Dan Reeder, Steelers Running Back, 1986-1987
First, can you let readers know what you have been doing with yourself since the NFL ?
I have been in commercial Real Estate Brokerage for almost twenty-four years. I am an Executive Vice President for CBRE, a large publicly traded international real estate firm. In my twenty-four year real estate career I have done real estate deals all over the world.
I have a couple of Pittsburgh friends to thank for helping me get started in my business career. I am not sure I would be where I am today if not for their help and support. First, Rich Erenberg pushed me into a more entrepreneurial business career. I first started with Xerox Corporation after football. Rich and I had a few real estate investments and business investments that went fairly well. We were a little lucky but we worked hard and usually hard work and determination pay off and so did a couple of our deals that we worked really hard. Rich had so much more business knowledge and experience but I learned a bunch from him and developed a very strong interest and found I had an aptitude for real estate. He really helped me see the big picture.
Rich used Kim Clackson, who had played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, as an example and model for my Real Estate career. Rich had worked at Oliver Realty in Pittsburgh during the off-season and got to know Kim. Kim was building a very successful brokerage career. Kim has become a good friend and although we originally worked for different companies, we now work for the same company, CBRE. Rich and Kim still reside in the Pittsburgh area both have had excellent business careers – Rich on the Real Estate Investment side and Kim in Real Estate Brokerage.
The other is Brett Shugarts. He had a Steelers try-out before I got there. I became friends with Brett who was with Southwestern Bell and doing very well in sales for them. Brett now resides in Georgia and his son JB has just finished a great college career at Ohio State. He was a starting right tackle for three years and is now preparing for the draft.
As football ended for me he literally taught me how to interview, write and spin up my resume, time management skills and how to dress for success. Heck, my idea of dressing up when football ended was a sports coat and cowboy boots. I honestly would have been so raw and unprepared for the business world without Brett’s help. I will always be grateful for their help and inspiration.
Tell us about your coaching career?
I wouldn’t say I have had a coaching career. I would call it a coaching experience. I got into coaching football about nine years ago. My goal when I got into real estate was to make some money for a period time in business and when I achieved some financial goals go coach college football.
Well, competition to be the best at what you are and do had me lose sight of my love for the game and my original goals. I grew up the son of a high school teacher and football coach so as long as I can remember I have been on football fields, gyms and locker rooms and most of my best memories are there. My dad made a big impact in some young men’s lives including mine, although he never coached me. In business I rely upon the life lessons I learned in football every day.
Besides being with my family, I am most happy on the fields working with kids. My oldest son was playing youth football and I was just watching him practice and his coaches working with him. It was like getting knocked over the head. Funny how much I forgot – it was like coming out of a coma - memories came flooding back. I wasn’t sure I could coach or not because my hours at work were pretty crazy but I figured a way.
I coached various levels of youth football from eight year olds to eighth grade. I developed a system and a reputation for being able to develop kids. Kids are very smart but they need to know they can trust you and that you are fully committed before they go all in with what you are trying to teach. The hardest thing to develop was communication skills and a teaching methodology that were appropriate for the age. I was terrible at first and with hard work became better.
My dad is now in his late seventies and he came back for a year to work with me. It was tough on him - thank God for his patience and wisdom. I’m lucky he didn’t string me up, but it was another great opportunity to learn from him once more. Let me tell you, if you can effectively teach and communicate with nine and ten-year olds, you can teach and communicate with anyone.
A couple of years ago I was asked to work with some high school kids in the off-season on Saturday mornings. I got a few old college friends to help. The boys played for a high school that our youth organization fed. They had never had a winning season in their short six or seven years of having a football team. I knew some of the boys who went through our youth program and they were great young men. Well, the long and short of it is the high school head coach who had asked me several times in previous years to come up and run his offense asked me again. I really wrestled with it as it would put a strain on my business, but with the support of some of my partners at work I decided to go for it.
It was a really great experience. We averaged forty points a game, won our league and made it to the Pennsylvania 4A playoffs’ 3rd round before being knocked out by a school two times our size. It wasn’t the winning that made it a great experience, it was working with the boys, watching them develop and believe in each other, developing a work effort and never quitting.
I have since moved down to coaching an eighth grade CYO program at my local parish. My oldest son attends an all boys Catholic High School in Delaware, he will be joined by my younger son next year and I did not want to miss their games. Coaching middle school for now works well with my boys schedule. Football is the most difficult sport to coach and the greatest team sport on earth. My long-term goals have changed in terms of coaching.
I still love coaching but now I really just want to coach at the high school or junior high level because I think that I have a better chance of changing or helping a young man stay on track with his life. Football is a tool to motivate kids to do well in school, to buy into Christian values, and a place for me to give back to a sport that has meant so much to my life.
In our programs, we ask the kids to put team first for most of the boys it’s the first time they have had to put something in front of their self-interest. I also try to motivate them to never be outworked – it’s the only thing in life you can control –your work effort. When they realize that they can apply that to everything in life I feel I’ve done my job. When the kids buy in we generally have some success and some fun. Coaching football is my way of giving back to the sport that has had so much impact on my life.
What coaches and coaching lessons have you found yourself falling back on when coaching?
First, I have been very lucky to have played under some great coaches. Tubby Raymond at the University of Delaware, Chuck Noll at Pittsburgh are two of the greatest at their level. They were successful from a win loss standpoint but they both had so much character and were just great individuals to model your own life after. I could identify with them - as athletes they were overachievers. As a coach they were not restricted by their athletic limitations, and that same passion and desire applied from a coaching perspective had no limits and their potential for success was unlimited.
I think they both had the ability to see clearly at the most turbulent times. When things were getting a bit out of control and not going well they were at their best – always had something to say that helped you stay focused on the right things – that is what leaders do. The desire to win but also the work effort to prepare to win was so strong in both men.
Coach Noll was not a man of many words but I think he was just a tough guy mentally and physically. Main lesson be prepared, never be outworked, control what you can control, and never blame. What can I do to help the team?
You were drafted by the Raiders in 1985 but ended up with the Steelers in ’86. What happened in Oakland and how did you end up in Pittsburgh?
In LA I had a pretty good preseason but 1985 was the first year the roster went down from 49 to 45 and that really put a lot of strain on fifth round draft picks and marginal guys like me. Most teams kept only two quarterbacks, two running backs and one fullback and a fullback/tight end. I was released at the last cut by the Raiders. They kept a vet who played both tight end and fullback.
I thought it was a great offense for my skill set. They wanted me to stay out in Los Angeles and work out in their El Segundo facility for a couple of weeks to see if someone got hurt and they would resign me, but I was young and emotional and didn’t really understand the NFL business and took the first flight back home. I ended up in Pittsburgh because I thought it was a good offense for my skills.
Although I grew up in Delaware I was born in Central Pennsylvania in a small coal town, Shamokin, and had always followed the so it was a good fit for me.
While you weren’t a rookie, you were still new to the team – who helped take you under their wing in ’85 and helped you adjust to the Steelers – both on and off the field?
Rich Erenberg became a good friend, Lupe Sanchez, Preston Gothard, Randy Rasmussen, Bubby Brister were some of the guys I hung out with. There were many good guys like Donnie Shell, Tunch Ilken, Mike Webster, Craig Wolfley, Robin Cole, Mark Behning, Mike Merriweather, Gary Dunn, Stallworth, Malone, Sweeney just to name a few who made you feel welcome.
You saw action in thirteen games over your two seasons in Pittsburgh. What was your role on the team and how frustrating was it for you with so many other running backs already on the roster taking up playing time, like Jackson, Abercrombie, Pollard and Erenberg?
I played with some great guys. My frustration was staying healthy. Success is when preparation meets opportunity and in 1986 Frank Pollard went down with cartilidge issue with his knee I had a great opportunity. Literally, the game I had my chance, I had a high ankle sprain/torn ligament in my ankle and had to go on IR for four games. In the meantime, they bring in Ernest Jackson and in my first game back Ernest and I split time … neither one of us did anything spectacular and the next game Ernest had 150 yards. We were both the kind of guys that had to get into the flow of the game he did and he went on to be all pro that year.
I lost a step with my ankle injury and I saw my role become one of a blocker for pass protection and lead blocker for either Ernest or Walter in the run game. I also played on special teams. Like in life, there is a fine line between success and failure and unfortunately you need to stay healthy to take advantages of opportunities.
Sometimes things happen for a reason. My experience has made me a better man and better competitor so it was worthwhile and I have no regrets. I am in the kind of business where you are as good as your last deal and you have to love to compete. In football you are a good as your last play and like football it has many ups and downs, so work effort and focus are key to succeed. Like Coach Noll and Coach Raymond, the longer I am in business the wiser and more experienced I get, so although I’m older and grayer I don’t have to worry about my body failing me - so I become more valuable.
The journey to get to the NFL was as much fun as actually playing so in life enjoy the journey.
Who were some of the biggest characters on those teams you played for and what made them so? Any examples?
I was lucky to play with some real icon’s/professionals like Mike Webster, John Stallworth, Donnie Shell their strong character made them great football players.
Bubby Brister was a real character and always made me laugh - he was insane at that point in his career.
The team struggled in ’86 and in ’87 (though to a lesser degree). What was behind the struggles of the team then and how did Coach Noll and the rest of the staff address the those issues?
Funny, success or lack of success was tied in a large part to injuries. Our team had a bunch. Really it’s all about doing the right things day in and day out and the coaches had us focus on that, and I think we did but with the 45 man rosters and new guys coming and going because of injuries it was hard to create the proper synergy. The 45 man roster just didn’t give teams enough depth.
It was the same coaches who coached all the Super Bowls so they knew how to work us and had the proper strategies prepared just hard to win when guys are in the tub.
What would surprise readers most about those Steelers teams?
I’m not sure that I could describe any surprises as I thought they were what they were – good hard-working guys who loved the game.
You stopped playing after the ’87 season. What caused you to stop and how difficult was that for you?
I hurt my shoulder and it took a couple of surgeries to get it right I would not have been ready to play in 1988. I was kind of frustrated and angry and dove head-first into business. I was so busy I really didn’t miss football until I was out of it for two years – for some reason the finality of it hit me then.
As a marginal player you were always on the bubble. The longer you played, although you became more valuable because of your increased knowledge of the game, you also, due to wear and tear and injuries, begin to erode your already marginal talent.
What are your best memories of those Steelers teams?
They weren’t great years from a win–loss perspective, but just a great bunch of guys to play with. Being special teams captain in the Jets game was a nice memory. I will always remember preseason up a St. Vincent’s – so hot and humid and no air conditioning in the dorms.
In Los Angeles we stayed a Hilton that had king size beds, maid service and a nice hotel room and I couldn’t believe there was no air conditioning at St. Vincent’s. And, we had twin beds.
I remember getting in a fight at practice with Hardy Nickerson at a Saturday practice at St. Vincent’s there was a pretty big spectator crowd. I think that may have been the most publicity I got in Pittsburgh.
The Rooney’s were a great football family and they made the players part of that family.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I am very thankful for my opportunity in Pittsburgh. It was a great town to live in the fans and the people were great, I played with some great guys who always made me feel welcome and were real professionals. And I played for some great coaches.
In Pittsburgh the community feels like a part of the team – much more so than when I was with the LA Raiders. I also learned many life lessons through my short NFL career. Most of which is when things are going great don’t lose your focus and forget the things that helped you get there, and when things are going poorly just keep putting one foot in front of the other and just focus on the fundamentals. If you do, everything will usually work out the way they are supposed to – though not necessarily the way you planned.
Most of all never be outworked in whatever you do as your work effort is all that you really can control in life.