There is a certain level of shortsightedness that we can have at times when it comes to our expectations about who can be a good instructor, and what they would be capable of teaching. There is a false bias toward believing that those who excelled at a particular task would be the best to teach it to others. We also question the ability of one who performs one task to be able to educate on another.
This tends to be a particular bias when it comes to position coaches in the NFL. A lot of position coaches were never stars at the position that they end up coaching, though many, likely the majority, at least have a background in that area. But there are also many coaches who have worked at a number of different positions over the years, whether they played it or not.
Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin was a wide receiver. He began his coaching career working with wide receivers. But he first broke into the NFL as a defensive backs coach. Now one of the first players he ever drafted as a head coach, cornerback William Gay, is, at least so far, taking the opposite path, with the team this offseason as a coaching intern, working with the wide receivers.
The significance of his presence with the team has been heightened in light of the passing of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, of course. Not only does it give some continuity over what they’ve been instructing since the spring, Gay is also a familiar face to the organization. Ben Roethlisberger recently talked about what he has brought to the process so far.
“It’s been interesting, because you’re so used to talking trash to him, especially during Seven Shots”, he jested. “But I joke with him because plays when he was playing on defense in Seven Shots that weren’t touchdowns are touchdowns now, because he’s on offense. So it’s kind of funny”.
Gay was a fifth-round pick in 2007. He spent the first four years of his career with the Steelers before making it one year with the Arizona Cardinals and then returning to Pittsburgh through the 2017 season, where he worked everywhere from starter to dime back. He was released in 2018 and pursued a role with the New York Giants before deciding to hang it up as a player and begin his next chapter.
“What I think is great, what he brings to the group and do the wide receivers especially is a different perspective”, Roethlisberger said of the defensive back working with the guys he would cover, “the other side of the ball, and he can kind of coach them, talk to them about what he would see as a defender and what he expects and things like that. So I think any time you have that it’s invaluable”.
In light of Drake’s passing, Gay, along with coaching assistant Blaine Stewart and camp visitor Ray Sherman, have been running the wide receiver room, to the best of our knowledge. It’s not clear what the season-long plan it right now to address the absence on a more permanent basis.