NFL

How Mike Tomlin, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the Steelers Dealt With Coach Darryl Drake’s Tragic Death

The death of Darryl Drake drew tributes from many football players and staff. The outpouring of love for Drake’s life was widespread, a proper response for someone great at his job and loved by those he worked with. The Pittsburgh Steelers, where Drake worked before passing away, went all-out to mourn his loss in the right way. 

What made Darryl Drake so special?

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Mike Tomlin struggled to compose himself while talking about Drake at the press conference, details PennLive. Juju Smith-Schuster could barely make it through practice. The Steelers dedicated the 2019-20 season to him. These are the types of emotions that Darryl Drake stirred in players and his fellow coaches. He deserved every moment of his eulogy. 

Drake coached at the collegiate and pro level for 36 years, mostly with wide receivers. He died during the Steelers’ training camp after experiencing chest pains. However, his official cause of death is still unknown. The 62-year-old’s passing left a mark on everyone who worked with him. He was not a “my way or the highway” coach. Drake had a human touch that made those around him happier and more confident.  

“There are guys that you come in and interact with in the locker room that inspire you. And he’s one of those guys that I know,” said Major Applewhite, who began his coaching career working under Drake at the University of Texas. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the people that were in the locker room with him that are now coaching, I guarantee you they pull from Coach Drake and how he conducted himself as a coach and how he helped players on the field and off the field.”

Football players and coaches from all over attended his funeral

Drake’s impact was even more apparent by the number of active and former players, coaches, and staff who attended his funeral details USA Today. It took place at the First Baptist Church in Gallatin, Tennessee. Both Tomlin and former Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens attended before leaving to coach their teams in preseason games.

Larry Fitzgerald also took part in the proceedings, spoke evocatively of what Drake meant to him as coach and a man:

“Vibrant. Lots of enthusiasm. Had a wonderful passion for coaching. A charismatic personality. Obviously, the Steelers are going to miss him, but the football community, in general, is going to miss him. He was such an unbelievable mentor to so many of the guys he coached. A tremendous loss. I was glad I had a chance to be there for his family and for his celebration of life.” 

“The way he treated his wife, his daughters, his granddaughters; he was a living testament for how to do it the right way as a human being. I don’t like to focus on the football aspect. We all have jobs. But he really implanted a lot of those principles to his players. I’ll remember him for those lessons. Those will be the things that really will stick with me 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now when I’m thinking about him.”

Larry Fitzgerald on the late coach Darryl Drake

That last point is the most important. When famous people, or people who work in the entertainment industry, die, it’s easy to memorialize them in terms of what they contributed to a fan base. But Drake wasn’t just a football coach; he was a man with a wife, daughters, granddaughters, and friends. May he rest in peace. 

Pittsburgh’s last season was played in his honor

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The Steelers made it a point to honor Drake throughout the 2019 season, reports The Athletic. They held a moment of silence before the first preseason game after his passing, and wore black sweatshirts bearing one of Drake’s motivational messages, “Shout out the noise”. They also wore a “DD” decal on their helmets for the entire season.

Considering the lower-level distractions that the team withstood in previous years, there was no other team more ready to carry the emotional weight and continue to play football at their highest standard. 

The season should’ve been a disaster after losing Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and especially after Ben Roethlisberger got a season-ending elbow injury. But they put up a commendable fight in spite of their circumstances. The Steelers finished 8-8 and had a shot at the playoffs even after starting a man called Duck at quarterback for six games. 

The players, nor the coaching staff, never let the lack of talent discourage them or stop the competing as best they could. Darryl Drake would’ve been proud of his former team.