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Dan Radakovich, Steelers DL & OL Coach, 1971, 1974-1977

November 16, 2011

Dan Radakovich:

First, can you let readers know what you are do with yourself these days?

I’m retired now. I’m writing a book about Penn State coach Lou Prado  and the Steelers – about my time coaching for both and all the other places I’ve coached. I’ve coached in over fourteen places I guess – seven pro teams and the rest college.

How did you get involved with the Steelers – how did you start working for Chuck Noll in 1971?

I started off as the defensive line coach for Chuck in ’71. I did it under the condition that I could coach during the day and go to school at night. But I had four kids and my wife was really raising them alone, so the day before I was going to start night school I decided not to do it.

What made Chuck Noll pick you as his coach?

I think my background in college . We had won 30 games in a row at Penn State then I went to coach at the University of Cincinnati as their defensive coach. We had one of the worst defenses before I started there. The year I was there we had one of the best – we improved by over twenty-five points allowed per game. The university put a pay freeze on the team after the season ended though. I spent my salary and $7,000 in retirement funds from Penn State – I was going broke.

So, when I found out that the Steelers defensive line coach had died in the Spring and I said to my wife, “I wonder if they ever replaced that guy?”.  I called Chuck and he had no idea who I was. He didn’t know me. I said to my wife “forget about it – he didn’t know who I was.”

The next day Chuck must have spoken to some folks that knew me. He called me and was a different person – he was all jacked up and wanted me in for an interview. He said he couldn’t any time soon because his scheduled was all filled up later in the week. So, I said how about tomorrow? I packed up and took off for Pittsburgh that night and interviewed with him the next day. I knew he wanted me because he kept selling me on the team, but he said he couldn’t hire me then though because he had five other guys lined up for interviews and it wouldn’t be fair to them.

So, that Friday at 3:00 pm he called and offered me the job. The last interview must have just walked out the door!

So, you’re the defensive line coach now. What did you do first with those young lineman?

I changed it all year one. That was the year we became the Steel Curtain – those were my guys.

First, L.C. was just a backup – he spent two years on the bench. He could run like a deer – he lapped the entire team in practice. I started him at left end and moved Dwight to right end. I kept Joe Greene where he was – I wasn’t crazy!

We traded Hinton to the Jets. We kept Holmes but he wasn’t eligible to play – he was a great prospect but he was a taxi-squad player then. And I let McGee and Voss alternate at right tackle. 

That was the year the radio announcer before the Miami game had a contest to name the new Steelers defense – that’s how the Steel Curtain name came about – it was the winning name.

What did you do technique-wise to improve those defensive linemen?

Well, I was a linebacker coach in college so I had them do linebacker drills (laughing). I had them do different things – moving laterally and working on their pass rush techniques. I told them if they were quick as linebackers they would have it made.

I remember years later George Allen of the Redskins even said it – that those Steelers defensive linemen were as quick as linebackers. I took a lot of pride in that!

Why did you leave Pittsburgh in ’71?

I wasn’t enamored with pro football. It was a disappointing season. We were 6-8 and blew a lot of games. I remember one game we were winning 15-3 with two minutes left and we had the ball. We screwed it up and lost 17-15. I won’t get in to how – but the other team gained less than 100 yards and still won.

So, I had a friend in Colorado who hired me there. I really wanted to be a college head coach and I also liked the idea of playing Oklahoma and Nebraska. We were the only ones to beat Oklahoma that year but got crushed by Nebraska.

But you came back in 1974.

I was looking for a new job and Chuck called me and asked me to be their offensive line coach. I didn’t even know the job was open. I thought about it for thirty seconds and said yes (laughing).

Why offensive line?

He liked what I did as a defensive line coach. He also knew I helped the offensive line when I was at Penn State, It was platoon football then – I was the linebackers coach but also helped the offensive line. One year I did all the skill drills for the line. There was a new offensive line coach in 1963 and they were still learning so I taught all the drills. Paterno was just an assistant then.

What did you address with that offensive line?

I changed the way they blocked. I invented the full-arm extension to avoid holding. They questioned if it was legal but it was and it saved us a lot of holding calls.

I also tailored all the jerseys. I wouldn’t let defensive linemen get a hold my linemen! I wanted the jerseys to be skin tight, so I had Parisi’s mother-in-law tailor them. Then we re-tailored them ourselves to make them even more skin-tight. But guys could still hold on to the jerseys, so we double-taped the shoulder pads under their jerseys – even Joe Greene couldn’t grab hold of them.

I’m not sure if the team is still taping pads now – it’s legal to do it. I remember Haley of the 49’ers used to put silicon on his jersey – they were red but he put so much on the jersey turned black. We complained but the refs never did anything. Oakland used to put grease on their jerseys – we complained about those all the time.

Who were some of the best linemen you worked with on those Steelers teams – what made them so?

John Kolb was awesome – he got no recognition. He was the best pass blocking lineman for six years. He wasn’t good his first season but when I got there he took everything in. He was the only left tackle to play in four Super Bowls and not let up a sack in any of them. He never even made All-Pro.

I also had Slater, Webster…. both Hall of Famers. Larry Brown was awesome too.

What were some of the other new ideas you brought to the line?

We had five centers on that team. Peterson, Webster, Clack, Kolb and Mansfield all played center. We’d screw around in practice and have our left tackle line up at center. It would drive Coach Perles crazy-  he’d get so upset. We never did that in a game but you could – creating unbalanced lines would be terrific.

And why not? Move them around and trying different things was something I always believed in. New ideas are usually tougher for the coaches than the players to accept

They say keep it simple and I agree, but I also believe in doing as much as you can. You can do an infinite amount of stuff without confusing the human mind.

It’s like coaches wo use the huddle all the time in practice then expect audibles to work in the game. How do they get used to it if they never practice it? Speaking of which, Bradshaw audibled every running play versus Oakland in the playoffs. Dummy quarterback, huh?

I like to do it all. Some call it fraternity ball but it worked.

How did Chuck Noll handle that philosophy when he was such a tactician who seemed to need order?

Noll was worse than me! He loved new ideas. problem was, he wanted to take the new ideas and make a whole new offense out of them every time. I just wanted to make adjustments – he wanted to make everything a big deal.

I have to say, he and Paterno were some of the most open coaches so far as new ideas go – they were the best coaches to work for.

We won the Super Bowl with the tackle trap – no one ever trapped the nose tackle before.,That play took us to the Super Bowl when we used it against Oakland. We scored two touchdowns using it – the Brown 92-93.

What was your best memory of those Steelers teams?

Winning the first Super Bowl was one. Actually, it was a bigger thrill to win the game that got us there. It lasts longer. Win the Super Bowl and  then it’s over. But practicing for two weeks to be the best is the biggest thrill.

The second biggest thrill was beating Tampa Bay with the Rams to get to the Super Bowl against the Steelers.

How was that experience for you, playing against your old team in the Super Bowl?

I coached eighteen players across both of those teams. It was an awesome experience. We should have won – we were leading after three quarters.

Did you use any of your knowledge of those Pittsburgh players against the team?

I had things planned to use against Steve Courson, but he didn’t play. He was injured and Gerry Mullins took his place. The things I was going to use against Steve didn’t work against Gerry. It was all probably negligible in the end anyway….

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