There’s an old saying, “Good things come to those who wait,” and this phrase rings loud and clear for ex-Steelers’ running backs coach Kirby Wilson. After being in the pro game for 36 years, 23 as a running backs coach, Wilson finally recently landed his first head coaching gig, leading the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers.
However, the road to success wasn’t always an easy one. On January 6th, 2012, mere days before an 80-yard Tim Tebow touchdown pass in OT that ended the Steelers’ season, a horrible fire at Wilson’s home occurred. He sustained burns that covered half his body, and is very fortunate that it wasn’t worse.
Wilson spoke with the Post-Gazette’s Brian Batko about that difficult time.
“It’s been 10 years since that moment, and what a tough, difficult time in my life that I might not have ever overcome had it not been for my family, the Steelers organization and Mike Tomlin in particular,” Wilson told the PPG. “They were by my side — I can’t even begin to tell you. Night, day, 24/7, throughout the entire process.”
The timing of it all couldn’t have been any worse, as he was reportedly the leading in-house candidate to replace the exiting Bruce Arians. He was on the original coaching staff Mike Tomlin assembled, but due to obvious circumstances in his personal life, the team ultimately hired Todd Haley as its next offensive coordinator.
“That’s something that always set in my mind because that’s always been my dream job, city, all of those things mixed into one,” Wilson said. “So when it didn’t happen, of course you go through a lot of emotions, internally.”
Wilson did however return to coach the backs for the next few seasons, but his chance to be a play caller was put on hold.
After bouncing around the league as a running backs coach, most recently with the Raiders in 2020, he sat out the 2021 season in a mini retirement. However, that didn’t last long, as this past January his dream of being a head coach finally came to fruition. Fittingly enough, ex-Steelers’ offensive coordinator Todd Haley will be leading the Tampa Bay Bandits, as well.
At this juncture, with the devastating fire and the coaching carousel firmly behind him, Wilson has his sights set on the upcoming USFL Draft on February 22. His coaching staff is already filled out, even boasting a familiar name in Jarren Horton, the son of former Steelers’ secondary coach Ray Horton.
Wilson’s story is a feel good one, and it’s proof that nice guys don’t always finish last. His next goal is bringing home some hardware with the Maulers, in a city that is near and dear to his heart.
“It’s the best football city in America, bar none,” said Wilson. “I’ve been in a bunch of them, and it’s not even close. We’re going to make you guys proud, and we want to be the greatest spring football league there’s ever been.”