Many tributes have been pouring in over the course of the past day and a half memorializing the late Darryl Drake, who passed away suddenly yesterday morning at the age of 62 as he was preparing to enter his second season with the Pittsburgh Steelers as wide receivers coach.
Drake spent nearly four decades in coaching, starting at his alma mater of Western Kentucky as a graduate assistant in 1983. He remained in the college ranks until he got an opportunity to join the staff of the Chicago Bears in 2004, spending five years with the Arizona Cardinals before being hired by the Steelers in 2018.
And though he was a new member of the staff last season, he was immediately accepted as an established veteran coach. It helps that many on the staff had already known him, including Head Coach Mike Tomlin, but he quickly earned the respect of his new students—and the team as a whole.
Former Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey only spent one season with Drake, but the impact made on him may well last a lifetime. In an article co-written by Teresa Varley and Bob Labriola for the team’s website, Heyward-Bey recalls a crucial moment that Drake played in his one full season with the team. “He was”, he said, “the one who brought it all together” at the end of the year.
I don’t know if anyone is going to speak on this, but I am. Coach Drake is the one who held a team meeting with just the players that helped us through the dysfunction we had going on at the end of the year. For him to take a stand and be a leader as the new guy on the coaching staff, that speaks volumes about the type of person he was.
According to Heyward-Bey, Drake held the players back after Tomlin had addressed them; “’I want everyone to stay in here; I have some words’”. He continued to deliver a message of family and togetherness, of coming together. This was during the final week of the season amidst the turmoil of the New Orleans Saints loss and Antonio Brown going AWOL.
“For him to be a new guy in this community, coaching staff, in our building, and for him to command that respect, that is huge”, the wide receiver recalled, saying that everybody in the locker room had that same level of respect for him, not just those whom he coached.
That was true of every locker room he stepped into, from Western Kentucky to the dorms of Saint Vincent College, from the beginning of his journey in football to the sad end. Drake was in the right place at the right time for the Steelers last season. More broadly, he was the right man for the job—a job that now, the team must figure out how to do in his absence.