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Richard Shelton, Steelers Cornerback, 1990-1993

May 3, 2012
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Richard Shelton:

First, can you let readers know how you became a Titans scout and what you enjoy most about your position with Tennessee?

After my time in Pittsburgh I knew I still wanted to be involved with the NFL – through coaching or something else. After talking to Tom Modrak {head of Pittsburgh’s scouting department then) I wanted to pursue scouting. I pursued that for four years.

How so?

I did research first on how they did things – the ins and outs. It took a couple of years to get in front of someone. I went to the combine for a couple of years and left my information with general managers and other people. That’s how I finally got my interview with Tom in Philadelphia. Bill Cowher also tried to help me and set up an internship for me in Kansas City, but I couldn’t do it due to other things going on in my life at the time.

What are the biggest lessons you learned from the coaches, scouts and players during your time in the NFL that you’ve applied to your scouting approach and why have these influenced you as they have?

You’ve got to be dedicated – on the field and on the road. Things change on the field – in motions and in formations. You’ve got to be able to think on the run. I coached at Florida A&M and I would teach kids to be prepared for any situation.

Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau helped me. I still have a good relationship with Dick – he has such knowledge and was a great mentor to me and a lot of other people.

What did they teach you?

To stay in shape and eat right. That’s what happened to me. I didn’t eat well and I gained weight. I was moved from corner to safety. You have to take care of yourself. You only have a small window to make a lot of money.

How has the Titans’ approach differed from or mirrored what you experienced as a prospect and from what you saw in Pittsburgh?

Its easier for me to compare my time in Philadelphia and Tennessee – apples to apples since I wasn’t a scout in Pittsburgh.

In Tennessee, we’re given more insight. We put up the top three guys we like on the board two picks before ours came up and Coach Fisher used to ask all of us for our opinions on those guys.  In Philadelphia, we weren’t asked our opinion. They just told us who they were drafting.

Has that changed with a new head coach?

It’s still going to be the same. Munchak played the game – he knows how to step it up and tone it down and work with other guys. You have to respect a coach who played the game. They went through the fire and understand.

As a competitor what fires you up most now as a scout?

The opportunity to make the team better. To find players below the radar and stick my neck out for them.

Look at Tony Campbell – a Pittsburgh guy. He was our seventh round pick last year and I had to fight for him. We talked more about our seventh round pick than we did our first rounder. He had off-the-field issues but I fought hard for him. Now, he’s one of our best defensive backs.

You’ve got to believe in what you see as a scout and stick to it. Don;t let anyone influence me. Another scout taught me that.

I like helping younger guys make it to the NFL. It’s a challenge to see if you are right about the guys you picked two or three years later.

You were drafted by Denver in 1989 in the 11th round, but found yourself in Pittsburgh in 1990-1993. What prompted your move to Pittsburgh and how excited were you to play for Pittsburgh?

I played about twenty-eight games in ’89. First Denver, then they released me around week ten, and I went to Seattle from there and played. After that, I played in the World League – in Montreal. Pittsburgh approached me after that and signed me then.

What made them look at you, do you think?

Tom Modrak had scouts there – it was I think the first year of the league. It’s funny – I was second in scoring on the team and I played defense. I had four touchdowns – I scored on punt return, kickoff returns, interceptions…. I scored twice in one game. 

While not a rookie in 1990, you were still “new” to the NFL and to Pittsburgh. Who helped you adjust to the NFL and the Steelers in 1990 – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples?

Rod Woodson was my roommate then. We still talk. He was at the top of his game then and took time to help me. I’m especially thankful for that.

How did he help you?

He showed me how to prepare to play – to be mentally tough. A lot of guys today aren’t. We practiced twice a day then – now you practice once  week in pads. It’s crazy. We were more mentally and physically tough then. We had to be.

In 1991 you had a career season – with three interceptions and one touchdown. What was behind that successful season for you – what caused you to put up those numbers?

Just being prepared. D.J. Johnson went down with an injury and I had the opportunity to step up. I just needed an opportunity. Cleveland picked on me and I made them pay for it. It’s tough to be the top player on your team in college then to have no opportunity in the NFL.

How did you deal with that frustration?

My first year – in Denver  – I knew I was a good punt returner but I never got an opportunity. I was the guy at Liberty {college}. It was frustrating. People go through that every day. Their time will come – I told that to Tony Campbell. I wish someone would have pulled me aside in Denver to tell me that.

I should have recognized that myself too, I realize.

You were there in 1992 when Bill Cowher took over as coach. How did you and the rest of the team handle the transition from Coach Noll to Coach Cowher?

We adapted well, I think. I joked for the two years I played while Coach Noll was there that I never knew where his office was at. Bill, as an ex-player, was a guy we could look up to. We adjusted well to him – we made the playoffs.

What was the biggest adjustment?

It was way more up-temp under him. We practiced harder and it was more upbeat. I think things got a bit lackadaisical those last years under Coach Noll.

Who are some of the biggest characters you played with in Pittsburgh – and what made them so? Any examples/stories of the hijinks from players on the team?

David Little, who passed away a while ago. He’d come in with his fur coat on…. Lloyd was always serious – you couldn’t get him to laugh. He’d say things – he just didn’t care if it was politically correct or not. He’d just say it.

Rod Woodson – he and I play golf together and he was the biggest competitor. When we played golf then, he’d stare at you and yell “Miss it!”. We’d play for money, and here he was yelling a you – he made millions!

What do you think of today’s NFL – both on the new rule changes and players attitudes versus what you experienced as a player?

I think the league is softer. Like I was saying about training camp. it’s getting much easier for players. I was talking to {former Steeler} Solomon Wilcox about it. If we had those same rules we’d still be playing. No two-a-days, two-and-a-half weeks before games…

In Latrobe, with no trees, practicing in the sun with two-a-days, we didn’t get to rest our bodies like they do today. We’d get concussions and play the next week. Greg {Lloyd} still has two bad knees – he almost died from a staph infection. They may not like when I say it, but we were tougher – mentally and physically – then these guys today.

What are some of your best memories of your time in Pittsburgh and what made them so? Any examples?

I remember playing in Buffalo in ’93. Rod Woodson got a concussion in I think the second quarter. He was on the sidelines and it was cold, so he was standing by the heater. After a while, his pants caught on fire (laughing).

I remember a certain Steelers linebacker was hit so hard he actually had an accident in his pants. he had to go to the locker room and change!

There’s some crazy stuff that happens that you see on the sidelines…

Any last thoughts for readers?

Tell the fans Pittsburgh is a great city. You represent your team – wherever they play you take over the stadium. That’s a true sign of great fans.

I would love to work for the Steelers’ front office. You have the best fans in the world. And the Steelers are a great organization. The Rooneys run it well.

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