Steelers WRs coach Darryl Drake dies at 62
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers coach Darryl Drake died Sunday morning at age 62, the team announced.
Drake was entering his second season with the Steelers. No cause of death was immediately released.
“We are at a loss for words following Darryl Drake’s passing this morning,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement. “Darryl had such an impact on the players he coached and everyone he worked with throughout his entire career. He was a passionate coach and had a tremendous spirit toward life, his family, his faith and the game of football.
“Our prayers and thoughts are with his wife, Sheila, his three daughters, his grandchildren and entire family during this difficult time.”
The Steelers immediately canceled practice Sunday and closed the Saint Vincent campus to fans. The Steelers also canceled practice for Monday.
“Darryl was a close friend and had a tremendous impact on my coaching career,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He was an amazing husband, father and grandfather, and it is difficult to put into words the grief our entire team is going through right now.
“Darryl loved the game of football and every player he ever coached. We will use our faith to guide us and help his family throughout the difficult time.”
Drake is survived by his wife, daughters Shanice, Felisha and Marian, and two grandchildren.
Drake had been coaching in the NFL since 2004. He was with Chicago Bears from 2004-12 and the Arizona Cardinals from 2013-17. He was a college coach before joining the Bears when he was hired by Lovie Smith.
“Darryl was everyone’s friend. He was a great father, a great coach and an even better man,” said Smith, now the coach at Illinois. “We’ve definitely lost one of the really good people in the world.”
Drake joined the Steelers for the 2018 season, replacing Richard Mann, who retired. At Arizona, he worked under former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
“We lost a great man, husband, father, coach and a dear friend,” Arians wrote on Twitter.
Among the Pro Bowl players he coached were Johnny Knox and Brandon Marshall with the Bears, Larry Fitzgerald with the Cardinals and Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster with the Steelers. Drake was so highly regarded that SI.com named him as the receivers coach for a “dream coaching staff” the website compiled in June 2016.
A Louisville native, Drake was an all-state football player and a high school All-American in track and field and basketball. He enrolled at Western Kentucky, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Drake played with the Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals, but it was when he returned to his alma mater that he reluctantly got into coaching. In an interview recorded when he was with the Bears, Drake said he was managing a Pizza Hut when the football coach at Western Kentucky, Dave Roberts, asked him to join the staff as a graduate assistant.
Drake worked on Roberts’ staff for two seasons while completing his studies. When a full-time job opened in 1985, Roberts offered it to Drake, who initially turned it down.
“I saw the hours coaches put in and said no, that’s not what I want to do,” Drake said. “Finally, after a while, I thought, ‘I don’t have a job. I’m finished with school. I can do this for a little while.’ ”
The job, according to Drake, paid $10,000 a year. Drake stayed at Western Kentucky through 1991, working with defensive backs and quarterbacks in addition to the wide receivers. After spending one year as passing game coordinator, Drake was surprised when then-coach Jack Harbaugh told him Georgia of the mighty SEC wanted to hire him to coach receivers.
“Darryl was a close friend of my Dad and loved by our family,” Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
After six seasons at Georgia, one at Baylor and six at Texas, Drake landed in the NFL with the Bears.
In all, Drake spent 36 years in coaching. After reluctantly wanting to pursue the profession, Drake eventually found it to be gratifying.
“It gives me a chance to have an impact on a young person’s life,” he said. “I never really recognized that fact early, but when I started getting calls from guys I had coached 20-25 years ago and they would say, ‘You said this to me or you did this for me or you gave me an opportunity to do this,’ it made me a better father. It made me a better husband, and it made me a better man.
“Those are the rewards.”
Condolences began pouring in on social media.
“Thinking of you Coach Drake,” defensive captain Cameron Heyward wrote on his Twitter account. “Your passion, love, and laughs always meant a lot. I hope you are at peace. We miss you so much. RIP.”
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had career highs in 2018 with 111 catches and 1,426 yards while becoming the team MVP, posted a heartfelt message about Drake.
“Coach Drake was honestly my favorite coach that I’ve ever had in this game,” Smith-Schuster wrote. “He taught me so much about football and especially about how to go about life. Coach was an amazing role model not just for myself, but for a lot of people who he touched. I wish I could see you one more time.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .