Hines Ward References ‘Special Teams’ & ‘Toughness’ As Important Lessons Learned From Cowher And Tomlin

Appearing on SportsCenter this morning, former Steelers WR Hines Ward spoke from Jackson State University, which was the location for an HBCU Showcase. When show host Jay Harris asked Ward about the impact his former head coaches had on him as a player during his career and how that will help him now as a future head coach for an XFL franchise, Ward focused on an aspect of the game often overlooked, but still vital to success when speaking on the impact of coach Bill Cowher.

“Well, Coach Cowher, he’s very intense,” Ward said on SportsCenter shown on ESPN Monday morning. Disregard the spitting that comes out of his mouth because he’s so intense. You won’t see me doing any of that. But you know what, Coach Cowher got the most out of his players. He taught toughness. He tried to build his team especially on special teams since he played special teams when he was in the league. I think for a lot of these players, that’s the fastest way to expedite your trip to the next level is through special teams.

Bill Cowher is no stranger when it comes to fighting for a roster spot in the NFL. He spent six seasons in the NFL after his college career was over at North Carolina State University, being mainly a core special teams contributor for the Eagles and Browns. He often referred to himself as a bubble player, having to earn his way onto a roster every season by his play on special teams. While appearing in 45 games during his playing career, Cowher started only four games at linebacker according to Pro Football Reference.

Cowher took that same mindset to his coaching career, vocalizing the importance of special teams to his players and how it can earn you a roster spot as well as potentially earn you more playing time on the offensive or defensive side of the football. That was the case for Ward, who saw the field sparingly as a rookie in 1998, but managed to contribute on special teams units, eventually earning more playing time at wide receiver which ended up in Ward becoming a four-time Pro Bowler and a two-time Super Bowl champ.

After giving Cowher his due for the influence he had on his playing career, Ward made sure to speak on current Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and what stood out to him during their time together on the team.

“He always talked about mental toughness and being focused on the task,” Ward said when speaking about Mike Tomlin. “Not making an excuse and just going out and just finding tough football players and the guys that love football, but smart and physical football players. That’s what I’ve learned from both of the coaches that I’ve played for.”

‘We smile in the face of adversity’ and ‘I choose not to seek comfort’ are two Tomlinisms that often been used by the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach when referring to how he approaches his job despite the success he has had thus far in the NFL. Tomlin made a distinct point in a recent interview on The Pivot Podcast this past month to say that seeking comfort isn’t something that leads to success in the league and upholds ‘The Standard’ that has been set as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tomlin is known to be a player’s coach as is evidenced by how players both inside and outside the organization speak of him. However, he also is a coach that has elevated some average teams in the past to play above what was expected of them in the national media like in 2019 after the team lost Ben Roethlisberger for the season. The result is never having a losing season as a head coach since 2007, an impressive feat that details that mental toughness Tomlin preaches to his player and Ward reflects on today as a head coach himself. Ward epitomized what it meant to be a tough football player during his playing career, being one of the most physical receivers in the league.

Having one head coach already inducted into the Hall of Fame and another well on the way to receiving the same honor has truly been a blessing for Ward as a player as well as now as a coach. He has previously worked as an offensive assistant for the Jets and the WRs Coach for Florida Atlantic the last couple of years before getting the XFL heading coaching gig. Similar to his playing days, Ward is climbing the ladder in the coaching ranks, taking the lessons his mentors have taught him over the years and applying them now on the sidelines instead of on the field. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Ward finds himself back in the league coaching in some capacity soon.

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