It’s not easy to make it into the Hall of Fame, by design. Ostensibly, only the best of the best ultimately make it there. Outside of dynasties, it’s somewhat rare for teammates to meet each other in the Hall. Coaches are quite rare.
For a player-coach duo to go in together is genuinely special, and that’s what the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans will have an opportunity to experience rather soon, as legendary safety Troy Polamalu and the man who drafted him, head coach Bill Cowher, will both be enshrined this year, as part of the class of 2020. Polamalu recently discussed his relationship with his first coach.
“I think. naturally, relationships evolve, and in particular, especially being drafted as a 21-year-old, to have Coach Cowher, a Hall of Fame coach”, he said, “but I think from my case in a particular reason, because he helped develop me and help me, as I matured into adulthood, and really played a big father figure role in my life, much like coach [Dick] LeBeau as well, and really to have that confidence instilled in you by a Hall of Fame coach”.
LeBeau was Polamalu’s defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. While he quite easily built close relationships with virtually all of his players, the two of them had a special bond. LeBeau will be the one to introduce Polamalu, and will be in attendance regardless, as a fellow member of the Hall.
Though Cowher only coached Polamalu for his first few seasons—most of his career came under Mike Tomlin as the successor to the head coaching role—he still had a profound influence on Polamalu, who believes it has as much to do with the city and what it represents as anything else.
“I think not only in particular to that, though, is that he’s also from Pittsburgh and he really embodies that blue collar mentality as well”, he said “To not only have that sort of influence earlier in my career, it’s also honorable virtues that Pittsburgh stands by, blue collar, work ethic, not letting environment control factors of adversity, and these sorts of things you really learn living in Pittsburgh”.
As you might have guessed, Cowher is a Pittsburgh (area) native, born in Crafton, and a graduate out of the Carlynton school district. He was profoundly influenced by Marty Schottenheimer, another Pittsburgh-area native born in Canonsburg and a graduate of Pitt, so the influence of the city runs deep, and naturally helped to shape the principles he would pass on to his players.
Polamalu admits that he doesn’t get out to Pittsburgh much these days, despite calling it his home, and stating that his kids are true Yinzers, but that’s because they’re so involved in sports that he’s currently living his life as a ‘soccer dad’, so to speak.
He did say that he plans to be in the ‘Burgh for some games this year, which should be electric, for many reasons, not just the return of the prodigal son, but also simply because it’s been too long since Heinz Field has roared.