I was hopeful that, perhaps, wide receiver coach Richard Mann might want to stick around for just one more season. Of course, he had already been sticking around for ‘just one more season’ a couple of times already, in pursuit of another Super Bowl ring. He previously earned one while working with Mike Tomlin on Jon Gruden’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff in 2002.
But it would have been nice to get another one, this time with Antonio Brown, the best wide receiver in the game, whom he has helped take his game to a transcendent new level. And the Pittsburgh Steelers have put together quite an assemblage of talent at wide receiver for him to work with. He has said that he loves coaching JuJu Smith-Schuster.
In addition to his own position group, he had pretty much the whole offense intact, with Ben Roethlisberger not hemming and hawing about retiring this offseason, and with the entire offensive line under contract for next season—and most for beyond as well.
I thought that the talent around him would encourage him to put in ‘just one more year’ just one more time. But it doesn’t sound as though that will be the case, which is unfortunate. But could the Steelers possibly already have a candidate in mind?
Tomlin was asked about him yesterday, but he evaded the question, as he always does in season wrap-up press conferences. It might sound like a shot in the dark or a moon shot, but I think there is a legitimate possibility that former wide receiver Hines Ward becomes the team’s next wide receivers coach.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Steelers asked him to come in this year to work with Smith-Schuster. It was more than just the fact that he was compared to Ward coming out of college. Ward is interested in pursuing a coaching career, and the Steelers are going to have an opening.
The former Super Bowl MVP didn’t just make one trip to Pittsburgh, or just work with Smith-Schuster. He’s made several trips here, as he told Jim Wexell. He was here during the bye and he worked with all of the wide receivers, even noting that he taught Brown a thing or two.
One could say that he already drifted into the role of something of a player-coach by the end of his career. In his last few seasons, the Steelers drafted Mike Wallace, and then Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. He taught them quite a bit, and all of them managed to reach the Pro Bowl.
“Just watching their development and how they went on to so much success, I couldn’t be any prouder”, he told Wexell. “That’s what kind of led me to where I am now, because I remember helping those guys. You see their success and you think, ‘maybe coaching is something I want to do’”.
But he wasn’t done. He added, “then the opportunity presents itself: Coach Mann might be retiring, I’ve always been intrigued with it, my wife’s family lives in Youngstown, it’s close proximity, one flight away from Atlanta. Who knows?”
Who knows, indeed. But I think it’s a distinct possibility.