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Ernie Mills, Steelers Wide Receiver, 1991-1996

October 27, 2011
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Ernie Mills:

First, can you let readers know about your coaching career – how you got started and how it’s going?

The idea came from Chan Gailey (invited me to do a fellowship intern with the Dolphins in 2000 to see if I like coaching) and Tommie Robinson (RB Coach AZ Cardinals)… I wasn’t sure at first but I love the sport and needed to be involved.

It’s going great and we are winning, so that makes it easier. I like the college level at this time.

What made you decide to get into coaching – and what coaches and coaching lessons have inspired/affected you most now as a coach (and how)?

I love watching the maturation process of a young man fresh out of high school, with high expectations but a lot of room to grow and become a man.

There are too many lessons I have learned over the years from numerous coaches that I have been fortunate enough to play for (Spurrier, Noll, Gailey, Cowher, Heimerdinger, etc.) and books that I have read that gave me confidence in the style of coaching I was comfortable with. I take a little knowledge from each one of them and my own life lessons; good and bad.

You played with the Steelers for six years – what are some of your greatest memories over those six seasons and what would surprise fans most about those teams?

My teammates are the greatest memories, especially the 1991 draft class. We were so excited and hungry to prove ourselves and had a lot of ups and downs. I wouldn’t trade those times for nothing. Of course the catch that helped us win the AFC Championship game, had to be the biggest of my lifetime. Fans would be surprised at how focused our team was in 1994 even though the video was getting all of the media attention. That lost hurt equally as bad as Superbowl XXX, because that’94 team was a great team with so many weapons on both sides of the ball.

Who mentored you as a rookie – and what did you do to prove yourself as a player to the veterans and coaches?

Dwight Stone and Louis Lipps gave me a lot of advice and fun times; we laugh and joke to this day. I was a hold out, so the only way I could prove myself was on the field, by leading the team in special teams’ tackles and points as a rookie. It proved my toughness in a city that’s built on physical and tough people.

Who were some of the tougher guys you had to line up against in practice?

Wow, players like Woodson, Carnell Lake, Delton Hall because they were so physical at bump and run coverage. Thomas Everett hit me the hardest though. lol

Former Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey said you were successful in using your “guile” to get open and makes plays – using your body and running good routes. What do you think was your greatest attribute as a receiver?

Absolutely, have to be my route running. I was faster than people thought and more physical than my size would indicate. I knew how to run into the defender and still have the ability to separate at the right time. (I worked on this, with all of those sleepless nights practicing against Woodson and those guys I mentioned above.

Who were some of the best receivers you played alongside of – and how did they help your game?

Michael Irvin, Lipps, Jeff Graham, Yancey Thigpen, Eric Green, Rocket, Mussin Muhamed (he was young then) and I can’t leave out my boys Hastings and CJ (Superbowl baby).

With all those guys, you have to practice hard to get playing time and we all were so competitive. If you don’t get open, on time then you may not get a pass thrown your way.

Facing Dallas in the Super Bowl, what was the mindset of the team? Did you view yourselves as underdogs? How were you so resilient in that game despite falling behind so much early in the game?

We never thought of ourselves as underdogs, we thought we could have won it the year before and felt like we match up well with them. Aside from the slow start in the 1st quarter, we controlled the game. That was the way we played all season, close sixty minute football games. Our two minute offense was playing really well at that time, with the four and five wide receiver sets.

You had a few big plays in that Super Bowl, including a highlight reel sideline catch. How were you able to maintain your poise in such a pressure-filled environment?

I was mentally focused and prepared to play an excellent game. I never played a game with as much confidence as I had in that game. I didn’t drop any passes in practice and I love playoff football. I waited my whole life for that moment, so I didn’t think of it as pressure.

When I was a freshman wide receiver at UF, I dropped a post route on ESPN Halloween night, so that drop was an experience I trained to overcome. I had made many big plays since that night.

You later moved on to Carolina, then Dallas. How hard was it moving on for you, and what was the reason ultimately for you doing so?

Hindsight is … you know the rest…  There were a lot of reasons but ultimately, I wanted a change for the grass field surface and my ACL knee injury in the superbowl. It didn’t respond the way I wanted it too in 1996 the last year of my contract. So I went to Carolina because it was grass and a familiar coaching face (Dom Capers).

It was really hard to move on and especially difficult when the offensive system I was use to didn’t fit my style of play. So I only lasted a year there. Dallas, my last two years was great because Chan was the coach and I was truly a veteran at that point.

Definitely wish I had stayed in the Burgh.

What do you think of the changes being made to the NFL? How would you have liked to play in the more pass-friendly NFL?

I knew it would evolve eventually. I will always be a wide receiver, so you know I like to see the ball in the air… A lot of the rules were in place then, but wasn’t enforced consistently, which is why I had to play with a physical style. I would have loved to play in the offenses of today. It would be interested to know how my body would feel now, with the practice schedules the way they are today.

Any last thoughts for readers?

I would like to thank the readers for the memories and remembering the way I played the game we all love soo much. If you ever see me anywhere, please do not hesitate to say hello. I’m just a regular Southern boy who loves people. Take care and thanks for following my career.

Ron, I would like to really thank you for the great questions. They were truly the best questions I have been asked since I retired. Take care Ron and the Steelers family.

Best Always,

Ernie Mills

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