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Oliver Gibson, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1995-1998

August 20, 2012
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Oliver Gibson:

First, you’ve been interning with the Steelers. How did that start, how has it been going and what has interested you most in general about coaching?

I saw an NFL Players Association memo on the Bill Walsh Coaching Internship Program. I thought I could go through the NFL and submitted my application with my team preferences. But I didn’t hear anything form them so I called Dick LeBeau directly. I played for him both in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. He told me Coach Mitchell was in charge of the program and put me in touch with him. And now, here I am…

Why coaching?

I didn’t go straight into coaching from football and I regret it. I didn’t want that transient lifestyle then so I became a project manager for a construction company. But I found myself going back and volunteering at high schools a lot. It’s a strange analogy but I look at football like a girl I dated. High school we met each other and in college we dated. The NFL was like getting married and being cut from the NFL was like a divorce…

So, you’re hoping to get re-married then?

Exactly!

I would like to get back into the NFL. In March of 2010 I helped coach the defensive line at Arizona Western Junior College. It was very hands on – the pay is little but you got to participate in everything – from the classroom to the on-field things.

Now, junior college is what it is. But not to sound arrogant, I was pretty darn good at teaching. I played versus those that were more talented than me throughout my career so that helped me to learn and now teach technique.

Who’s influenced you most now as a coach?

Coach Mitchell is arguably the best defensive line coach in the NFL. The proof is in his tenure – what, nineteen years? I learned how to play defensive line in the 3-4 due to John  Mitchell. I’d ultimately like to be a defensive coordinator in the NFL.

No one outworks John Mitchell. The perseverance in his career…..he was one of the first Black players at Alabama. His work ethic and attention to detail are amazing.

And Dick LeBeau defines what an NFL defensive coordinator should be. He is that person. His intelligence and attention to detail without being vanilla and boring… He and Capers zone defense – it’s the most creative and productive in the NFL.

Also, defensive line coach Tim Krumrie. He was an ex-player and eccentric guy. He had an opposing style to Mitchell. Mitchell trains you during the week but doesn’t coach you during the game – he expects you to be a professional. Krumrie is 24/7 – he yells at you during the game.

Who has caught your eye in camp so far and what are you noticing in general about the team – the young players on the line and on defense especially?

Steve McLendon is by far the most improved player in camp. Heyward has a huge upside.

What’s holding Heyward back?

He just has a big body and just needs to learn technique. He needs experience. He’s a big, strong guy that doesn’t realize how strong he is. He just needs reps.

And Ziggy Hood?

Ziggy is an excellent player. He could be a pro bowler – he plays with leverage, balance and speed.

This team has more depth at defensive line than they’ve had in a long time. They are just looking for role players now.

Who influenced you most as a player-now-coach? What players have taught you lessons that have stayed with you – and what are those lessons?

Brentson Buckner was my biggest influence. Don’t get me wrong, he was one year older and we were competitive, but he was probably the smartest player I ever played with. Instead of just learning the front seven, he learned all about the other guys too. He changed the way I learned the game. I learned the secondary coverage and linebacker responsibilities too, because of him.

Lake was a professional. Lloyd was the big brother you never wanted – always bullying you. Greene had that showmanship. Kirkland had that charisma and enthusiasm and Steed had that quiet professionalism.

I tried to bring that professionalism to Cincinnati. There was not a lot of professionalism when I got there.

What brought you to Cincinnati in ’89?

It was the business of football. Joel had just gotten an extension and they didn’t want to offer me more than I was already making. I was backing up Steed but knew I could be a starter.

Coincidentally, it was my signing that caused Kimo {Von Oelhoffen} to be released from Cincinnati and end up starting in Pittsburgh.

Did the Steelers give you grief when you played against them?

You know, I looked forward to playing against Pittsburgh most of all. The players didn’t give me grief, but the greatest salutation was the boos I received from fans. They remembered me, which was the greatest honor, instead of them saying “who is that guy?”

Was it frustrating for you to play in a 3-4 scheme where the defensive lineman get less opportunity to make bigger plays on their own?

Honestly – at first, yes. Re-establishing the line of scrimmage by pushing the offensive linemen back….it was not being a playmaker. But playing with Greene, Lloyd, Kirkland and Chad Brown…. being a part of a legendary defense was special. I got over it quickly. That’s the business of football. It’s humbling, but you still got to make plays every once in a while.

Your rookie season the team had it’s well-documented run to the Super Bowl before losing to Dallas. Were you able as a rookie to appreciate how rare and special the Super Bowl appearance was?

Honestly, no. I regretted that my whole career. I remember we had a team meeting after we fell to 3-4. Lloyd and some other guys got up and talked. Then we went on the run, and even though we lost the Super Bowl, I thought, well, I was young and I’ll be back. But I never did get back. I should have taken it in much more. I never really appreciated it.

Who were some of the biggest characters you played with on those Steelers teams and what made them so? Any examples?

Kirkland was the team comedian. I got the reputation for being his ghostwriter. My locker was right next to his and I’d say something to him that he’d repeat and get credit for.

Lloyd was the biggest character. He was the first grown man I met that would intimidate other grown men.

As a rookie, he had me come to his Tae Kwon Do practice with Carnell Lake to work on my pass rush. He was insane. He was kicking his students against the wall. Carnell would ask him if that was ok and he’d tell Carnell they liked it (laughing). I was the demonstration demo somehow. I don’t know how that happened. I only went for six lessons – it was torture. He had me in all kinds of moves, bending my wrists back…

He was a darn fool. He broke Kirkland’s wrist showing him a wrist lock one day…

Greene was also a character. My rookie year, I was lined up next to Greene. We were playing Tennessee and LeBeau calls for a straight rush. Well, I look over and Greene winks at me. Tells me we’re running a stunt. I’m trying to say no to him but he rushes inside, so I’m hurrying trying to get outside, but there’s no way I can catch Steve McNair and he runs for a first down.

Well, LeBeau is furious. He asked Greene what that was and Greene told him I called the stunt. What was I going to do – I was a rookie. Tell him Greene was lying?

How different are Tomlin and Cowher as coaches, since you’ve seen both in action now?

Cowher was fiercely intense and stoic. Tomlin’s style is unlike any other – he’s the most real guy I’ve ever seen as a coach.

When you checked in to Latrobe,  there’s a v-shaped concrete seat in front of the door. Tomlin was sitting there when I checked in calling out to the players as they went in, telling them they needed to produce, that they couldn’t make the team from the hot tub… No one expected him to be there…

That’s who he is. He’s blatantly honest – you know where you stand with him. Every meeting he has examples of players who did something interesting and guys who didn’t. You know exactly where you stand with him. Cowher was more of the old way…

How special is it now for you to be back with the organization and what have you learned most so far?

Looking at it now from the outside in, you respect what you had. If I could be here tomorrow I’d be. As a scout, assistant coach, anything. They have a machine here. Even though Cowher and Brenston didn’t see eye to eye, Brentson is here too as an intern. We’re always Steelers.

And Mitchell meets with us ever week – individually – to tell us what we need to do with the players. We’re doing more than just work as interns.

What would surprise people most about this team?

People think this defense is old. It’s not. They don’t rebuild, they just reload.

Rainey is the truth. He doesn’t pass the eye test but he has various ways he can attack you. He’s a true football player. Carter is sound – confident and intelligent. 

Sylvester has looked good. Corbin Bryant has made vast improvements. He has the body he just needs confidence. Ta’amu has conditioning issues be he could be a good player too.

It’s amazing how they get talent. How they select players. They don’t select the best names. They get the best players.

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