The sudden passing of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake a week and a half ago left a hole within the Pittsburgh Steelers’ organization in more ways than one. At least professionally, head coach Mike Tomlin has up to this point called upon the services of former wide receivers coach Ray Sherman to fill a piece of that void.
Sherman was in training camp as a visiting offensive consultant, and has had a very long coaching history, even spending one year in 1998 as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, but since then has largely worked as a wide receivers coach.
Ordinarily, such visiting coaches and assistants, however, only stick around through training camp. Sherman is still here working with the wide receivers, which leads many to wonder if he, at 67, will in time be named the team’s interim wide receivers coach. The players, at least, would appreciate it, and so would their late coach.
James Washington, for example, told Joe Rutter that Drake would tell his players he used to see out Sherman to ask him questions, as Tomlin once did with Drake. “For Coach Drake to tell us that explains the type of guy that Coach Sherman is and the knowledge he has and all that he brings to the table as a coach”, the second-year wide receiver said.
Sherman has been coaching since 1974, beginning as a graduate assistant at San Jose State. He served in a variety of position coaching duties at several different colleges for the next decade or so before he got his first NFL coaching job with the Houston Oilers in 1988.
He was their running backs coach that year, and wide receivers coach the following year. He would spent most of the rest of his coaching career as a wide receivers coach, including from 2000 through the 2015 season with five different organizations.
Drake’s passing has, at least outwardly, appeared to be hardest on JuJu Smith-Schuster, the 22-year-old entering his third season. He had his first wide receivers coach, Richard Mann, retire after his rookie season, and has now had his second lost suddenly during training camp.
“To go through this at a young age, 22 years old, there’s no words, no feelings to explain what we’re going through”, he told Rutter. “It’s tough, but for Ray…to go out of his way to be here means a lot not only to myself but to the other receivers in our room. We don’t want to change that”.
Washington noted that Sherman was primarily working with the wide receivers, but was mainly “shadowing” Drake, only occasionally pitching in some extra advice or reinforcing something that had been said.
Currently, there appears to be no better immediate solution than to continue on with Sherman, if he is willing to do so. He has been with the team for several weeks now and would know the system better than somebody hired just days before the season starts. Tomlin pulled Mann out of semi-retirement (he hadn’t coached since 2009 before being hired in 2013). Will he get Sherman to do the same?