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Earl Holmes, Steelers Linebacker, 1996-2001

February 20, 2013
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Earl Holmes:

First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL coaching career and how you got started?

After I retired in 2005, I went home to Orlando Florida. I coached my son’s flag football team – my neighbor was former Bronco John Mobley – his son Tyson was on that team, as was Thurman Thomas’s. It was a YMCA team….

One of the parents said that a coach asked about me – he was the coach at Lake Mary High School. I ended up coaching there for a year then ended up at my alma mater – Florida A&M – as their linebacker coach, then as their defensive coordinator.

What lessons from other coaches and players do you apply to you job now as a coach?

My coaching style is straight from the NFL. I was fortunate to be around great coaches – LeBeau, Cowher… My first six years were my better years. I was well coached. There was no gray area there. Then I had Keith Butler in Cleveland. I went from a 3-4 to a 4-3 there before going to Detroit for three years.

LeBeau was laid back – he’d make a joke out of a lesson and no one forgets a good joke. Butler played the game – you could relate to him. Cowher had the hard-nosed attitude. Whether it was  a good or bad play, he just wanted you to get the job done.

I took something from all of those guys. I loved it. All those guys took me took me to a place I couldn’t have gotten to on my own. Now, I try to do the same thing for my kids.

Who helped you adjust to the Steelers and NFL as a rookie, and how?

Carlos Emmons was a rookie too and my roommate. We were two guys trying to make the team.

Greg Lloyd helped me – he was the quiet storm. He was a mean guy but a great guy. He and Kirkland both helped me. They both said things to me to help me. Greg – I actually met him at the All-America banquet before the draft. He said he watched me play – I thought, you have to be kidding. He watched me play? He then told me that he thought I had something and that I shouldn’t be surprised if I became a Steeler. I appreciated it but thought he was just being nice. Who knew!

What happened when you got drafted?

Lloyd told me the easiest part was getting drafted. I thought, you’re kidding me, right? He said the hardest thing is staying here. It was time to become a professional.

I watched him, Gildon, Kirkland….no one was lazy. The lazy guys don’t last long. I wanted longevity so I watched what they did. I learned the defense and worked hard.

I commend the guys that taught me. I started my rookie year versus Carolina. That whole week of practice, the coaches told me to settle down. Playing alongside Lloyd, Woodson, Kirkland, Lake….those veterans helped me to settle down and play.

Were you worried about getting drafted by a team loaded at linebacker?

When I got drafted, I knew the team that drafted me was the team that wanted me. Whoever gave me the opportunity, there was a reason for it and I’d make the best of it.

I told Coach Cowher when he drafted me that he got the best linebacker in the draft (laughing). Kirkland used to tease me about that – he pretended he was me on the phone telling that to Cowher, imitating me (laughing).

I knew all I wanted was an opportunity. I didn’t want to let anyone who gave me that opportunity down. The Steelers were always my team growing up. It was a blessing, playing for your favorite team. I knew I’d make the team. Don’t get me wrong, there were really tough days. But the guys helped me eliminate the gray areas and helped me put the pieces together to do the job. It was  a family thing – I didn’t want to let the family down.

Who were the biggest characters on those teams?

If you asked others they’d say me! McAfee was the funniest guy. I trash-talked – I can’t say all I said then (laughing), but it was all in fun.

Cowher used to tell me I owed him one. I was like, own you for what? No matter what I did, if I made a good play we were “even”. If I didn’t, I’d owe him…

LeBeau used to call me the “Rattler”. He coached my college coach and the mascot there was the Rattler.

Kirkland and Steed..Steed was the quiet one. He was always rocking his head like he was listening to music, but he had no headphones on!

We always had fun. I remember saying something John Elway one game when he ran out of bounds. I said “Mr. Elway, I understand that you are a Hall of Famer sir. But if you run out of bounds again I’m running out with you!” When Marcus Allen cheapshotted me when he was in Kansas City, I told him that “I can’t believe you cheapshotted me Mr. Allen!” It was all in good fun.

How difficult was the adjustment to the 3-4 in the NFL?

I played in the 3-4 in college. It wasn’t that big of a change. Of course, the terminology was different and Dick {LeBeau} runs it a different kind of way. But I knew how to play the position.

My biggest adjustment was just the speed of the game and how to react. You need muscle memory – you’re playing against phenomenal athletes. You can’t be out there thinking. As I got more reps and grew up and the end of my rookie year, I got it. It took time and having great veterans around you helped.

Who were the toughest guys you lined up against in practice and on other teams?

Dermontti Dawson – he could pull and get on you so fast. We played great defense in part because we lined up against guys in practice that were better than the guys we played on Sundays. Woolford, Bettis, Dawson, Bruener…. If you held your own in practice you knew you’d be ok.

On other teams, guys like Larry Allen and Will Shields were tough – and Roaf…

What do you think about today’s NFL and the new rules?

Watching the game now, all the talk is about safety. When you play football and watch it, you see the big hits come at all levels of the game. I appreciate the safety issue but it’s a fine line. You don’t want to take away from the game. It’s touchy. On offense, defense and special teams, that’s your livelihood as a player. Sometimes it hurts guys more than it helps them – especially the defensive backs.

As a defensive guy, you try to shut teams out – that’s your job. But people want high-scoring games. The one thing that bothers me is offensive facemasking. It’s never called. It’s just an example that when they change the rules they should get the past and present players involved on both sides of the ball so all can relate to them. They need to clan up the game for both sides.

Another example is roughing the quarterback penalties. It takes all of your speed and moves to sack a quarterback. How do you slow down or not hit them above the waist when you were pushed in to the quarterback? Some calls…I mean, come on…. I’m glad I played when I played. Let them play the game….

You left Pittsburgh to play in Cleveland – what prompted that decision and how hard was that for you?

To this day, the best time I had was in Pittsburgh. I offered some advice to Joey Porter when he went to Miami. It’s a business. The contract thing – you don’t always have to go for it. At the same time, I know I called Cowher after I left and told him I made a mistake. He told me it’s not like this everywhere – that I should think before I left to play for Cleveland. I didn’t understand then.

There was no Coach Cowher, Mike Archer, LeBeau or Tim Lewis in Cleveland. I was fortunate to have coach Butler. But it was different. I called Joey – told him I knew Miami offered him more money but you have to be happy. It’s more than just about football – you have to have that family. You miss that. My wife still asks me today what it would be like if I stayed…. But when you are young, those are business decisions. You don;t realize the other stuff as much.

I never forget it now. I tell my kids – my rookie year in camp I introduced Coach Cowher to my family.  After the second home game, my family, me and Coach Cowher were riding the elevator – he knew all of their names and spoke to them the whole time. I was like, wow! How did he do that with all of those guys on the team. That impressed me the most. It was a family. I was so impressed with that – that did so much to me.

I left making a business decision. My heart though was in Pittsburgh. I got ten years in the NFL – I got the chance to meet a lot of people – but the playoffs, the family atmosphere – that was the norm in Pittsburgh. The Browns made the playoffs once – my first year there. They haven’t been there since!

You miss that winning. That great organization – the people, fan base, owners…. They’ve been doing it for a very long time. When you get to other teams it’s so different. Once I left and looked back, I see that’s what Cowher was trying to tell me.

What are your best memories of being in Pittsburgh?

I love to hear from people. Life goes on but I miss my Steelers family. We all have places in our hearts for each other still. Wherever you go, people recognize you as a Steeler. I want my school to be the same way – like the Steelers. I keep moving forward and thank God for everything!

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