Bringing you another Pittsburgh Steelers’ interview courtesy of our good friend Ron Lippock of the Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin. Today, Ron talks to former Steelers’ linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Tons of good information as they go through Woodley’s draft day experience, difficult coaches he played under, and what he’s doing during his post-football career.
You’re a busy guy! So let’s start with some of the work you’re doing now with your LaMarr Woodley Camp 56 program – tell us about that?
Well, Camp 56 is designed for all kinds of athletes. High school athletes who aren’t getting attention from colleges come to the camp – and we have coaches from D2 and D3 schools come in to work with them to try to find those diamonds in the rough. Many of these kids are from small school, schools with bad teams or who have coaches that don’t do a great job of getting the word out about their players.
We give these kids the college feel – we bring it to life. I’ve been doing this for two years now. We had 80 kids last year – we try to keep it small so that all of the kids get reps and exposure. So far 22 of these kids have gotten scholarships.
You do any coaching as well?
Sometimes I work with the defensive linemen and linebackers on different stuff – techniques…but mostly I just float around at the camp.
You’re also producing a movie about your draft day experience, correct?
I am yeah – it’s called Draft Day. The focus is more about off-the-field stuff. The different issues I had and players have when the sign contracts. The ups and downs, expectations from family and friends now that you have money.
What were these the issues you faced – what were the specific problems you encountered?
Well, I don’t want to give it away. But not just about being a professional athlete. I was a twenty-two year old man now in another location starting over – with different responsibilities. Bills, rent, game tickets…there are a lot of distractions when you have to manage that money.
How can fans see the movie?
Right now it’s on YouTube (Ed Note: You can watch it here). Just search for Draft Day LaMarr Woodley and subscribe to the page. There are two videos I’ve released so far.
As if that all weren’t enough – you’re also big into charities in the Michigan area. Tell me about those and what drives that desire for this work?
I’m working on a recreation center back home in Saginaw. I worked with the city to build this – with programs for adults in the morning and in the evening, after school programs for kids. I also do a back-to-school event where we give kids haircuts and manicures and pedicures for the girls, Christmas and Thanksgiving events…and I’ve done a football camp there for 10 years now too.
What drives all of this work for you?
It’s my community – where I came from. I wasn’t provided those opportunities when I was growing up. It’s a situation where I can give back to other families – a way to give back to take the stress off of them. Who knows – there could be more LaMarr Woodleys there as well and if I can serve as a good example – if they see me doing it – they’ll be motivated to come back and give back as well. That’s how you rebuild a city.
So tell me a bit about your draft day – were you surprised to be drafted by the Steelers?
I visited Pittsburgh – but when they drafted Timmons in the first round I thought for sure it was over. I got a call from a 412 area code and thought maybe it was a friend of mine there – Ryan Mundy. But it was Coach Tomlin – he asked me if I was ready to come to Pittsburgh and play linebacker. I told him I’d play quarterback if he needed me to! Pittsburgh drafting me was a dream come true – I was a Pittsburgh fan since I was a kid.
Who helped mentor you as a rookie there?
There were a bunch of linebackers that mentored me. Farrior, Foote, Haggans, Harrison… they all definitely helped. Batch, Ward – Sam Sword when I was at Michigan – they all helped on and off the field.
Just knowledge. The conversations – getting bits and pieces of knowledge. Batch was from Pittsburgh, he was involved in the community. I liked and respected that and wanted to do that as well.
What was your biggest on-field adjustment?
Learning the linebacker position was my biggest adjustment. I played defensive end at Michigan. Trusting myself to do it was by far my biggest adjustment. That, and getting used to the time – the schedule. The schedule is way longer than college.
Tell me about the humor in the locker room – some of the funnier moments you had there.
Every year the rookies in the linebacker room have to go get the candy and keep the fridge stocked with drinks. My second or third season, Chris Carter was supposed to get the candy but he wasn’t doing it. So, I had to put a hit out on him. He just bought a new Cadillac – so I had my guy fill it up with popcorn up to the roof. He was pissed – but there was nothing he could do! The funniest thing was, the day I ordered the hit, he finally brought the candy. But it was too late – I tried but I couldn’t call the hit off.
So…who was the hit man?
Oh man – I can’t tell you that. I did the same thing again to another rookie. This time I did it myself – I went to the movie theater and got nine big garbage bags filled with popcorn and filled up his front and back seat and his trunk. He finally cleared it all out when he found out the trunk was full too – it was Terrance Garvin.
He was pissed too.
So tell me about what happened to end your carer in Pittsburgh. How hard was that for you to leave?
It was injuries I hurt my calf muscles and hamstrings. My production went down but at the same time I wasn’t rushing the quarterback as much either. Some say that’s an excuse but it’s a true statement. I dropped back in coverage much more – just look at the film. I was being stacked up to guys like Clay Matthews and Tamba Hali – but they rushed every play. I didn’t get to rush as much – I had much less opportunities. My production was less – but no one said anything about that. I was chasing wide receivers.
How frustrating was that?
The media wasn’t talking about that – they said I was getting paid but wasn’t getting sacks. I was in pass coverage 60% of the time. I don’t mind taking the heat – but if you tell something tell it all. I remember when I was at eighty pass rush times, Hali was at two-hundred.
But they don’t look at that – just the end results. And when I covered it wasn’t like I was in the flat – it was like man-to-man on receivers too. The crazy thing is, when you hear it from fans about the poor production – look at the outside linebackers that came after me. When was the last time one had ten sacks? You’ve got to look at the numbers.
So how was the move to Oakland?
Oakland was a great organization – they had a great fanbase. The defensive line coach was great – but the defensive coordinator wasn’t any good – Jason Tarver. He was the dumbest coach I ever had – the kind who was too smart for football. He wasn’t meant to be a defensive coordinator – and I’m saying this now but said it publicly then too. In fact he wasn’t there a year later.
In Arizona, you could say the same thing about their defensive coordinator. They brought in a young guy – James Bettcher. He tried to run the 3-4 defense that Pittsburgh ran but with his own twists. He didn’t know what he was doing. All those plays just confused everybody on the defense. It was a good defense too but he messed it up. He tried to implement his own thing but he never listened to the players. He shouldn’t even be a coach in the league – he is horrible.
Everything else about the Cardinals organization was great – only they had a dickhead as a defensive coordinator. He just didn’t know anything. When we played Carolina in the playoffs he blitzed every third down. Everyone in the league knew he blitzed on third downs and Newton picked us apart. He had no leadership skills. The defensive line coach led that defense more on the sidelines.
How did that compare with guys like LeBeau in Pittsburgh?
LeBeau was the leader of the defense. He was the type of guy that listened to his players. He was a Hall of Fame player and coach – that’s why we were successful. We also had a bunch of leaders on the team – Farrior, Clark, Aaron Smith, Keisel – guys that led. And it all started with LeBeau.
So, if you had any advice for a young guy entering the league today, what would you say to them?
I’d tell the guy to think about their future early on in their career. You never know when your last down is coming in the NFL. Think about your money and your future.
Be sure to check out Ron’s book, Steelers’ Takeaways: Player Memories Through The Decades, featuring over 400 interviews with players and coaches, past and present. You can buy it on Amazon through the link provided here.