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First, can you let readers know about your coaching career – how you got started and what you like most as a coach?
After I retired I spent the first full year as a stay at home dad to let my body heal, and more importantly, spend some much needed quality time with my two year-old twins. After the year was over I knew I needed to start a new career and a good friend of mine ran a hockey academy and asked if I would like to try coaching at it. After spending time on the ice with these kids, I knew this was where I wanted my next career to go towards.
I love helping kids reach their hockey goals whether it be making a higher level team or learning how to raise a puck. It took me back to when I was a kid and hockey was simply a game we played cause we loved it.
How difficult has it for you to transition from the NHL to a second career – and how were you able to do so?
I never really found it difficult as I left the game when I was ready to leave. I had no regrets and knew I was time to move on. I never considered myself solely a hockey player I felt I was just somebody who was fortunate to play a game I loved as a job. So when I retired I didnt see myself as losing my identity as much as I saw myself moving in a different direction
Who are some of the players and coaches that most influenced your coaching style today, and how so?
I think I probably took a little of all the coaches I had. I was fortunate to play for some pretty impressive coaches from Hitchcock to Keenan to Badger Bob etc. so I took what I liked best from all these men and lost the things that turned me off. Then added my own personality that emphasizes fun.
You read today about the struggles many NFL players face in transitioning from football to a post-sports career. How does the NHL help players do so – if at all, and is the issue as big with former NHL players as it is with NFL ones?
The NHLPA has a life after hockey program that helped with the adjustment to “normal” life by giving me the confidence to try something different. I know of a lot of other players who have struggled and for the most part it is the players that identified themselves solely as NHL hockey players, and when the limelight was turned off, they were left in the dark and had a hard time dealing with the fact that they were now just regular folk and were quickly forgotten.
You were drafted by the Penguins in 1986. What were your thoughts on getting drafted by the Penguins?
I do remember my draft, it was Montreal and the excitement of achieving a life long dream of taking that step towards the NHL. I knew they had a superstar in Mario and was both excited and nervous about taking part in training camp with the world;s greater player.
You had a huge season in ’88”90. What do you attribute that to besides being on the line with Lemieux. What about your game improved the most to allow for those 49 goals and +27 plus/minus rating?
’88-’89 was obviously a very special year and of course playing with Mario allowed my the opportunity to achieve huge success. My greatest attribute as a player was my knowledge of the Game and that allowed me to be in the right place at the right time when playing alongside Mario
What do you see as the most under-appreciated part of your game, and why?
I think my tenacity for the game. I had a huge competitive nature. When I played games I would do whatever it took to beat whomever I was playing against. I hated losing.
Who helped you adjust to the NHL – both on and off the ice – and how did they do so? Any examples?
My father was the biggest influence on my game and the person I leaned on most when times were tough.
What was the biggest difference you found to exist between the minors and NHL – and how did you adjust?
The biggest differences between the NHL and the minors were speed and size and the absence of true superstars.
As for adapting between my father and Ken Hitchcock, I was challenged to be the best player in the world not playing in the NHL and that fueled me to have hugely successful minor pro seasons and probably was the reason that I was able to come back for three more NHL seasons.
Who were some of the biggest characters on the Penguins teams you played for and what made them so? Any examples of the hijinks/personalities on that team?
There were a number of guys that would stand out from Johnny Cullen to Mark Recchi to Phil Bourque to Kevin Stevens. Any player will tell you the biggest thing they miss after their careers are over is the camaraderie that they shared with their teammates in the dressing rooms as well as on the ice. That is something that can’t be duplicated in any other walk of life. And it is funny when you get together with these guys there is never any talk of what happened on the ice. It’s all about what happened off.
What are your favorite memories of your time in Pittsburgh?
The teammates I played with. My first game and first goal. Playing in an all-star game. Every time we stepped on the ice at the beginning of a playoff game. And scoring a goal in my sister’s memory after she passed in 1999.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Having spent some of the greatest years of my life in Pittsburgh, I am loving my post hockey career as well spending quality time with my wife of 14 years and my now 11-year-old twins
Life has been good to Robbie brown and it still is today.
What did you expect your role to be on the Steelers when you signed and did your time their meet those expectations?
First, can you let readers know about your post-NHL career – how you got started in the financial business and what you enjoy most about it?
My first taste of the financial service industry came in the fall of 1994 while playing for Ottawa Senators. As an NHLPA Player representative during the 94′ Owner Lockout, the deadlocked negotiations with the owners sure seemed like the season might get lost. With that in mind I joined a small investment firm in Minneapolis and got my first taste of the financial service industry. I continued to spent a portion of my office season gaining additional experience until retirement.
Since Retiring in 1998 I have grown a Financial Service business with Prudential Financial, focusing on Individual Asset management and helping small businesses with their benefits coordination. I really enjoy the diversity of my practice. Whether it is helping individuals work through the challenges they face in growing their assets or working with business owners to help them build sustainable benefit packages in these uncertain times gives me a different challenge daily.
From a family standpoint, I’m very fortunate to have my own business and the flexibility of schedule to help coach both my son Chad and daughter Charly during their youth hockey years.
As a professional athlete, you have pressure to perform on a daily basis. There is an instant response to good or bad performance. As a player, you need the ability to rebound from a bad shift and not get too excited after a good one. Consistency and persistency is an invaluable trait when dealing with the volatility of the financial markets and the growing of a business.
And obviously it never hurts clients relationships in Minnesota if you can give a good hockey story or two about Badger Bob Johnson or Mario Lemieux.
The transition to a more rigid work schedule was not as big a hurdle as I thought it would be. Pro athletes reach that level through sacrifice and regimented work. The greatest challenge when transitioning out of the game for me was the drop in income. A major decision I made when playing was to defer some of my earnings till after retirement. This allowed my family to maintain our current lifestyle (with a few downward adjustments) while I grew my practice to a level we needed. There have been and continue to be hurdles with the balancing of life but last year I reach a milestone. After thirteen years as a financial advisor, this is now my longest career.
The NHL didn’t offer much support when leaving the league. In their defense, I don’t think it is owner’s responsibility to prepare or protect their players when its time to leave their employment. The responsibility lies with the players and the NHLPA. The PA is better equipt to oversee this and have done a better job of late. They sponsor “After Hockey”
Tough guy Steve Martinson of the Flyers organization gave me fighting lesson the summer before my 1st year. I figured since he set the AHL penalty minute record that he had some experience. He obviously wasn’t that impressed with me since he was my opponent in my first fight as a pro. In an exhibition game he came out and lined-up across from me at the face-off and said, “Coach told me to “Go-you” since you’re running around”. I was taught right then that there are no friends when you have a job to do and never let up on anyone…friend or foe.
That reputation of me being a tough-guy fighter is probably a little over-rated. Out of necessity I was a big body checker and that just resulted in some scuffles.
Cam Neely, Gary Roberts, Keith Tkachuk…stats say it all 50 goals- 200 PIMS
After over five years in the Pittsburgh organization, you found yourself in Minnesota. What prompted the move and how difficult was that transition for you?
I was actually only in Pittsburgh for five years before the trade to Minnesota. The first move is always the hardest for an athlete but I think Bob Johnson said it best when he called the house to tell me about the trade. Badger said, “I have some good news and some bad news. Bad news is we traded you today…but the good news is you’re going home.” Going back to Minnesota made that first trade transition a lot easier for us.
The game has gotten much more defensive than the 90′s. There were typically five to six defensive specialist on each team. I can’t think of more than a dozen players in the league that would block shots. It is expected today that your 50 goal scorer dives in front of shots. Paul Cofee would always say after blocking a shot that he just lifted the wrong leg.
Day one of my first training camp when I was training on the bike next to Giles Meloche (39 yrs old) and I told him that my squirt team used to hand out Oakland Golden Seals Stickers back when he was playing for them.
Getting engaged to my wife of 25 years Jeanie while going down the Mt Washington Incline on Christmas Eve 1986.
Sweeping NYR in 1988-89 playoffs and the fans throwing bottles at our bus as we drove out from under Madison Square Gardens.
The Penguin Christmas Dinner at the Igloo with my wife at a table with 19-year-old Rob Brown and his 16-year-old date…Alyssa Milano and her nanny.
Watching Zarley Zalapski’s dad save EJ Johnson with the Hiemlich maneuver when he was choking on a piece of steak.
Assisting on Mario Lemieux’s 4th goal of the night during my first NHL Game in St. Louis. Little did I know his seven-point night would be more points than I would get in my next three years.
Scoring a goal in my third NHL game and then going 70 games before my next.
First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself since the NFL and how you got started in your post-NFL career?
I’m the regional director for Visalus. I’ve been doing that since I’ve been out of the NFL. Before that I was on tv – the New Network’s Average Joe and the Wall to Wall Sports Show, a local show in Columbus, Ohio.
Can you let readers know more about Visalus?
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Not only am I an independent promoter of the 90-Day Challenge, I am also a customer/believer; I lost 86 pounds in my first 90-Day Challenge!!! Please take a look at this overview link (http://www.overview.bodybyvi.com), and at the attached flyer. I would love to host a challenge partiffy anyone if they are interested. At this party you will:- Taste the delicious Vi-shape shake, which is the centerpiece of the 90-day challenge.- Watch a short DVD that introduces the 90-day challenge to you.- Learn about the opportunity to become a promoter of the challenge, and earn residual income. – Ask questions about the challenge.- Order products.
The only cost to have me host a challenge party is your time! Please let me know when you’d like to schedule a challenge party, and feel free to call me with any additional questions, at (614) 216 8927.
How hard was it for you to adjust to life after the NFL and what was your biggest adjustment?
It was trial and error. It’s definitely not easy. You go from something you love and have a passion for and you look for something that mirrors that. Basically though what you accomplish in the NFL is second to none. And there’s no exit plan from the NFL. You have to be creative. Anything I can say from those leaving the NFL is to know what you want to try to do early on and try for that.
You were a very highly touted player coming out of high school in Cleveland – named the Cleveland Touchdown Club player of the year and one of the top 40 high school recruits. What made you decide to play for Ohio State and ans what was your high school position?
I was a defensive end in high school. I set a goal and committed to Ohio State right before my senior year. It was the only place I wanted to go. It was my favorite school and a no brainer for me. I had no other visits – it was Ohio State or bust and I’m thankful for the decision.
You were drafted by the Steelers in the 6th round in 2001. How hard was it for you to make the team as a later round pick and how did you manage to do so?
You are definitely right – it’s not easy. You need to take a business approach to it – to be a professional. Come in in shape and work hard. Most rookies come in with a big learning curve so you have to be sharp – in practices and in games. You have to be on every single day.
Who helped you most to adjust to the NFL as a rookie – both on and off the field – and how so?
Coach Mitchell. He was a big inspiration for me – still is. He worked me very hard because he was potential. He told me I needed to grow up fast – that this wasn’t college. And he was right.
He was more than a coach. He kept it light. He was a friend. You talk to any other lineman – any other player – and they’d say the same thing.
Was it frustrating having to adapt to a 3-4 defense – especially with so many high quality linemen like Hampton, Smith and Von Oelhoffen there?
Casey and I came in together in the same draft class. I watched the defense growing up – how hard it worked. I saw that the defensive lineman in the 3-4 were different. I was thankful to have Aaron and Kimo there to serve as great examples to mirror. They worked extra after practice with us to have us prepared. They made sure that the rookies were as polished as they were. It was a big inspiration for me. We wanted to care for the older guys like they cared for us and it made us work harder for the unit.
It wasn’t that hard to adjust. There were so many blitz concepts – but you’re still a defensive lineman. The principles are no different – get off the blocks, use your hands and make tackles. It’s a team defense. You’re not counting tackles. You’re playing a team concept.
Some say the scheme is too complicated and young guys don’t get a chance to play because of that. Is that true?
That’s just an excuse. It’s not true at all. The defense can simplify your job. If you know exactly what’s asked of you and what you are supposed to do…. When things go right, you know why. It’s a team defense that makes you want to play for those linebackers behind you.
Who were some of the biggest characters on those teams and what made them so? Any funny stories to share of your time with the team?
Oh, countless guys! Keisel – he and I had a lot of laughs together. Every guy was a character on the team, it seemed.
Cowher let the craziness go – he embraced it. Hampton was one of the funniest guys in the world – he always had a smile on his face. My roommate was Kendrell Bell – he and Haggans were some of the funniest guys. They all had their personalities, but we all came together. We were a tight unit.
Oh -and Jerome Bettis. What an awesome personality. He personified what a great teammate was.
You left Pittsburgh after the 2003 season to play for New England and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots. What made you decide to sign with New England and how hard of a decision was that for you?
I was a restricted free agent at the time. I had the offer sheet and it paid me considerably more than what I would have made otherwise. I was difficult to leave behind a family and go to a new team. Many don’t realize how difficult it is.
We won a Super Bowl, which was one of the coolest things. Then the following year I lost the Super Bowl after I signed with Seattle and we played the Steelers!
I came back to afterwards to where my career began – in Pittsburgh. I am a Steeler. Black and Gold is what I bleed. What you are is where you come from.
Did you get a good amount of ribbing from your teammates and what made you decide to come back?
Oh we had a lot of fun with it. I left then got a Super Bowl win then lost to the Steelers in the Super Bowl. They told me “You got one but we got you back!” So we were even (laughing)…
How were the Steelers different from those other teams you played for?
The greatest thing about the Steelers is that it is a family. You’re treated well – if you were a first round pick or a free agent, you’re a family member. No matter if you played for one year or twelve years, you’re a Steeler for life. That’s unique to most NFL teams. My time in New England, Seattle, Arizona…I’m still remembered as a Steeler. That’s due to a great fanbase and locker room.
What are some of your favorite memories now looking back on your time in Pittsburgh, and what makes them so?
I was born and raised on the West Side of Cleveland. Our rival was the Browns. For me, the epic battles in those games – and getting the better fo Cleveland was something great to be a part of. My family were Browns fans!
One of the most electrifying moments was in my second season – the 2002 wild card game versus Cleveland. We came back from over three touchdowns to beat the, It was an awesome, defining win for us. Many family members didn’t speak to me for three-to-four weeks (laughing).
Just remembering the bus rides to Cleveland – I was very thankful to be a part of that.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I love the city of Pittsburgh – it’s one of my favorite places in the United States. The food and enthusiasm…and all of the time. In the offseason and in-season. I’m glad to see the tradition keeping on as new players come in.
I’m proud of my seven-year career. I got the chance to play with great friends and for great coaches. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t know what the NFL life would be like but I’m very, very, very happy to have worn the black and gold helmet for four years of my career.
Nigel Melville, CEO & President Rugby Operations, USA Rugby:
First, can you tell readers how you became the CEO for USARugby and what your main roles are for the organization?
I joined USA Rugby in 2007 as CEO and President of Rugby Operations. That pretty much covers oversight of all aspects of the game.
I am fortunate that I have an excellent staff and can now focus on the next steps for the organization. We started by developing strong youth and high school programs thru State Based Rugby Organizations, we are developing College Conferences now and looking to enhance the Club game. At the High Performance end of the game we have men’s and women’s elite age grade teams and improving National teams.
What are the “next steps” for USARugby – what are some of the organizations biggest goals over the next few years and what steps are you taking to realize them?
Rio 2016 is probably our biggest challenge now that Rugby has returned to the Olympic Games. We now have full time sevens players (Men and Women) training at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego, they are now attending more and more events as they develop their squads ahead of Olympic qualification. That’s a pretty big goal for us all!
The other goals revolve around increasing visibility for the game in the media and on TV, and of course developing a professional game for our athletes..
How has having been a former coach of Gloucester (England) and the captain of the England National team in the 80’s helped you in your role?
Obviously having been an international player and professional coach has helped me understand the challenges of becoming an elite player and what it will take to make our National Teams competitive.
Off the field, I spent a number of years with Nike and that experience is certainly helping us re-craft our brand and explore opportunities for us to continue to grow.
What have been the biggest challenges in getting people to adopt the sport early in the states, and how can they do so?
The challenge is to get people to understand that a sustainable future for the game will come from a strong youth game, that we have to build the game and there are no quick fixes..that has been tried and hasn’t worked – so plant the seeds (get a ball in the hands of kids), be patient, nurture (coach them) and eventually reap the harvest (strong international teams).
How has the Pittsburgh area adopted the sport of rugby so far and what big inroads can/will you make to continue to grow interest?
Yes, Rugby is all around you and in Pittsburgh you have an awesome rugby facility that we have used for some of our National College and High School events. The rugby community is passionate and they understand the need to build their programs – they are doing a great job!
How does rugby in the states differ from that of your experiences in England and other countries?
Rugby is a global game with over 115 Countries playing the game, so every country has its own challenges – usually related to the weather and availability of facilities, and both are issues here of course.
As with all rugby people, we are pretty resourceful and make it work! Our field is very similar to soccer fields, so this helps, we prefer grass to turf, but we can play on either. The biggest challenge is helping people to understand the game.
Yes, we are a contact sport and no we don’t wear helmets, but we develop good technique, use our arms to wrap in the tackle, keep our heads off the body and this helps us stay safe. In football the head has become a weapon and that’s dangerous…we don’t do that!
Tell readers about US Rugby – how has it changed over the years and what are your expectations for this season?
We have grown steadily, our game used to be a club based game outside college with often a poor reputation on college campuses, not too much high school rugby and no youth programs. That has changed and we are experiencing explosive growth in some key areas. We have some way to go, but we are building a solid base for the game.
One interesting development has been our new coach registration program that trains our coaches in all aspects of player safety and concussion recognition. We want to provide a safe environment for our athletes when they train and when they play.
We also introduced Rookie Rugby in 2008, a non contact game for boys and girls that has far-reaching opportunities for our Countries youth. Rookie Rugby puts a ball in the hands of a young player and they run – fast!! Great fun and great for kids fitness – the anti-obesity issues are a concern for us all – Rookie Rugby will play its part.
Tell readers a bit about the in-person experience as a fan? How does it differ from other sports?
Our recent international against Italy in June where over 17,200 fans joined us to watch the USA Eagles Men play Italy in the BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. I think that gives you an idea about what the vent looks like – its played in MLS Soccer type stadiums, the fan experience includes everything the American Sports fan is looking for – tough athletes and plenty of contact, great food, entertainment and merchandise.
What you will also find are fans that support their teams but recognize and respect their opponents ‘on and off the field’, we are one big global family – one of the world’s ultimate team sports where team spirit, loyalty, commitment and mutual respect are as essential to the game as the ball itself!
I’m sure you’ve seen the issues with concussions in other sports. How is rugby dealing with the issue of concussions and the physical nature of the sport in general?
Yes of course all sports are concerned about concussions and we are certainly making our sport as safe as we possibly can. Our coaches all take on online concussion recognition course, understand that there is nothing ‘tough’ about keeping people in play if they show any concussion symptoms and we take these symptoms very seriously indeed.
The game of rugby globally has been trialing a new rule that allows a coach /referee to take a player out of the game for ten minutes to get a player assessed if there is any suspicion that they may not be OK. This trial is working well and I think it will be introduced across the game shortly.
What do you think would surprise readers who are newer to the sport of rugby most about the sport?
How some of the values that sport traditionally held are alive and well in rugby today despite so many changes to sport at every level. Probably the most important is mutual respect for everyone involved in the game. We still call our referees ‘sir’, we respect our opponents and spend time with them after the game, develop lasting friendships, support each other on and off the field, value team spirit and are committed to helping the next generation embrace and understand these important values. How refreshing.
Any last thoughts for readers?
If you get the chance to watch a game, do it..you will enjoy the whole experience!!
Rocky Bleier remains a great comeback story
By Jim O’Brien From Pittsburgh Business Times
When Rocky Bleier was a standout running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they won four Super Bowls in six seasons in the ‘70s, he recalls Coach Chuck Noll advising the players to prepare themselves for their post-football careers or, as Noll called it, “their life’s work.”
Bleier didn’t realize it at the time but his life, or at least his life story, would become his “life’s work.”
He played 12 seasons with the Steelers and got into the investment business with teammate Andy Russell while still employed by the Steelers. He retired after the 1980 season, and became a sports broadcaster with WPXI-TV, but he wasn’t very good at it.
So he started spending more time telling his comeback story from being wounded by bullets and shrapnel from an exploding grenade in a rice paddy in Vietnam, and being told he might not walk again, to becoming a star running back with Franco Harris for one of the greatest football teams in National Football League history.
Bleier’s comeback story is one of the best in sports annals and remains a compelling story of how determination and persistence can win out in the end over overwhelming odds. Bleier wasn’t big or fast, at 5-10, 210 pounds, but he found a way to be part of a winning team. “They don’t measure the size of the heart at these player evaluation camps,” Coach Noll liked to say.
It surprises even Bleier that he is still as successful as a motivational speaker, making about 60 to 70 appearances around the country annually. Gloria Ashcraft is his assistant and runs Rocky Bleier, Inc., and sets his speaking schedule and travel arrangements. “She has been with me for 26 years,” says Bleier, “and she’s the best in the business.”
The challenge of being on the road so much has gotten greater as he approaches his 67th birthday on March 5. “You can’t get a direct flight to most cities out of Pittsburgh these days,” he says.
His theme is “Be the Best You Can Be,” and it’s a 70-minute program aimed at inspiring his audience to realize their potential. He’s good at it, and he’s even better before and after the way he works the room.
“It’s what you do before and after that really makes the difference,” says Bleier. He confesses that he has always wanted everyone to like him, and he has always worked hard at realizing that goal. “My parents ran a restaurant and bar back home in Appleton, Wisconsin,” he says, “and I learned early how to take care of the customers and keep them happy and coming back for more.”
He has expanded his business activities in recent years. He is a managing member of RBVetCo LLC; a service disabled veteran- owned small business, a general contractor that bids work in both the private sector as well as federal government. Rocky is responsible for overall direction and business development.
His brothers-in-law, Jim and John Gyurina, sit on the board of directors. They are also involved with a sister company, Natural Office Solutions LLC, a company that sells commercial office furniture. There’s also Bleier/Zagula Financial, so Bleier is as busy as he wants to be.
He says that Chuck Noll remains in his mind and is still with him. “I find myself quoting Chuck and his philosophies,” says Bleier, while looking after his two teenage daughters at their home in Mt.Lebanon when his wife, Jan, was away in London with a niece who was doing college study abroad.
“Things Chuck always said come back to you; they help you in other tasks besides football. It’s amazing the impact your coaches and teachers have on you throughout your life. I was fortunate that I had important people in my life who made a difference.”
Bleier offers these suggestions for success:
Set goals and form a game plan that will help accomplish them. Do things with great passion. Overcome adversity. Maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses. Work as a team. Learn from winners and mentors. Do community work; it will not only make you feel good, it will show you to be a person worth hiring. Prepare early for your life’s work.”
And, of course, be the best you can be.
Jim O’Brien’s book “Immaculate Reflections” is available at all area book stores, and on his website www.jimobriensportsauthor.com