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Steve Conley, Steelers Linebacker, 1996-1998

December 20, 2011

Steve Conley:

First, can you let readers know about your work as a sports medicine coordinator -what you do and how you got involved?

My job as The Sports Medicine Coordinator for Northwest Health Systems is to support local high school athletic programs through prevention, education, treatment and rehabilitation of sports related injuries. We also offer a Sports Performance Program for athletes to safely achieve new heights in athletic performance.

I became involved with sports medicine because of my background in sports. I always had a passion to become a football coach or train athletes. I was approached one day by Dr. Chris Dougherty of Dougherty Sports performance about helping start a Sports Performance Program at Northwest Health in Bentonville, Arkansas. I was excited about the offer and accepted the job. The program is called SMART Sports and we currently service four high schools and one Jr College in the Northwest  Arkansas area.

What coaching and playing lessons in Pittsburgh do you find yourself falling back on now?

The biggest lesson I learned when I was at Pittsburgh is that you must take advantage of opportunities when they come because you never know if or when you may have that opportunity again. At Pittsburgh, I felt as if I did not maximize the opportunity that was given to me, and therefore, my career was shorter then I would have liked. The feeling I had when I was released by the Steelers stills fuels me to this day, so I will never allow an opportunity to come my way and not give it 100%.

I also learned that just because something is not fair, that doesn’t mean that it’s not right. Sometimes, you have to play the cards you were dealt instead of trying to throw your hand in for a new one.

As one involved in sports medicine – what do you think of the NFL’s new rule changes on hitting? What are the pros and cons from your perspective as a former player?

The biggest pro for the rule change is the league is looking out for the player’s health. Players are now more conscious of how they tackle a person due to the fear of getting fined as opposed to a player’s health, but yet, they are still aware of their actions.

The biggest con is that it takes away from the game. There have been so many games that were decided because of a personal foul call that was based on a referee’s judgment. When a player grabs a face mask, it is clearly seen, and 99.9% of the time, all referees will make that same call. The helmet to helmet calls are such  a judgment call at times that it takes from the game and defenders hope they don’t tackle a player in the wrong way as opposed to just making the play.

You were drafted in round three in ’96 – how much pressure did you feel being a high round pick to perform and how did you deal with it?

I did not feel any pressure from being a high draft pick. Looking back on my career at Pittsburgh, I feel I did not live up to what they expected of me on the field. I did not do a bad job when I was with the Steelers, but just did not do a great job, and that’s what the organization expected from their players.

I have learned from my time as a Steeler, and have been great in Sports Medicine, great as a dad and great in my faith which is a lover of Jesus Christ.

How difficult was it adapting to a new position as a 3-4 OLB and a new scheme?

It was not difficult at all. I wish we ran a 3-4 when I played at Arkansas. At that time, my height and speed was ideal for that type of defense. The one difficult thing I had to learn was the terminology. Learning the 3-4 defenses under Coach Dick Labo is like learning how to make the first telephone from Alexander Grandbell. I still debate about the best coach I ever had, in which Coach Lobo and Coach Bill Cowher were both great.

Who helped mentor you as a rookie – who took you under their wing and helped you adjust both on the field and off?

I was drafted in addition with two other linebackers…. Earl Holmes & Carlos Emmons. Being that it was three of us, we stuck together. The one player that helped me out was Levon Kirkland. At that time, we had one thing in common; we both loved the WWF, now called WWE. We would go to live events at the stadium, order pay-per-view events etc….but on the field, Levon was the General, and he put everybody in order.

I remember the first time I played in a regular season game against Jacksonville. He looked me in my eyes and said, “Ok rookie, let’s go make a play.” I took that to heart and would have sacked Mark Brunell if he wouldn’t have run out of bounds.

My first year at Pittsburgh was great!

How were Coaches Archer and Cowher to work for – what are the biggest lessons each one taught you?

Coach Archer was a good coach. The one thing he would always tell me was he could not promise how many snaps I would get in a game, so make the best of the opportunity when it comes.

Coach Cowher was perfection for us. The one thing I learned was to always be prepared. The Friday before each game, he would randomly call a player’s name to see if they knew their assignment in the game. You did not want him to call your name and not know the answer. That’s one reason why his teams have been so successful …. we were always prepared.

The Steleers had some up and down years in those three years you were there – how did the players and coaches handle those and keep an even keel?

Whenever we would lose a game, the team would watch film the next day and fix the mistakes that were made. One of the best things I believe Coach Cowher ever did was giving the team Mondays off after a win. I think we went on a seven game win streak after he did that, LOL.

We did not lose often when I was with the Steelers, but when we did, he would fix the problem.

Who were the locker room leaders on those teams – and how much did humor play a part? Any examples?

The leader of the team my first year was Greg Lloyd. He was a great defensive player in his prime. His plays were contagious and were a big reason why the team was so good.

The next leader of the locker room, keeping everybody entertained was Fred McAfee. He was our special team’s captain and made the pro-bowl one year because of how good he was on special teams. It was nothing for Fred to get up in the middle of the locker room and tell a joke or imitate someone. He would also use his personality to get the players motivated before the games. Great player, great guy.

What are your best memories as a Steeler?

My best memories as a Steeler were the fans. I remember one day Dan Rooney asked me to accompany him downtown to a pep rally before we played the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game. I was asked to talk about the game and also why the Steelers needed a new stadium. When we arrived, it must have been over 5,000 plus waiting to hear what we had to say. The weather was cold, but the atmosphere was great and the fans were ready! But the memory I have from that day watching the fans swinging their terrible towels and chanting “Here We Go Steelers Here We Go!!!” was priceless.

Thank you Pittsburgh for all the memories you gave me.

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