Bringing you another Pittsburgh Steelers’ interview courtesy of our good friend Ron Lippock of the Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin. Today, Ron interviews former Steelers’ end Jack “Cy” McClairen who played six seasons for the team and made the 1957 Pro Bowl. They discuss being a total unknown coming to the club, his teammates, and how a sprinkler ended his football career.
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.
First, as a legendary coach for Bethune-Cookman, tell me a little about how you entered into coaching and how influenced how you coached?
I never did any coaching before I got the job in 1961. I got the offer after I hurt my knee in Pittsburgh – I told them I’d give it a try after the coach that was there for fifteen years had to quit. He got sick and had to give up coaching, so I called just at the right time.
The president of the university was my high school coach. He knew of me but didn’t know what kind of athlete I was, I didn’t know either!
They had no athletic director, no coaches… I told them I’d take all of that. They had no players returning. so it was a kind of rough.
So you also happened to coach Rashean Mathis, who turned out to be a consistent thorn in your Steelers’ side for many years. He ever give you grief about that?
Oh yeah. He may have mentioned that!
Any Steelers coaches influence you’re style?
I never asked anyone about coaching, I just used their materials that they had. I kept all of the things they taught me. I was the tallest end they had then but they believed in shorter ends. They passed the ball low but when they threw it at me they threw it too high and nearly killed me. I knew I wasn’t going to last long. So I kept all they told me in practice.
Then I got my knee hurt. We practiced on the same field as the Pirates played on and they were a championship team. They needed the field the day we had a practice so we had to play on the part of the field with the sprinkler system. I stepped on the sprinkler head and my knee popped. I got into coaching after that.
You were drafted by the Steelers in the twenty-sixth round in 1955. How did they discover you?
We played Florida A&M – they were in our conference, They beat us in everything they participated in. They beat us my sophomore year 26-13. My junior year we played them in Florida at their homecoming game and Branch Rickey (General Manager of Pirates at the time) received his honorary doctor degree at halftime. I caught a touchdown pass that game and we won eight to seven. So, he knew me. He saw the catch and I think let the Steelers know to look out for me.
I had two deferments from the Army while I was in college and served for two years after college and played for Army those two years, but had already signed with Pittsburgh after they drafted me..
When I got there no one knew who I was. They didn’t know anything about me. The coaches didn’t know who I was.
Did anyone help you then to adjust as a rookie and make the team?
There was a Pittsburgher who I played with at Army. Marv Matuszak – he knew about me and helped me. Dan Rooney I talked too. He knew my name at least and talked to me some about football and the Army. I ended up making the Pro Bowl in 1958. Matuszak pulled me aside as a rookie after watching me practice. He told me I was catching the ball too low, catching it when it was already past me instead of catching it from where it was coming from. He gave me pointers and told the other guys to help me,
You played with so many Steelers legends. Any memories of those guys?
It’s hard for me to remember much.
Stautner was a complete clown. Unitas wasn’t too friendly. He kind of paid attention to the coaches but didn’t say anything to the players.
Marion Motley would stay in Cleveland every night and come back in the mornings for practices. When we were punting he’d sit down on one knee. He said that was his time to rest.
Earl Morrall used to yell at us so loudly in the huddle we’d tell him he was just letting the defense know what we were doing.
Elbie Nickel was a quiet guy. You wouldn’t think he could do anything but he was tough. He’d tell you he was here to help you and would stand with you and give you pointers while you were practicing.
Marchibroda was quiet – I don’t think Layne would let him talk much. Finks was a good dude. He’d walk out with you and would help you at practice.
How was your coach?
Walt Kiesling didn’t do too much. I don’t think he understood the system much.
And lastly, what about you? What were you like as a player?
I was a basketball player in college and was taller than the other defensive backs. When they the the ball high I had the advantage. Sometimes I’d fake like I was going to jump then run and go catch the ball. But they wanted me to score touchdowns and i was more concerned abut catching the ball. I didn’t care about scoring.