Matt Kranchick, Steelers Tight End, 2004-2006
First, can you let readers know about your new post-NFL career. How you got started there and what your job/business venture entails?
Currently, I am the CEO of a medical supply import and distribution company I founded in Columbus, Ohio. We sell total joint implants, trauma products and other supplies to Hospitals throughout Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. I currently employ 8 sales representatives, three office employees and in the past we have employed former NFLers and Steelers like Issac Smolko and Ryan Hamby to name a few. I have a passion for and have found great pleasure in helping former NFL players find careers outside of Football to help them be successful when the games end and that final check comes.
How hard was it to find a post-NFL career and what about your time in the NFL helped and hurt your ability to find your next career?
It was very difficult. I think it would be comparable to be dropped off on the moon with no formal training as an astronaut and being told to just figure it out. I was interviewing for jobs with no experience talking about my stats and playing career in the NFL while the people my age I was interviewing against had 6-7 years experience on me. It’s a very daunting proposition.
The one thing I found out is there are networking opportunities and former players that are willing to help. When my NFL career ended, I was living in Pittsburgh with no idea what to do next, so I went to PSU and got the names of every former – Penn State alumni player/letterman living in Pittsburgh. I sent every one of them a personal letter with my resume. I was shocked that some of these guys were executives at established companies. I received multiple calls and emails as a result of my letters. These former players offered assistance, interviews, counsel and more. With all the scrutiny PSU has come under in the last two years, it’s things like that will always make me appreciate the school I choose and I want to pass that on to any former player from PSU in the NFL that asks me for help
What lessons from your days in Pittsburgh -and the coaches-do you find yourself falling back on in your job now?
Losing my college coach was very tough for me to not have that person to reach out to when life throws you a curveball. I never had the opportunity to play for Coach Tomlin so when Coach Cowher left it was hard because he wasn’t around to talk to. If anyone is familiar with my three years as a Steeler I was on and off the roster and the one thing that stuck with is how professional I was treated by the organization. Whatever strategic move that was made, Coach Cowher always had the respect for me to pull me in the office and level with me and give it to me straight. It’s not like that in other NFL organizations.
Another lesson I learned was to stay with the team that drafted you as long as you can. As some point someone in that room, probably Phil Kreidler (who is the greatest scout of all time) stood up and said, “Matt Kranchick needed to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.” When they put themselves out there like that they will do anything in there power to make you successful. Once you leave, it’s hard to find that anywhere else. I’ve carried that lesson over to the business world. I’ve had offers to be bought out and leave for places with more money but I always fall back on that one lesson. The grass isn’t always greener and once you are gone, you may find that can never recreate what you had.
You were a sixth round pick of the Steelers in ’04- certainly no guarantees to make the team. What about your rookie performance helped you earn a spot – what caught the coaching staff’s eye and what was the biggest adjustment you had to make to the NFL game?
The tall receiving tight end was just starting out. We offered a lot of match-up headaches for the slow safeties and linebackers that were crowding the boxes and preventing teams like the Steelers from doing what they wanted to do… which is..to run the ball. I flashed some speed and an ability to get open and catch the ball and they felt I was someone they wanted to develop. In order for the Steelers to keep doing what they’re doing with the cap how it is, they have to develop their own talent. Every year they choose a couple guys and I just happened to be in that group with guys like Willie Parker and James Harrison.
As a PSU alum/local player, how exciting was it being drafted by the Steelers? Did it add to the pressure to make the team in any way?
Being from Carlisle I actually grew up a Redskins fan having attended their training camps my entire life, but I was obviously familiar with the Steelers and the tradition. I wouldn’t say it added to the pressure but it was certainly talked about more being a PA kid. If I was trying to make the Seahawks for example it wouldn’t have been reported as much as it was with me locally in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
What veterans helped mentor you as a rookie – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples?
I learned a lot from the tight end room. Tuman, Risermsma, Cushing and Rasby. They were all professional athletes who knew how to present themselves on and off the field. The coached me on money investments, business and networking opportunities as a Steeler. I didn’t see eye-to-eye all the time with everyone due to the competitiveness of the business, but I couldn’t have asked for better examples of how to be a man and a Pro.
For example, at my first training camp at St. Vincent, I was unsure of the play. I asked Jay Rimersma what my assignment was, and he told me and I executed it. Unfortunately, I was set up and the Sam ran free and blew up the whole play and I got crushed by Cowher. I don’t know if Rimersma’s actions were intentional, but I learned a valuable lesson: my teammates were also my competition. If you want to take someone’s job you have to earn it and you do that by knowing your stuff, not relying on someone else.
How did you as a rookie “on the bubble” deal with the pressure of making the squad? How much did humor play a part in that-any examples?
Looking back on it I didn’t stress too much because I was confident in my abilities. There weren’t many guys in the league at 6’7 running a 4.53 that were working for the rookie minimum. My first year, I had a list and kept track of all the cuts and who would make it to get to the 53. I would check guys off and stress myself out, and then in 2004, the Steelers ended up keeping four quarterbacks and four tight ends which they never did, and I was one of the four tight ends to make it.
What part did humor play on those Cowher teams in terms of keeping players loose? Were you part of the locker room hijinks and humor? What were some of the funnier moments you remember and who were some of the funniest players on the team?
I really wasn’t a part of those things. Most of that was reserved for the Vets. I worried if I did something dumb or goofy and the coaches or the Rooney’s saw it, they would think I wasn’t serious about my job. I was there to play football, not entertain. But it didn’t mean I couldn’t sit and watch and laugh. The practical jokes were great and for those of you that have been in a locker room at any level, it really is something you miss as you matriculate through the rest of the your life.
Who were the leaders in the locker room on the teams you played for – and how did they lead? Any examples?
Bussy (Jerome Bettis), Peezy (Joey Porter), Potsy (James Farrior). There was one time in Cleveland against the Browns and Joey got into it with William Green before the game and got tossed. I remember the reaction when I came into the locker room, Cowher didn’t have to say anything, Joey was devastated he let the whole team down. But that’s how it was, none of those guys were out for themselves, Ward, Jerome, they all did what was best for the team at that time, no egos. And that’s why we were so successful.
At 6’7″, 260 pounds, you had some unique physical attributes as a tight end. How did that help and hurt you in the NFL?
Even though I ran in the 4’5 and 4’6’s at my pro day I was always told I had to get bigger, so I would eat all the time to keep my weight up and in the end it definitely slowed me down once I got up to 270-275. My ideal weight was probably closer to 245-250 and If I would have stayed at that, who knows what I could have accomplished, but this hybrid tight end was still in infancy.
They don’t ask Jimmy Graham to set the edge in New Orleans. I read somewhere he lined up out wide at wideout like 70 percent of the plays last year. I think if I could have done things like that I could have had a longer career instead of being asked to down block and run down on kickoffs. I have no regrets. Things happened for a reason and you can’t dwell on what could have been. I didn’t accomplish what I think I could have in football and therefore I am more motivated to achieve that level of accomplishment in my business career.
You were released by Pittsburgh in 2006. Were you surprised and what prompted that release?
I was released a couple of times by Pittsburgh, but ultimately I left for a roster spot with the New York Giants. Looking back, I was frustrated with some things and took it personally and decided things would be so much better in New York. As it turns out if was more of the same. It’s one of my few regrets in life was ever leaving Pittsburgh, I wish I would stayed as long as I could of but the writing was on the wall there. I left and started a playoff game in New York against the Panthers the year they won the Super Bowl in Pittsburgh.
My legacy is I was on the roster the whole year in 2005 and wasn’t a part of that championship run. But someday I’ll tell my kids your dad left and started a playoff game instead of staying and wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants in the Super Bowl. I can live with that.
What are your favorite memories playing in Pittsburgh?
The fans , the way the city comes alive on Sundays. I can remember walking into the stadium from the players parking lot and everyone wishing you well. It was awesome. I played in Tampa, NYC, Boston and never got anywhere the recognition I got in PIttsburgh. Being a third string tight end in PIttsburgh was like being the president of the United States. I can’t imagine how the stars were treated because I was treated that good. We used to have a house in Harrison City and my wife and I were married there and we hope to get back. Columbus is where we live now but Pittsburgh will always be home.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I would tell them to keep doing what there doing, be passionate, be fans. It’s what makes being a Steeler different. We would travel and the stands would be 50-50 Steelers fans vs whoever we were playing. We noticed that as players, it was amazing. Keep that enthusiasm, as long as you keep giving your unwavering support, the team will keep attracting the free agents it needs and being a place people want to go and also stay their entire careers. You make the difference, you’re what separates us from a Tampa Bay or a Jacksonville. Don’t forget that.