see the whole field. He never ran where he was supposed to. He was a great player. Both were excellent players and both are going to be in the Hall of Fame. Jerome will be in the Hall of Fame.\r\n\r\n

Q: Did you play under Joe Paterno?

\r\n\r\nA: Joe was an assistant. That's how long ago I played. A lot of you people don't remember that he was actually an assistant. Joe took over in '66 and my last football season was 1960. Rip Engle was the head coach, but the two guys who actually ran the team at the time were Joe Paterno and Cedric Tore [sp]. They were the two main guys that ran the team. Rip would run up and down the sidelines hollering for guys who graduated four or five years ago. He would call Sam Valentine. Sam Valentine graduated four years ago! No, Rip was a good coach. Joe and Tore, you knew when Rip left, one of those two was going to get the job. When Joe got the job, the other guy had to go. They couldn't work for each other. So Joe got the job. Tore worked for him for two years and then they moved him into some kind of fundraiser thing. But Joe, yeah, he was on my case a lot. He'd come after me pretty good.\r\n\r\n

Q: Did you hear about him making the team clean the trash out of the stadium?

\r\n\r\nA: Yeah. Yeah.\r\n\r\n

Q: What do you think about that?

\r\n\r\nA: I don't know. I'm not up there. When you went to college back then, when you were on scholarship, you had a job where they gave you $15 a week for laundry. My job was -- the stadium at Penn State was different than it is now; it was all the way at the other end of campus by the Nittany Lion and Rec Hall and my freshman dorm was right there and I could see the front gate of the stadium -- and my job was, on Sundays, I had to watch the front gate of the stadium. I don't know what I was watching, but that was my job so I sat there and watched the front gate. Nothing ever happened. Some guys, it was changing the lights when they burned out, and the lights never burned out. That's what they call laundry money.\r\n\r\n

Q: Barry Foster didn't play very long and then he just walked away. Did that surprise you?

\r\n\r\nA: It probably surprised you people, but to anybody that dealt with Barry it wasn't surprising anything he did. Barry probably had as good a one year as any running back I've ever seen. Barry had the Steelers' single-season record and he rushed for 100 yards in 12 straight games. Barry's father passed away when he was very young, and so when he was like 11 years old he was the man of the house and he grew up not trusting anybody. He didn't have any friends. He didn't trust anybody. He was kind of a little bit hard to deal with. If he had the slightest injury he was not going to play. That's what happened to him. He had 1,690 yards. The next year he came back with a little bit of an injury and he won't practice, he won't play. He still rushes for about 700, 800 yards. He and Bill didn't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, so the next year we sent him to Carolina. We traded him to Carolina and Carolina cut him. The next year, the Cincinnati Bengals signed Barry and they gave him a $1 million check. It was a bonus. He went out and practiced once. He came back in and gave them the check back and said he didn't want to play anymore. That's the kind of guy he was. I get a call from him every once in a while. The last couple years he was trying to get into coaching.\r\n\r\n

Q: Which running back did you enjoy coaching the most?

\r\n\r\nA: Probably Jerome. Jerome was a different guy than Franco. Jerome's a little more outgoing. He's a little more colorful than Franco. Franco came to work and did his job. Franco was a great, great football player. This crap about him running out of bounds and all that, he was smart. He'd run out of bounds when we were winning by twenty-some points. When the game was ever on the line, Franco never ran out of bounds. When you hear that, that's not true. He was a great football player. He's a good person too.\r\n\r\n

Q: The Steelers passed on Tony Hunt in the third round this year. What did you think of that?

\r\n\r\nA: The only time I saw Tony Hunt – I never studied him – I saw him play for Penn State, and I didn't think Tony – I think he's an excellent back, don't get me wrong – I didn't think he had much of a burst. When he got out into the open, I never saw him run away from anybody. But he was drafted in the third round. That's still pretty good. \r\n\r\n

Q: What was Art Rooney, Sr. like?

\r\n\r\nA: Art Rooney, Sr. was the greatest guy there ever was. At Three Rivers Stadium, our offices were at one end of the building and we had a little kitchen at the other end where we would go for lunch. And during the offseason we couldn't wait to get down there for lunch to listen to Mr. Rooney tell us stories about the old days. My favorite story that he told was the Pittsburgh Steelers were the last team in the NFL to put the quarterback under the center. They were using the single-wing in the '50s, and every game, the first play was Fran Rogel up the middle. The chant became, ‘Hi diddle diddle, Fran Rogel up the middle.' That was the cheer. The coach was Walt Kiesling. So finally, Mr. Rooney got tired of the cheer. So he went up to Walt and told Walt, ‘Listen, the next game you are starting with a forward pass on the first play.' Well, the first play they came out and threw a forward pass to, I think, Elbie Nickel or Lynn Chandnois. One of them catches it and runs 75 yards for a touchdown. But, the Steelers were offside. It got called back and Mr. Rooney said, ‘I know Walt Kiesling told that guy to jump offside because if it worked he wouldn't want me doing the game plan again.' \r\n\r\n

Q: What's your assessment of Coach (Mike) Tomlin?

\r\n\r\nA: I don't know Mike. I've met him a couple times. I wasn't in on those interviews but he must be pretty good. They hired him as a coach and they usually don't make a whole lot of mistakes. I'd have liked to have seen Russ Grimm or Ken Whisenhunt get it. They were friends of mind. But everything's worked out good. I don't know. I hope he's successful. It's the first time he's been a head coach. A lot of times, it's not just the head coach, (but) the people that he hires, the assistant coaches. You'd better have a pretty good staff. I know the guys that were there when I left. They're still there. They're good coaches. I don't know any of those new guys he brought in. I know the one guy can't be too smart with that computer. Geez.\r\n\r\n

Q: What do you think of Ben Roethlisberger?

\r\n\r\nA: Ben's a good quarterback. He was hurt last year with the motorcycle thing and the appendectomy. That kind of bothered him a little bit I think. He had the new receiver coming in, Santonio Holmes, who had a good year. But Ben will be fine. You have a chance because you have Ben. You have a quarterback. Now you've just got to protect him.\r\n\r\n

Q: What was the best Steeler team you ever coached?

\r\n\r\nA: Probably the best Steeler team we ever had was after we won the first two Super Bowls, that next year (1976). That was probably our best team. We didn't win because we went down to Baltimore and beat Baltimore, killed Baltimore, (but) Franco got hurt, Rocky (Bleier) got hurt, Frenchy Fuqua got hurt. So we go out to Oakland the next week and we were playing the one-back offense before anybody ever heard of the one-back offense. We didn't know what the heck we were doing and they ended up beating us for the (AFC) championship. That team shut out three teams in a row, somebody scored nine points, somebody scored seven points – something like that – and then we shut out two more teams. We used to talk to ourselves before we went out on the field and we'd go, ‘Do you think those guys can score?' That was probably the best team.\r\n\r\n

Q: So why didn't you come out of retirement to help that one-back attack?

\r\n\r\nA: No, I couldn't come out of retirement, not with that crew I coached with. No, that's another story. We were up too late.\r\n\r\n

Q: What were your thoughts on Plaxico Burress? And what happened to Duce Staley?

\r\n\r\nA: Well, Plaxico is a good receiver, just -- these kids today, they're different. I mean, they're really different. Plaxico tried to test you all the time. He was a good receiver. He didn't like to run across the middle. If you ever noticed, when he caught the ball, down he went. He didn't want to run across the middle. Duce Staley? What happened to Duce, we got him and he gets off to a great start. He's healthy and he's leading the NFL in rushing after six or seven games. And he gets hurt. Then he doesn't come back till late in the year. We brought him back and we played him, we alternated him, and he was pretty good. Then we go to training camp and he practiced one time and has to have his knee operated on. Now we're into the second or third game before he can do anything and Jim here and the rest of the reporters want to know why Duce isn't healthy and why he isn't playing. It was because he hadn't been hit all training camp. So then we finally put him in as our third-down back and he missed two blitzes the very first game and got the quarterback killed. That's what happened to him – injuries. Duce was a good guy, a good guy to coach, a very good guy to coach. I liked him a lot. It was just after the injury we couldn't use him.\r\n\r\n

Q: Can Willie Parker stand up to the pounding that backs take today?

\r\n\r\nA: Yes. Willie runs harder than you think he does. He's not going to move any piles. If there's no hole there, he's not going to knock anybody backwards. If you give him the least little bit of a crack, and he can see that crack, he'll break tackles in the secondary because of his speed, when he gets going full speed. And Willie's stronger than you think he is. Willie weighs about 210. Everybody's saying they need another back – which they do, give him a break every once in a while – but he is just a great kid and he's only going to get better. We were very, very fortunate to get Willie Parker. I'd never seen him. After the draft, you start to call these free agents. They give you a list of people to call and he wasn't even on the list. You work with one of the scouts and I worked with Dan Rooney, Jr. So I came out of the draft meeting and after about 10 minutes he comes down the hall and said, ‘Hey, I got your two backs. We don't have to sign anybody else.' One was Willie Parker and one was some fullback from Syracuse who didn't make it. I said, who's Willie Parker? And he said, ‘This is a kid I watched in high school and went to North Carolina and he never played but I think he should've gotten a chance.' We had just gotten Willie to fill in at training camp. Now he's a starter and he's an excellent player and he's going to get better.\r\n\r\n

Q: What can you tell us about changes over the years in the game? And what changes would you like to see made?

\r\n\r\nA: A lot of us would like to see them get rid of the punters and the field-goal kickers. You pay them so damn much money you can't pay the rest of the guys. Nah, I'm just kidding. The biggest change in pro football from when I first started is specialization. When I first started, you played 22 guys, offense and defense. Then somebody got the brainchild to run the third wide receiver on the field. So now they're whipping up on the defense, so the defense finally figured out that you had to put in an extra defensive back. Then somebody put another tight end in, so the defense put another linebacker in. So now, you see 22 guys on first down, on second down six go in on each side. That's the biggest change in pro football, that and the media coverage.\r\n\r\n

Anything else? Okay, I'll tell you one more story about Bobby Layne. Bobby Layne was the greatest character that ever played pro football. He was a beauty. In those days, they did things that today would be in the paper and there would be a lot of trouble. But Bobby, we'd go play preseason games and he'd do some crazy stuff. One time he and Sonny Jurgensen, who played for the Redskins, they went out and had a few drinks the night before the preseason game. So they came in and we were playing a game. The first half, I don't think Jurgensen completes a pass; I don't think Bobby completes a pass. So the dressing rooms were right together and we were going off the field. I was walking behind Bobby and Sonny says to Bobby, ‘Bobby, boy I can't hit those receivers today.' And Bobby says to Sonny, ‘Hit them? I can't even see them.'\r\n\r\n

Back in those days, when I started playing, you had a job during the offseason. You didn't make enough money not to do anything in the offseason, so you had some kind of a job. We had a guy named Tom Tracy who came from Detroit, and we would play Sunday and he'd fly back to Detroit after the game. He worked for a Pontiac dealership. Then he'd drive a brand new Pontiac back to Pittsburgh Monday night and try to sell it to one of the rookies. Sometimes he did; sometimes he didn't. I remember he brought a green Bonneville back and that thing was huge. He brings it back, tries to sell it, he can't sell it. We were going to play – I can't remember the team – at Pitt Stadium, so Bobby borrows that Bonneville the night before the game. Bobby was out at one of the nightclubs and it was late, maybe two or three in the morning, the night before the game, and he's coming back. He takes that Bonneville and knocks a streetcar off the tracks. He totals the Bonneville and goes out the next day and passes for 400 and some yards and it was a record for a long time until Tommy Maddox broke it. There were some characters back then. He got up to speak in Detroit at one of those alumni banquets. He had the dais there and he started to talk and he fell right off the back of the dais. He was a character.\r\n\r\n

To discuss this story, click here.\r\n

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