Travis Kirschke, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 2004-2009
First, can you tell readers what you are doing with yourself and how you got involved in coaching?
I have been doing a lot of different things but the two main things would be spending some great time with my family and coaching high school football. I got involved in coaching because I felt you could have a tremendous impact on young mens lives not only in teaching them the fundamentals of football but also the encouragement you could have with them on everyday life obstacles.
I believe that coaching goes way beyond the X’s and O’s football and that it impacts the fundamentals of ones character and I want to be part of that in a positive way. Coaches have had a tremendous impact on my life so I want to return that to someone else.
What coaches and lessons have helped you most in your new role as a coach?
I started playing football when I was 8 and retired at 35. I have been around a lot of coaches throughout those years and feel that I have taken bits and pieces from a lot of the coaches that I have been coached by and applied them to how I coach my kids. I even take things that I have learned from other players and apply that. While in Pittsburgh I was blessed to be surrounded by a lot of great coaches and a great organization. I believe to be successful in football that you have to be surrounded by both great coaches and great management levels, Pittsburgh definitely has this.
As I previously said I have taken many experiences from many places, but I always loved the way coach Dick Lebeau treated his players. He treated you with respect and cared for you on a level beyond the playing field. I really respect that and wish to share those qualities with the kids I coach.
My position coach at Pittsburgh was John Mitchell and the thing that I took from Mitch is he never wavered from the fundamentals. We always focused on the little things (technique). I could go on and on with things that I have learned because I was very blessed to have been coached by a lot of great coaches.
You came to the NFL as an undrafted free agent. How do you think that helped you as an NFL player?
I tell you what, it is a tough road to travel in order to make a roster. Being undrafted you didn’t get many opportunities to prove yourself so when you did they better of been good. You always felt that you were just a body to fill in, so they would have enough to get through camp. However, I think it helped me because I never allowed myself to become complacent. I really embraced the notion that NFL stood for not for long.
How did the Steelers target you as a person to bring on the team – what do you think attracted them to you and your ability to contribute?
I played six years with the Detroit Lions then one year with the 49ers. It was after that as a free agent they contacted me with interest. I can only speculate what they were thinking in bringing me in but I would like to think they felt I had the tools to contribute to their formula of success.
Who on the team first brought you in and brought you under their wing, so to speak, and how?
I was very blessed to be surrounded by a great position group. The d-line, like the whole team is a very tight group. From the first day they wrapped their arms around me and treated me with the utmost respect. They pitched in and helped me learn the defense and technique that is required for the 3-4 defense.
How competitive were the practices – who were some of the toughest guys you lined up against in practice, and why?
The practices can get very competitive due to the fact you are trying to show the coaches that not only do their schemes work but that you are ready for the task at hand.
There’s such a culture of veteran-young player mentorship on the team. How difficult is that as a veteran player, knowing these are the guys after your job if not today, soon?
That’s definitely an interesting dynamic to work through. Teaching someone the traits of the game so one day they can take your job. That’s definitely one way to view it.
I definitely struggled with those thoughts in my mind but I would always try to focus on the bigger picture, bigger than my own successes and in turn try to focus on the team and tasks at hand. By focusing on the team it made it easy to want to share knowledge because it would benefit everyone.
Unselfishness is one of the key elements that I felt Pittsburgh had that allows them to compete at the level in which they continue to do. I believe it has always been a major factor to the Superbowl years. Coach Tomlin would always say when the team succeeds then there will be enough for the whole team to eat. Meaning, everyone will benefit.
Who were the guys who kept the team loose – and practical jokesters? What did players do to stay loose during practice?
I love this question because this is the stuff that you miss.
Football is a very repetitive sport. You have to continually repeat drills over and over so that when you are in the heat of the battle you’re not thinking but reacting. The game moves very fast and if you’re thinking it goes right past you. Because things can get monotonous, it is nice having guys on the team to change things up.
With the Steelers we had a lot of guys that would loosen things up. Troy (Polamalu) would put together a mix of songs and play them during our stretching. He would have songs from the past to the present so everyone could take part. I think a lot of times our stretching became a dance session. When some of the older songs would play you would even see the coaches taking part. Then on many occasions you could find Hines trying to persuade you to open your mouth so he could throw grass in it. There always seemed to be something going on. Those are the things you miss.
How difficult is it having to play for limited downs. is it harder physically or psychologically to get up for a few plays then wait for the next opportunity?
Being a back up definitely had its challenges. Not only are your game reps limited but your practice reps too. Starters obviously get the majority of reps so you may never get the opportunity to practice against a certain look and despite your limited reps the expectations for your play don’t change.
Also, it was difficult getting into the flow of a game. Many times you are only in for a play or two then have to what 45 minutes before getting more plays. You would feel like you needed to get warmed up all over again.
Faith is such a huge part of who you are. How has your faith affected your football career?
My faith has been important to me because it has given me a perspective of life beyond football. It has been my foundation to apply to all decisions I try to make in life. It has helped me to realize that football is what I did, but it’s not all of who I am. I loved playing the game of football, but I also love the doors that it has opened for me to serve others.
What are some of your best memories of playing with the Steelers?
Gosh when you played for such a great team you have so many great memories. I would have to say the relationships and hanging out with the fellas in the locker room. We had a great time laughing and joking around. I think a lot of people would think I would say the 2 Super Bowl games that I was part of but more than the actual games it was the journey to those games that I enjoyed.
There’s something special about locking arms with a great group of people with a singular purpose….to get to and ultimately win…the Superbowl.