More change has come to the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason than is typically found in most years—perhaps the most since former head coach Bill Cowher retired. A number of coaches were already either let go or retired. We will see some pretty significant roster turnover, and maybe even more retirements.
One of the most significant changes came with the news that tight ends coach James Daniel would be retiring, though, after spending 17 years with the organization. Originally hired by Cowher in 2004, the same year that they drafted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, he is the longest-tenured coach to have served in the same position during that entire time.
In other words, he has defined what it is to be a Steelers tight end for a long time, though he had Heath Miller, drafted in his second season, so the prototype to help him. And he finished his career with four years of Vance McDonald, who would also retire at the same time. the veteran tight end shared his thoughts on his old position coach during his own retirement…Zoom call.
“I fell in love with JD over the years”, he said last week. “Obviously, like any coaching transition, it’s weird and difficult, you’re trying to figure out the dynamic and stuff, but once we got our footing, I thoroughly enjoyed JD so much”.
A big chunk of his response was about his recollection of his first meeting with Daniel, which came years before he was with the Steelers. It was at the NFL Scouting Combine, and his meeting with Pittsburgh’s tight ends coach was the moment that stuck in his memory from that whole process.
“He sat me down and started interviewing me, and I’ll never forget, just to be blunt, I felt like I was being interrogated”, he said. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t even play for you. You’re sitting here talking to me like that and I don’t even play for you’”.
“That was, again, early on. That was at the Combine. It’s just kind of funny, because I can remember seeing his face, and having seen so many guys at the Combine, I distinctly remember that interview”, he added. “I remember how awkward I felt. I remember how insignificant I even felt. Not even anything he was doing, but just the fact that, man, he knew everything about me”.
Of course, after four years with the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted him in the second round in 2013, he came to Pittsburgh in 2017 and played under Daniel for his final four seasons, and recorded his ‘breakout’ year in 2018, with 50 receptions for 610 yards and four scores.
“I’ll miss that man. He definitely made an impression on me, without a doubt”, he said in conclusion about his former position coach. But most importantly, he talked about their final conversation in Daniel’s office, and how they both had the opportunity to leave the game on their own terms.