Brentson Buckner, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1994-1996
First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself now?
Well, I’m a Minister at New-Birth Church in North Carolina and own a line of faith-based clothing line called Faith Before Fame.
I also help train college athletes for the combine and preparing for the NFL and am a motivational speaker. I coach my son’s youth football team too as well and have interned with the Steelers the past couple of years to help with coaching too.
There’s not much spare time there! What coaches and coaching lessons do you find yourself looking back on as you work with these athletes?
The guys I work with are college guys looking to live their dreams like I got to do. I look back to Coach LeBeau and how he stressed the mental aspect of the game. Getting them prepared every day to work on the fundamentals. Coach LeBeau was like a father figure for life in general - he was more than just a coach and I try to work the same way with the kids I work with.
John Mitchell taught me about stressing the truth. He didn’t sugar-coat anything. It was a working relationship – you’re there to work. When I interned twice with the Steelers Coach Tomlin stressed that there was a time to work and a time to play.
You worked under both Tomlin and Cowher. How Similar were the two coaches?
They were similar. Both were serious about their job. They had a spirit about how they attacked their job. Cowher’s attitude was that we needed to work harder than any other team. Tomlin was the same way – you have to outwork the thirty-one other teams.
How were the two coaches different?
Mike treated players more like grown men – he was not going to be a babysitter. You knew the rules and if you didn’t follow them you wouldn’t last long. Cowher liked to have more control – it’s not a bad thing. He worried about everything though. With Tomlin, if you didn’t work the right way in the situation he’d just move away from you.
Which style do you prefer?
I would have loved to play for Tomlin – he makes you want to run through brick walls. He was more like one of the guys and all the guys want to play for someone that understands them – a guy that is in the trenches with them.
You look at his record and more importantly the production he gets from people that are backups. Some teams would fold with all those injuries, but he doesn’t make excuses. You know the standard and it’s the same no matter who’s playing. When the backups are in the train keeps going.
You were a second round draft pick in ’94. How much pressure did you feel then?
I didn’t feel much pressure. I came in with a great group. Levon Kirkland was my college teammate – he was there and had experience I could lean on.
Lloyd would come up to me too and would tell me not to pay attention to some of the early articles about me that said I wasn’t playing well. He told me I was a second round pick and had the talent and to just have confidence in the Steelers picking me in the second round.
I was playing next to a future Hall of Famer in Kevin Greene. I just needed to go in a become a piece of the puzzle. There were a great group of guys around me – I just needed to do my part.
You were drafted to be a 3-4 defensive lineman – not every lineman’s dream. How did you feel about being a 3-4 lineman versus a more glory-filled 4-3 position?
It was a pride check. In college I was used to seeing my stats in the paper and seeing all the tackles and sacks. This was a challenge. I figured God made only a few people who could play that. It was a badge of honor that they thought I was good enough. Only a bad man could take on two people every snap and they thought I could do it.
Mitchell was a great coach. He just told me to just whoop the two people in front of me every play – that was my job.
You started in your rookie season – you must have picked it up pretty fast?
I didn’t play in the first few games but then started getting more playing time each week. By the seventh game I was playing as much as the starter. Then the starter Jerrol Williams tore his triceps and I was the next guy up. Cowher said I was ready and Coach Mitchell met with me every day for an hour before and after practice.
Once I stepped in we didn’t miss a beat. I told my close friend Myron Bell that I’d be a star. I had confidence in my ability.
You start year one and year two you’re in the Super Bowl. How as a young player did you handle playing in such a big setting?
No one on the team had Super Bowl experience. We were all wide-eyed. Youth got me through it – I felt I was supposed to be there. The older guys like Kevin Greene knew how special those moments were. They absorbed it more – took it all in. They knew they had few chances left. I wasn’t really nervous. I was more nervous in the AFC championship game since we lost to San Diego in the championship game the year before.
Who took you under their wing as a rookie and helped you adjust to the NFL on and off the field?
Eric Green took me in. He could tell I was getting frustrated as a second-round pick that wasn’t playing. He told me to make them play you – to show them by the way I worked. He and I practiced together thirty minutes before every practice every day. He told me to trust in myself – that they’d see my extra work.
Eric told me that you could never rest – that you can’t think you have arrived – you have to get better every day. People thought he was cocky and wanted him to fail – but that they didn’t see all the hard work he put in.
How did that end up helping you?
Dom Capers came to me – said I was getting better. Then Coach Mitchell did too. After the Seattle game I was in the elevator with Coach Cowher and he told me I had a great two weeks of practice and would more playing time.
How did competition and humor play a part on those teams?
It was always really competitive. We had a dart board and it would get like a street brawl in the dark matches. You had fifty-three guys with their blood flowing – we were here because we were great competitors. Even when we played dominos and who dressed the best – it was all a competition. We couldn’t turn it off – that attitude was our culture.
How much did humor play a part on those teams?
There were lots of practical jokes. We’d run the bathroom hose under the stalls in the locker room. Guys would hide car keys and play jokes on each other in practice.
You had to laugh. Football gets to be real monotonous by mid-season. Loosening the lid on the salt shakers so it pours into guys’ food, hot sauce in the ketchup. It was the little things – we never went over the edge.
Who were some of the culprits?
Levon Kirkland was a culprit. Myself, Lethon Flowers…Tomczak was a jokester.
Oh yeah! McAfee was one of the biggest culprits. Greg Lloyd was always one to dish it out but always got mad when he had it done to him.
In ’97, you find yourself in Kansas City. What happened?
I was traded, yeah. It was a shock. I was a Steelers fan since I was five years old- my father bought me Steelers pajamas, sheets…when I was drafted, I was a fan living a dream.
The day I was traded was one of the darkest days of my NFL career. I had nothing in common with anyone in Kansas City. It was a shock to go from Pittsburgh, where I had a lot of friends and we expected to win to Kansas City.
It reflected in training camp. I felt I got a raw deal. I didn’t know if I wanted to play football any more.
But then you end up in Cincinnati…
Dick LeBeau knew me from Pittsburgh and brought me to Cincinnati. I knew him well and had a comfort level with him. It jump-started my career. I played the year out then signed with the 49′ers. The rebirth of Brentson Buckner started there.
How was Cincinnati to play for?
1990 Cincinnati was night and day different from the late 90′s. It was probably the worst franchise in the late 90′s – if there was a worse one I’d like to see it. It had a losing mentality – guys didn’t work hard and everything was second-rate.
Boomer Esiason came in as a backup to Jeff Blake that year and he talked about the early 80′s – when they were winning. He was upset about the direction of the team. Mike Brown cared about saving dollars, not winning. We wouldn’t even stay in a hotel before the games. It wasn’t conducive to winning. It was a nice city with good restaurants and good people but going to work every day was like going to a half-way house.
So, your goal now is to become a coach?
I want to be an NFL coach. God blessed me with twelve years in the NFL. I have a great deal of experience to give to the younger guys now. The technique isn’t there with a lot of young guys now – they lean on their talent. I have a good knowledge of the game and the fundamentals.
Players rely too much on talent in college. I played the game – it’s not just something I read in a book. I did it. I tried it all and they respect that.
Who are some of the guys that stood out to you as you interned with the Steelers?
My first year I worked with Ziggy Hood and I knew he was going to be a special player. He had the size, strength and speed to be able to do some different things in the 3-4. I was in awe of Brett Keisel. He’s not that big but people can’t block him.
Another guy I am happy to see play now is Steve McLendon. He was born to be a 3-4 noseguard – he’s strong, works hard and is a smart kid.
Last Summer I worked with Cam Heyward. There’s another guy with great potential – the sky is the limit with him. He’s tall, strong and tenacious. He hates to get blocked – he hates to lose. He uses every last drop of energy.
Any last thoughts for readers?
My three years in Pittsburgh were my best I ever had in the NFL. I’m grateful for the fans and they way they cheered for me and the team. No matter what the team, I told them no one compared to the Black and Gold brigade. They show up and show out in every stadium.
Thank you all for that!