Hidden Connection Led Pittsburgh To Focus On Wisconsin In NFL Draft

The Pittsburgh Steelers could’ve scouted two schools this year and built out their draft class: Wisconsin and Georgia. Four of their seven draft picks were either a Badger or a Bulldog. Georgia’s influence is known enough, a two-time National Champ and the best team in college football that pumps out first round picks on a regular basis. Wisconsin is a little more subtle, a solid program but not a powerhouse, but a school Pittsburgh has been drafting from for years. 2023 was no different, selecting NT Keeanu Benton in the second round and LB Nick Herbig in the fourth.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Assistant GM Andy Weidl revealed his connection between Pittsburgh and Wisconsin.

“And Chris [Haering], who coached my brothers at Mount Lebanon High School, he coached all three of them,” he said via a team-provided transcript. “I’ve known him a long time and have a really good relationship with him. He was a special teams coach. Got to catch up with Chris before the game and get insight on Keeanu and then through the process, once Nick declared, talked to him about Nick Herbig. He was a great asset to get the insight from him on the players.”

Haering is no longer with Wisconsin, 2022 his final season, but he coached special teams from 2015 to 2021 before switching to tight ends coach in 2022. Prior to that, he worked as a  linebackers and special teams coach at Pitt and, as Weidl referenced, was Mt. Lebanon’s head coach from 1995 to 2011. There, he coached Weidl’s son and followed in the family footsteps. Weidl himself played his high school football there growing up.

It’s those special insights and connections that can help teams gain an edge throughout the draft process. Sometimes the business is about who you know and having a relationship with an assistant, the strength and conditioning coach, the head of security, all could prove valuable in learning something about the player that the tape won’t provide.

Over the Steelers last seven draft classes, Mike Tomlin has drafted four Badgers. T.J. Watt, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Benton, and Herbig. Having those coaching connections are nice but the Badgers’ well-run program that mimics the Steelers’ defense, there’s a reason why all four selections are on the defensive side of the ball, makes for an easier and cleaner projection in an otherwise messy process.

Though Weidl’s connection with Hearing won’t be as useful in the future, it makes sense why Pittsburgh focused so much on Wisconsin this draft season. Benton and Herbig could make immediate impacts on the 2023 roster. Benton as a potential starting nose tackle, Herbig as a special teamer.

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