The apocryphal tale is that the Pittsburgh Steelers and head coach Bill Cowher were all set to draft offensive lineman Shawn Andrews with the 11th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, that is until owner Dan Rooney intervened and convinced them that they had to take quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
That’s not the story defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau told us when he sat in for an interview on the Terrible Podcast last week. He said that taking a quarterback was their plan, assuming that one of the top arms fell to them—only the one that fell wasn’t the one who they rated the highest.
“We were rating these guys all the way through, because we were gonna take a quarterback and we were drafting pretty far down, and we didn’t know if any of those guys were gonna get there”, he told us. “But if they did, we were gonna take a quarterback”.
And he added that “The vote would always come out the same. [Philip] Rivers was the guy we were gonna take”. Now, this isn’t the first time we heard the Steelers connected with Rivers, but former executive Doug Whaley said they were concentrating on Rivers because they felt he would be the one who would be available to them.
According to LeBeau, Rivers was the one who prevailed in their actual rating system. Not his own, however. He talked about getting to watch a lot of Roethlisberger’s games in the MAC and coming away impressed. “I’d never seen a quarterback play with any more control of the ball and could keep the offense moving”, he said. Indeed, maybe he was a little too impressed, at least for Cowher’s tastes.
“Coach Cowher, he wanted to make sure that everybody had their ducks in a row, so he said we’re gonna meet one more time on this quarterback situation”, LeBeau recalled. “Bill said, ‘I want to hear from everybody. I want everybody’s vote on who we should take here’. And they get to us and Bill turned and looked at me and he said, ‘I don’t want to hear from you, LeBeau. I know who you’re going to say’”.
As it turned out, the Steelers didn’t have much choice, either way. The San Diego Chargers drafted Eli Manning first overall, the New York Giants following with Rivers fourth overall. The two teams then worked out a trade to swap quarterbacks, while Roethlisberger sat and fell out of the top 10 and into the Steelers’ lap.
Where was Andrews ranked relative to Roethlisberger on their board? I don’t know. But I never really bought the story about Rooney’s last-hour intervention. It doesn’t fit the way the Steelers approach the draft. Rather, it sounds much more like LeBeau’s.
Everything is talked through well in advance. Once the top 10 picks were in, they knew who they would have taken 24 hours earlier given the way the board broke. It was Roethlisberger—who would have gotten LeBeau’s final vote, if he had been allowed to give it, even if the prevailing consensus favored Rivers.