Ike Hilliard is a new face for the Pittsburgh Steelers organization, having had no prior connections to the team as either a player or a coach prior to his hiring earlier this year to take over the duties of the wide receivers coaching position. But he is not entirely unfamiliar with the lineage he is stepping into.
In fact, one of the Steelers’ most recent and most prominent wide receivers coaches was something of a mentor to Hilliard. The two overlapped during the end of the latter’s playing career, having spent his first eight seasons with the New York Giants as a former first-round wide receiver, before playing four more seasons between 2005 and 2008 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It just so happens that Richard Mann was the Buccaneers’ wide receivers coach throughout that time, from 2002 through 2009, prior to retiring before Mike Tomlin—who worked with him on the team’s staff between 2002 and 2005—brought him back in 2013. He served five years as the Steelers’ wide receivers coach, through JuJu Smith-Schuster’s rookie season in 2017, before retiring for good.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Hilliard talked about his coaching history, and how he really began to see himself as a coach in the future toward the end of his time with the Giants. But it was his time in Tampa Bay that really solidified his desire to take that route.
“Running into a situation where I was coached by Bill Jackson, coached by Richard man and being around Jon and Jay Gruden, I think the methods of their madness really helped me mold my mental, per se, to prepare for coaching”, he said. “It has just been great for me to share successes and failures from in-helmet perspective and all of the stories that go along with the great game I love and respect. That’s kind of how it happened for me”.
Mann was a beloved position coach during his five seasons in Pittsburgh, though only Smith-Schuster from his position group remains on the roster from his time here. Antonio Brown ascended to Hall of Fame-worthy heights under his tutelage. He helped to develop Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton, and oversaw Smith-Schuster’s franchise record-setting rookie campaign.
After Mann retired—Tomlin and the team kept trying to convince him to stay, to chase the ring—they sought out a like-minded coach in Darryl Drake, who had success in numerous places but became available after a coaching staff turnover in Denver.
Drake passed away suddenly during training camp last year, with Ray Sherman, who can be argued to have been cut from the same cloth, filling in during the season on an interim basis. Now, Hilliard is behind the wheel as somebody who learned how to coach the position, while still as a player, under Mann’s watch for four years at the end of his playing career.