Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster spent his first five years with the team. During that time, he had four different wide receivers coaches. It started with Richard Mann, who retired after Smith-Schuster’s rookie season. He was succeeded by Daryl Drake, who shockingly passed away during his second training camp with the team. Ray Sherman filled in as interim coach in 2019.
The Steelers hired Ike Hilliard in 2020 to man the job. As their position coaches pretty much always do, he signed a two-year contract. Evidently, the organization and head coach Mike Tomlin felt that was enough, as they hired Frisman Jackson to be their wide receivers coach this year.
That did not help Pittsburgh bring back Smith-Schuster, if indeed they had any interest. Last April, after re-signing in free agency, he talked about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Hilliard being the two people he really wanted to stay loyal to. Now both are gone, and so is he.
During his introductory press conference with the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday, he was asked which coach for him inspired him in the past and represented his ideals of what a coach should be. He didn’t hesitate in talking about Hilliard.
“This is a guy, my receiver coach last year who I’ve been with for two years, a guy who’s taught me so much on and off the field”, he said. “Not just as a football player, someone who’s played my position, who’s been in my position, but someone off the field who I’d like to be like one day. That’s something that sticks a long way, because football doesn’t last forever, for all of us, but what he left for me was something special”.
Hilliard was a first-round pick of the New York Giants in 1997. He played eight seasons there, finishing his career with four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, during which time his career overlapped with Mann, who was then the Buccaneers’ wide receivers coach—and with Tomlin, who was their defensive backs coach, at least his first season there in 2005.
Hilliard molded his coaching philosophy around what he learned from Mann, in large part, which he talked about when he first got the job in Pittsburgh. Smith-Schuster was close to him, and with Drake as well. But he apparently grew closer to Hilliard than even them.
Beginning his coaching career the year after he retired, Hilliard worked in the college ranks in 2009-10 before earning an assistant wide receivers coach role with the Miami Dolphins in 2011. He was the wide receivers coach in Washington from 2012 through 2019 (outside of a year in Buffalo in 2013) before joining the Steelers. He is now back in the college ranks with the Auburn Tigers.