Outside of the Danny Smith Truthers, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ special teams coach isn’t always the most popular man in the city. That’s usually because the only thing fans pay attention to is returns, and especially kick returns, but the reality is that his units have typically performed better than are given credit for.
Originally hired by Mike Tomlin in 2013, the 66-year-old is now heading into his eighth season leading Pittsburgh’s special teams units, and has 25 years of coaching under his belt. This year, of course, is unlike any other because of the Covid-19 pandemic that seems likely to force most, if not all teams, to play games in front of empty seats. More than 60 players chose to opt out of the season.
At least to the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe there has been a single coach choosing to opt out, though several officials have, in spite of the fact that their population would tend to be at much higher risk of suffering an adverse reaction if they were to contract the coronavirus.
For Smith, though, there really wasn’t much of a decision to make. As he told reporters earlier today before practice, this is his life. “I don’t do nothing but coach football”, Brooke Pryor quoted him as saying. “I don’t have hobbies, I don’t have nothing. I’ve been called a lot of names in this business, but house cat isn’t one of them”.
Danny Smith, 66, never considered not coaching this year.
“I don’t do nothing but coach football. I don’t have hobbies, I don’t have nothing. I’ve been called a lot of names in this business, but house cat isn’t one of them.”
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 19, 2020
The Steelers were one of only three teams in the NFL this season in which not a single player chose to opt out of participation in the 2020 season. Needless to say, the same goes for the coaching staff, and they have a number of coaches who are well within their 50s and 60s.
That will provide the team with a lift, a continued stability that some other teams will lack. But for Smith, change is a continual part of his job, because the special teams ‘roster’ more than any other changes year over year.
Rarely has he ever, for example, had the opportunity to keep the same kick returner in consecutive seasons. This year, we may see rookie running back Anthony McFarland step into that role, taking over for Ryan Switzer, who has started the past two seasons there. Switzer was also the punt returner, but that job now appears to belong to Diontae Johnson, who was named a second-team All-Pro for his return work in 2019.
With key losses of players like Anthony Chickillo, Tyler Matakevich, Johnny Holton, and Roosevelt Nix, as well as Sean Davis, Smith will have his hands full trying to figure out which new faces will be able to help him out, and where, and to do so without the benefit of a preseason. It will be a challenge, to say the least. But it’s probably the sort of thing that he lives for.