JuJu Smith-Schuster spent three years at USC, one of the top schools on the West Coast. But he hasn’t seen any teaching like the lesson he’s about to get from receivers coach Richard Mann. Class begins today as the Pittsburgh Steelers kick off their rookie minicamp.
Mann is football’s version of Jamie Escalante, the famous Calculus teacher depicted in Stand and Deliver. He’s been coaching wide receivers, and just wide receivers, since 1970. That’s 26 years before before Smith-Schuster was even born. Mann’s career snaked through Aliquippa High School, Arizona State and into the NFL with stints in Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay, to name a few.
He left coaching after 2009 but Mike Tomlin coaxed him out of retirement in 2013, allowing him to stay local and replace Scottie Montgomery went back to the college ranks. Wide receiver is the position the Steelers evaluate best but it’s credit to Mann’s development of them.
He’s turned water into wine time and time again. Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, and Eli Rogers have all flashed under him. Mann even helped Cobi Hamilton play at a respectable level last year when the Steelers were scraping the bottom of the barrel for wide receiver help.
Now, he’ll work with Smith-Schuster, this year’s second round pick. The players I’ve talked to have consistently praised Mann even when they’ve only known him for a short time.
Two years ago, Shakim Phillips quickly considered Mann as one of his favorite and best coaches he’s ever been around.
“In a couple weeks I’ve learned so much from Coach Mann. He’s definitely one of my favorite coaches I’ve had through my whole life. He’s an old-school guy and he has a lot of knowledge about the game. He’s very big on technique and he’s helped me out a lot. I stay after with him, watch film, come early with him, watch film with him before and after practice. Just to pick his brain as much as I can.”
Issac Blakeney, in camp last year, echoed the same sentiment, recognizing the difference it was with and without Mann, who missed the spring after undergoing a medical procedure.
“He’s already becoming one of my favorites coaches because he’s teaching me a lot in such a short amount of time.”
Mann reversed course and returned for 2017 after strongly hinting he was going to retire for good. Maybe the influx of talent the organization keeps providing him is his incentive to stay. With all we know about Smith-Schuster, his tape and clear passion for the game, he’ll make for an eager and ideal student for Coach Mann.