Starkey: Steelers WR coach a Mann among children
I don't want to say Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann is old school, but I did see him walking around Saint Vincent with a pencil in his sock.
So, yes, Mann is old school, and that might be just what the artists formerly known as “Young Money” need.
The Steelers receivers weren't bad last season. They weren't very good, either. They did not play to their talent level. After recording steady growth under former coach Scottie Montgomery, they regressed in the form of mental errors and brutal mistakes at big moments. They thought they were better than they were.
So when Montgomery — who at 35 is a year younger than Plaxico Burress — left to become Duke's offensive coordinator, coach Mike Tomlin dialed up an Aliquippa Mann, one with a Ph.D. in the NFL receiving game. The two worked together on Tampa Bay's 2002 Super Bowl team.
Mann, 65, had been out of the league since 2009.
“To be back after a three-year layoff is something that's almost unheard of, almost unreal,” Mann said. “I'm humbled by it, and I'm going to do the best I can to get us going in the right direction with that receiving corps.”
Obviously, no one can predict the outcome — the line needs to block somebody before Ben Roethlisberger can complete a pass — but I love the concept. Mann ran a back-to-basics clinic at camp. His visage suggests James Earl Jones; his words convey a similar authority. He has worked 28 years in the NFL for eight teams after a college stint that saw him tutor John Jefferson at Arizona State and Mark Clayton at Louisville.
“He's very detailed, talking fundamentals, techniques, details of a route, blocking,” said Jerricho Cotchery, now the elder statesmen in a group that includes Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Markus Wheaton. “It's needed.”
I wondered, is it sometimes better for young players to enroll in the old school rather than work for more of a contemporary?
“I think so,” Cotchery said. “In my opinion, you need a guy like a Richard Mann to keep guys disciplined, keep them focused on staying within the offense and locking in on the details, making sure everyone is doing it the way coach wants and not making up your own thing.”
A roll call of Mann's pupils includes overachievers such as Wayne Chrebet and Keenan McCardell, stars such as Ozzie Newsome (Mann coached tight ends one year in Cleveland) and Keyshawn Johnson and some interesting personalities in the likes of Andre Rison, Joe Horn and Irving Fryar. It's especially instructive to note that the mercurial Antonio Bryant had his best NFL season under Mann in 2008 in Tampa.
Legendary Aliquippa coach Carl Aschman formed Mann's ideas on how to deal with players. Mann played tight end on Aschman's final team, the 1964 WPIAL champion Quips (he proved he could still take a hit, too, when he was crushed on the sidelines Monday in D.C).
“One thing he taught us: It's not ‘I,' it's ‘we,' ” Mann said. “That always stuck in my mind.”
In the NFL, Mann has worked with some noted coaching figures. Among them:
• Bud Carson, architect of the Steelers' 1970s defense. He was Cleveland's coach for part of Mann's tenure there.
“A guru of defense,” Mann said. “He taught me coverages.”
• Bill Cowher. The two rode to games together for four years in Cleveland.
“Dedicated guy,” Mann said. “Fun guy, too. The type you could drink beer with, and when it came time for football, he was all business.”
• Bill Belichick. “I learned how to dissect defenses from him. Very smart.”
The young receivers can relate to Mann, despite his age. He isn't a boring task master. He's not a yeller, either. He is a teacher who will use humor to make a point.
“That's what attracts us to him,” Sanders said. “He is old school, but at the end of the day, he can still get in a room full of (players) and make 'em laugh. When you keep the room light, it makes for a better environment.”
Will it work? Who knows? But the concept is sound. This group needed something different.
It now has a Mann among children.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.