Mike Kruczek, Steelers Quarterback, 1976-1979
First, can you let readers know about your coaching career – how you got started and what you’ve enjoyed (and not enjoyed) about it so far?
I began my coaching career in 1982 working for Bobby Bowden at FSU, working with quarterbacks. I coached at FSU for two years and then got the “itch” to play again, so I signed a contract to play for the Jacksonville Bulls in the USFL in 1984.
During training camp I injured my knee and ended up coaching the quarterbacks during that season. In 1985, I became the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at The University of Central Florida (UCF). In 1998 I became the Head Football Coach at UCF. That lasted six years thru 2003. From 2004 thru 2006 I was the quarterbacks coach with the Arizona Cardinals under Dennis Green.
For the last three years I have been coaching in the UFL with Coach Green as his offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. I’ve been very blessed to be in the coaching profession for twenty-eight years. I love everything about the profession winning,competition, adrenaline rush (just like a player) and a great sense of gratification in assisting men to reach their personal goals as well as the teams objectives.
The only downside of coaching is that you can become unemployed very quickly. That’s the nature of the business.
You’ve coached in the college and professional ranks (now with Sacramento) – which do you prefer, and why?
I’ve had the opportunity to coach at all levels. If I had to choose one over the other, I would stay in the professional ranks, unless a head coach job was in the mix. My most enjoyable time in coaching was the six years I spent as the head coach at UCF. Running your program the way you feel it should done is incredible experience.
What coaches and coaching lessons from Pittsburgh and elsewhere have you found yourself falling back on now as a coach?
Obviously Chuck Noll had a big impact on my desire to get into coaching. Watching him prepare the team, stressing the same key factors week in and week out…it was always about fundamentals with Chuck. Blocking and Tackling. He was actually the quarterback coach also went I played there. Tom Moore has been a great mentor to me over the past twenty years too.
You were a second round pick of the Steelers in ’76. What were your thoughts, being drafted so high by a Super Bowl team with an established quarterback like Bradshaw?
When I was drafted by the Steelers in 1976, I WAS ELATED! I was surprised however. Terry Hanratty and Joe Gilliam were the backups, so I was a little confused. I didn’t know the situation at the time. But going to Pittsburgh was incredible exciting for me. Consecutive Super Bowl victories, great ownership and only four hours from where I grew up (Washington D.C.) .
Who helped mentor you as a rookie – both on and off the field – and how did they do so?
If I had to pick one person it would be Terry Bradshaw, but the entire team really took the responsibility to make sure I was not over burdened with anxiety or doubt.I played with great confidence because I knew I was playing with the best team in the NFL.
After Bradshaw was injured, you were able as a rookie to go 6-0 as a starter for the team (a record surpassed by Ben Roethlisberger). How did the you prepare, and how did the coaches work with you and the gameplan to prepare you as a rookie for such an impressive streak?
Going 6-0 as a starter was the single biggest personal accomplishment of my career. The coaches did a great job of simplifying the game plan each week so I was more comfortable with my responsibility in managing the game. The plan was clear cut- play great defense (which they did), a solid kicking game, run the football and don’t turn it over.
When you go back and look at those games that’s exactly how we won. The defense played “lights out” during that entire stretch. Our opponents had no chance on offense.
Who were some of the biggest characters on those teams and what made them so – any examples?
We had a number of guys that had a tremendous sense of humor. They had the ability to “keep things light” at the right time. They knew when to be serious and they knew how to relax and have fun.
To me the BIGGEST character me was Terry Bradshaw. He played practical jokes on ME all the time. It almost always dealt with my locker. He would put baby powder in my helmet and I wouldn’t know it until I put it on and he’d be lurking around busting a gut laughing. He’d put a cup of water on the top of my locker where my shoulder pads were, and when I reached up and pulled them off I would get a very unexpected shower; this usually happened just before practice.
The Steelers later drafted Cliff Stoudt and let you go in ’79. Why was that in your opinion, and how difficult was that for you especially considering that early success?
Being traded to Washington Redskins in 1980 was a disappointment to me. I loved being apart of the Steeler family and the great city of Pittsburgh. Cliff was drafted in 1977, which gave us three quarterbacks. In the 1980 draft they took Mark Malone in the first round, so I saw the writing on the wall.
They both had stronger arms than I did and I’m sure the coaches were looking to groom Terry’s replacement.
Which season do you appreciate most as a Steeler – your rookie one and the six game winning streak or either of the Super Bowl seasons, and why?
My most gratifying seasons were the years we won the Super Bowl. Football is a team sport, it’s never about one person or individual accomplishment. It’s about being the BEST TEAM in the greatest sport and I was blessed to be member of a team that accomplished it twice
Were you aware that Art Rooney Jr. conceded that the team should have kept you over Cliff Stoudt - that they felt you were the better quarterback but the coaches fell in love with Stoudt’s arm strength?
I was never aware that Art felt that way. But it is gratifying to know that he did respect what I brought to the team during my years with the organization.
What are your best memories as a Steeler and what made them so?
My fondest memories of my career in Pittsburgh are very simple and many of the players of that era probably say the same thing. It was my relationship with my teammates, coaches, ownership and the great support we received from the greater Pittsburgh area. It was the daily preparation for games, it was playing on Sunday in front of the best fans in the NFL in Three Rivers Stadium.
It doesn’t get any better than that. City of Champions!
Any last thoughts for readers?
Thanks for a lifetime of memories.