Jim Miller, Steelers Quarterback, 1994-1996
First, can you let readers know what you have been doing since your time in the NFL?
I retired five years ago. I have a development company in Michigan and do quite a bit of broadcasting for SiriusXM NFL Radio, Spartan Sports Network (calling MSU Football games), and CSN Chicago (Bears Postgame Live).
How did you get started in broadcasting, and is this something you want to continue to pursue further?
Yes, I am really starting to enjoy broadcasting and want to get better. It is much like playing football in that the more repetitions you receive, you can hone your skills to get better at your craft. I started when I first retired when Steve Cohen who is head of programming at Sirius interviewed me at Super Bowl 40 here in Detroit. Steve asked me after I talked about my experiences on air if I had ever thought about broadcasting. Four months later he talked me into flying to NY to give it a try. I did three straight days of four-hour shows on air and he seemed to like what I had to say and offered me a job. I’ve been working for Sirius ever since.
I really enjoy it and am thankful Steve thought enough of me to offer me a job. Talking football keeps my head in the game and I don’t have to get hit anymore. It is a great football fix for me personally, because I love NFL football.
There seems to be a number of ties between Michigan State and the Steelers – George Perles, Alan Haller and you are all former Steelers working for MSU now. Is that just coincidence or do you have a MSU-Steelers network!
There definitely is a connection between MSU and the Steelers. It is not by happenstance that even in 1994 three Steelers were selected out of MSU. Myron Bell, myself, and Bryce Abrams. George Perles somewhat vouched for us. The Steelers knew they were going to get hardworking, tough, good football players.
George Perles modeled Michigan State after Chuck Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Our practices were just what the Steelers did back during their four Super Bowl run when George was defensive coordinator. Our uniforms were even modeled after the Steelers down to the stickered emblem only on one side of the helmet.
You were drafted by the Steelers in the 6th round in ’94. There’s no guarantee that a 6th rounder makes the team so what did you do to prove yourself to coaches and make the roster?
I wanted to stand out for the coaches. I went to training camp my rookie year in tremendous shape and played my fanny off early. I had great scrimmages against the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, and my practices were solid along with some preseason game action.
Unfortunately, I broke my thumb in practice when LB Jason Gildon swatted my hand after I released a pass. I was shelved for roughly six weeks. I had to tape my thumb up for about a year. I had torn some ligaments along with the break. It took awhile for it to feel right again.
You were also a terrific baseball player in college. What made you decide to pursue football over baseball professionally?
I did love baseball and had opportunities, but playing quarterback was just more of a challenge. I liked that. Football is the ultimate team sport and when I was at MSU, I just felt playing quarterback was extremely challenging and something I hoped I had the opportunity to pursue.
Who helped take you under their wing as a rookie and helped you adjust to the NFL, both on and off the field, and How did they do so?
I feel very fortunate to have been coached by legendary coach Ron Earhardt. Ron was our offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Every offensive numbering system in the NFL, College, Highschool is because of Ron. Over forty years of knowledge Ron supplied and that was before I even arrived in Pittsburgh. Ron coached many years after. He is an NFL legend and should be in the Hall of Fame!
You played in a few games in both ’95 and ’96 – did you feel though that you were given a fair chance to vie for the starting QB role with the Steelers though – especially in ’96 after O’Donnell left?
Three way quarterback battles do not work! Bill Cowher will even tell you that in hindsight.
I wish I had more than a half to prove myself in Jacksonville in my first NFL start. We did score three out my five first half drives. But I needed to hit Andre Hastings with a touchdown pass. I threw it low. Bill explained to me why he was going to change to the veteran in Mike Tomczak.
I wish I had more of an opportunity to prove I was the Steeler’s guy at quarterback. You play with the cards your dealt. Ultimately, it was good for me. It made me mentally tougher and when my opportunity arose in Chicago, I was pretty much bullet proof mentally. I actually got my opportunity in Chicago because of Bill Cowher. Bill recommended me to the late Mark Hatley who was the GM of the Bears. Playing in Pittsburgh was very special, it is a special place for football.
How difficult was it with you, Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart all competing?
Again, three way battles do not work. You’re young, and you’re getting a one-third of the reps which are limited to begin with in the offseason. You need them all no matter who is starting. Unless you’re like five years in the offense and know it like the back of your hand.
Who were some of the biggest characters on those teams you played for in Pittsburgh and what made them so? Any examples?
Characters like Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd always made my days interesting playing scout quarterback. One, they both always wore those tight spandex shorts at practice which everyone made fun of them for, and two, they would test me. I would release a ball and they would punch me in the gut or something testing to see how tough I was. I love those guys. I was fortunate to play with some all time greats like Dermontti who was just elected to the Hall of Fame class 2012. There will be more to come.
You left the team after the ’96 season in Pittsburgh. What prompted that move and how difficult was that for you?
The Steeler’s released me at the end of training camp in ’97. I finished the year in Atlanta.
What were the biggest differences you noticed between the Steelers and the other teams you played for after Pittsburgh?
A lot of other teams do not have the tradition the Steelers have to sell to their players. When you walk in and see Lombardi trophies it means something. So do all the HOF’s! There is a standard set and it does not even have to be spoken or communicated. It is right there in front of you to see!
After Atlanta, when I arrived in Chicago I felt that same history and tradition as I did with the Steelers. I knew I would do well. The Steelers prepared me for my five years in Chicago. I just could not stay healthy.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Thoughts! My thought is my wife is from Beaver Falls and we’ve been married going on thirteen years with two beautiful children. I think my time in Pittsburgh was well worth it!