The Pittsburgh Steelers lost a couple of excellent, long-tenured coaches this offseason. Richard Mann, in an expected decision, finally walked away from football for good. And John Mitchell is now in a reserve, off-field role as the Steelers’ assistant head coach. The Steelers did replace both with experienced coaches, Darryl Drake and Karl Dunbar respectively, Still, those losses sting.
The longest tenured Steelers coach now? Keith Butler. But right behind him is tight ends coach James Daniel, who has been with the team since 2004. Daniel is a name rarely mentioned but he was the man who helped mold Heath Miller. Now, he’s doing the same with the likes of Jesse James.
Speaking with Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley, Jesse James gave Daniel credit for the job he’s done in that room.
“You need someone who is going to push you further than you thought you are capable of,” James told the site. “He expects greatness on every snap and execution throughout the season. He is never going to change. If you don’t like it, you better adjust. He has helped me a ton.”
James will never be the next Heath but his game has improved last season and he made big plays as the season went on, a credit to him but also his coaching.
The tight end room has been one in flux in the post-Miller era. The front office went after Ladarius Green only for his concussion history to make it a short-lived journey. There was James, drafted in 2015. Pittsburgh dealt for Vance McDonald last year and Xavier Grimble is still a relatively new face. James, going into Year Four, has the most Steelers’ experience of anyone in the room. If there’s any silver lining, the group at least feels stable this year. Maybe a draft pick added, maybe not, but no big changes at the top of the depth chart are expected.
Not to mention the fact Steelers’ tight ends are asked to do more than virtually any other unit in the league. Split out, line up in a three point stance, block defensive ends in the run game and stop edge rushers in the pass, there’s a lot on their plate. Plenty to teach, that’s for sure, but Daniel has maximized the talent of the group.
They have also followed Miller’s lead of being a humble unit. Nothing brash, nothing loud (watch their Christmas Carols if you need to fall asleep), no one who puts themselves above the team. They do their work and I don’t think they care if anyone notices or not. As old school as old school can be.
Though he’s an easy man to spot in camp, walking onto the field with a big straw hat shading his head, he’s one of the underrated coaches on this staff. And at age 65 for a guy who has been coaching a long time, since 1974, Pittsburgh may have to soon replace him, too.