In February 2013, the Pittsburgh Steelers front office made a move that, at the time, didn’t receive as much as maybe a small blip running across the ticker on NFL Network. But with the team’s embarrassment of riches at the wide receiver position over the last several years, it’s safe to say that receivers coach Richard Mann can stake his claim as arguably the team’s top assistant, along with offensive line guru Mike Munchak.
He arrived in the Steel City with 28 years of NFL coaching experience, including coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ receivers from 2002 through 2009. He is no stranger to the city by any stretch though, hailing from Aliquippa and playing on their 1964 WPIAL Championship team, so essentially, he’s western Pennsylvania through and through. The Bucs at the time also happened to have a defensive backs coach from 2002 to 2005 by the name of Mike Tomlin, so the pairing should’ve came as no surprise.
Prior to coming to Pittsburgh, Mann was highly regarded for his ability to help churn out 1,000 yard receivers, and some of the names on his resume may either shock you, or take you down memory lane. In 2008, his latest project was Antonio Bryant. After bumbling around the league, he was signed for the veterans’ minimum by the Bucs, and what a steal that was, as Bryant posted the best season of his career to the tune of 83 grabs for 1,248 yards and 7 scores. A year later, after injuries had set in, he was waived and never really heard from again.
The immortal Joey Galloway was another, as he recorded some of his finest years as a pro under the tutelage of Mann. Anyone remember Michael Clayton, the 15th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft? His rookie year, Clayton posted 80 catches for 1,193 yards and 7 touchdowns. The next several seasons, the injury bug took it’s toll and he was out of the league by 2009. By now you probably get the point, and that being that under Mann’s guidance, receivers have flourished, and in every single season on the Tampa Bay sideline, the team produced a 1,000-yard wideout.
After losing mercurial Mike Wallace to the Miami Dolphins in the same offseason Mann was picked up, it was clear Antonio Brown would be “the guy” but just how good he would become was still an unknown. Instead of overpaying for Wallace, the team handed Brown a 5-year/ $42.5 million deal, entrenching him as the team’s future at the position. Emmanuel Sanders was also elevated to a starting spot, and in 2013, under Mann’s guidance, both used it as a launch pad to staking their name amongst the NFL’s elite receivers.
Brown took a hammer to the Steelers’ receiving record book, posting 110 grabs, 1,499 yards and 8 touchdowns, en route to All-Pro honors. Sanders parlayed his best season yet into a 3-year/$15 million deal to go play with the Broncos and Peyton Manning, earning his first Pro Bowl nod after posting 101 grabs for 1,404 yards and 9 touchdowns.
And Mann isn’t quite finished yet. It’s obvious to anyone that the Steelers’ brass has been a gold mine the last few drafts, unearthing late round gems and turning them to stars. But who’s to say it’s not the tutelage of Mann behind the scenes, helping and overseeing their development? After the departure of Sanders, Markus Wheaton was expected to be next in line, but he didn’t completely take the reigns and run with them, so fourth-rounder Martavis Bryant chipped in. After clamoring for a large wide receiver for years, Steelers fans got their wish in a big way, as some scouts have compared the relatively raw Bryant to Randy Moss. Mann said that if Bryant had stayed in school another year, he would’ve likely been a first round pick, possessing great size at 6-foot-4 and blazing 4.4 speed.
“He is different from what we’ve had, as far as his length,” Mann said after the draft regarding his new chess piece. “We feel like with the addition of him, we can utilize his talents in the red zone. He has a big reach. He has good speed. So we can use him in various ways, as far as clearing things out. He is a deep threat. He does have the speed.”
After missing the first six games of the year, Mann decided to unleash his talents in only a handful of packages, as the raw youngster was still learning on the fly. And fly did he ever, posting a ridiculous 21.1 yards-per-catch average including an 80-yard bomb vs. the New York Jets and a 94-yard barn burner vs. Cincinnati. After a full offseason to work with Mann on refining his game, he could help elevate the offense to another level and perhaps, post dual 1,000 yard receivers for the first time since Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward did it in 2002.
From Mike Wallace to Antonio Brown to Emmanuel Sanders and now Martavis Bryant, the team continues to strike it rich with late round wide receivers. The team cupboard is loaded at the receiver position once again, and the team more than likely will snatch another late-round receiver for depth purposes in the 2015 draft. The more ballyhooed coaching pickup last offseason was Mike Munchak, and the offensive line made improvements by leaps and bounds this past season. But Mann’s efforts should not go unnoticed, as the front office continually sets the table in front of him, and time after time, he turns water to wine.
“I’ve been coaching a long time, and I’m a fundamental technique guy,” Mann said. “The bottom line is if the player has good fundamental technique, along with his athletic ability, he can be a productive player.”
Perhaps it’s his willingness to not show favoritism, whether you’re a street free agent, or a first-round pick, he coaches them all the same.
“I’ve had some experience where I’ve been accused of just coaching the starters, and I don’t think that’s right,” Mann said. “I coach everybody. Everybody has got to do his job. Whatever your role is, that is what you have to be held accountable for. My accountability comes with everybody in the room. I should be accountable to everybody, and that’s the way I coach. I always have.”
It’s true, Todd Haley, Keith Butler and Mike Munchak receive much of the media attention, but do not sleep on the forgotten “Mann.”