Leon Searcy, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1992-1995
First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself now, and how you started in this new line of work?
Well, presently I an say there’s a lot going on here.
First of all, I’m the Regional Manager for a Payables 101 – a software company. I’m also working on a book as we speak, and I’m working on a play that will premier July 13th.The book and play are loosely based on my ups and downs growing up in the inner city of Washington DC and my time in the NFL. The tings I went through growing up and in the game – they inspired me to get my story out. I had some challenging times and I worked with a young lady who was the ghostwriter for Tyler Perry and put it all in book and play form. We got together and found a location for the play and the resources and it will premier in Philadelphia. We’re hoping to get a nice response and take it from city to city.
So, you’re busy!
Yeah! I also do a radio show called At the Line of Scrimmage with former Pro Bowl kicker Mike Hollis, and I’m launching a new cigar line next month.
How did that come about?
I’ve always been an avid fan of cigars and the cigar lifestyle – the lounging… I met a guy when I was in Miami when I was tailgating before a game. He always was smoking cigars when I went down there and he talked to me about launching the business. We have a plant in Nicaragua and will start marketing and promoting it soon. It’s called Mesa Cigars.
So, I have a lot on my plate and I’m excited about all of it. I still train offensive linemen as well for NFL, AFL and CFL players. Every once in a while I’ll get a call from an agent asking me to work with a player. I run them through one-to-two hour sessions – bags, cones, sleds…the whole process of what I used to do when I trained. I train them on the fundamentals – try to give them the physical tools for their career and the life skills too. I try to teach them what to be leery of – the entrapments of financial investors, agents, women who just want to score…I try to teach them about the perils I went through and invoke some of my wisdom on them
Oh -and I’m also coaching with another former University of Miami guy Donnell Bennett – I’m his offensive line coach.
You speak a lot about the hardships you went through as a player – can you tell us more about those?
I just had bad relationships with people around me. The women, agents, advisors – they had their own agendas. I wasn’t grounded. I was partying, drinking, clubbing….and had those people around me all the time. I had no sense of humility about me then and couldn’t see them for what they were. They all had agendas and I’m a very giving person and wasn’t able to say no. I should have just said no to them.
I also felt I owed all of my success to my family – that I owed them for my success. It came to the point though that I was actually their sole source of income. It was troubling to me – I was around them, the majority of my life and they had always worked. To see them say they can’t make it now without me was troubling.
So I tell kids now to plan like each game is your last game. When you’re young you think you’re invincible. That money is always coming in. When it all ends though you’re left scrambling for help and there’s no one there to help you. I had eleven years of partying. I mean, I played some good football. But I never settled down. I played eight years of injury-free football. Then bang bang bang I was hurt in Jacksonville, Baltimore and Miami and was out of the league.
I just wish I had seen those bad relationships sooner. Divorces, financial advisors, agents… all were problems. I’m a better man for it all now though. I’m glad I don’t have that money now – I have peace of mind. I’m at a place I’ve never been before. I can handle myself much better now than I could ten years ago. Now I feel I have a responsibility to help young kids – impart my wisdom on them. Most may not listen though – just like I didn’t then.
You were drafted by the Steelers in the first round, 11th overall, in 1992. Were you surprised at being drafted by the Steelers – and did you now much about the team at the time?
I wasn’t surprised, no. The Steelers came to my Pro Day and had me do a side personal workout. I didn’t know much about their offensive line then. I was actually drafted to be their left guard. When I got there that’s where they put me, even though I played tackle in college. I competed there with Duval Love at first my rookie season. But I didn’t feel comfortable at guard and made the suggestion to Cowher and my offensive line coach to have me play tackle. I felt more comfortable there.
Tunch Ilkin was in front of me – I was on the bench so I sponged off of him. I watched all he did to prepare – his training, including the martial arts work, his slide, hand technique, the way he watched film. As a rookie, I knew I wanted to do what he did that allowed him to play for thirteen years. If I wanted that kind of longevity, I knew I had to be an apprentice and watch and copy him. I watched him block Reggie White. I knew if I could learn from him – his work ethic – that would be needed.
The line was full of veteran tackles at the time – Strzelczyk, Jackson, Ilkin….how helpful were those players to you, in part knowing that you were a potential threat to start in their place?
Tunch was my guy. I can’t say the others like Strzelczyk and Jackson were intimidated by me. They held their own. I just latched on to Tunch. He was receptive to my questions. I think the other guys thought as a first round pick I had a certain “Air” about me. I was confident, but I wasn’t cocky. Myabe it didn’t come off that way though. Tunch took time with me and really helped me a lot.
No one else really helped mentor you?
I learned on the fly. I didn’t want anyone to disrupt my game. I came from the University of Miami – we won three championships and lost four games in four years when I was there. I didn’t want anyone to take away my edge and tell me how to approach the game – I came from a winning program. I wanted my own swagger.
I would get myself in trouble though sometimes – maybe I was too arrogant. I think the only reason I didn’t start was because I held out. My agent said Pittsburgh was notorious for underpaying players. The agent said I needed to hold out to make a statement, so I missed training camp and was behind everyone else. The newspapers said I was a bust that rookie season – it was a tough first year. I thought they intentionally didn’t want to play me – to teach me a lesson. It all rubbed me the wrong way.
I remember one day after practice – we’d run gasses for conditioning. I was in tip-top shape and was outrunning the other offensive linemen – except maybe Dermontti Dawson. All the vets were pissed off that I was showing them up. They came into the locker room and told me I needed to stop outshining them. Cowher would get on them…
So, the next day they run gasses, but I just stand there for a good five seconds. Cowher came up to me and asked what I was doing. I told him I was giving them a good five-second lead but I’d still pass them up, and I did. Cowher just smiled – I think he knew I practiced my ass off and he liked that about me. But that’s how I reacted to things – I didn’t react to things very well sometimes and that rubbed others the wrong way.
You were Bill Cowher’s first ever draft pick as a Steelers head coach. As a rookie there, how did you see the team around you respond to Bill Cowher and adjust to the differences between he and former Coach Noll?
I was comforted by what Cowher said. We were going to be a tough team, he said. We would run the ball and play sound defense. He didn’t want to use many different formations and out-finesse people. His whole toughness, hard-hat approach made him the ultimate player’s coach. He took care of the vets and wanted to run the ball. He brought in Earhardt who was an old school offensive coordinator – he didn’t like to use a lot of three and four wide receiver sets. He said football is an easy game – run the ball, control the time of possession and the line of scrimmage, and every once in a while take a shot downfield. The onus was on the offensive line to get the job done. We were the heartbeat of the offense. By the fourth quarter, we’d be the ones in top shape and would whoop the opponent. That was all right up my alley – any good lineman would rather run block then pass a lot.
Humor plays a big part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the guys on the Steelers teams you played for that helped keep things light, and how did they do so? Any examples of the hijinks?
The locker room was hilarious. the funniest place is the locker room. Three years ago I was at the Super Bowl doing a radio show and had Rod Woodson on. And I remember talking to him about the story of me as a rookie and the donuts.
Pittsburgh has a long tradition of having rookie first round picks bringing donuts in the mornings for players and coaches. The guys would give me directions on where to go – they wanted Krispy Cremes – and I said ok, cool. I’m sitting at my locker and Woodson comes up to me and says “Hey Rookie – you better get my order right!”. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or for real. I thought he was being a hard-ass – was he punking me out?
So, I bought the donuts – ten-dozen, powdered white sugar donuts. Now, no one likes powdered donuts – those are the worst ones! I thought it was funny – but everyone was pissed at me. I remember in the locker room (running backs coach) Dick Hoak came up to me and told me that if Joe Green were here, he’s snatch me up and make me go out and get more donuts. I just told him Green wasn’t here, now was he? Well, we got into it, so Cowher called me into his office. He told me it was tradition and that I was stepping on too many toes and to go get the right donuts. From then on I bought the right ones!
Woodson laughed when I reminded him of that story. I laughed when I did it then, but I probably was just being a jerk at the time…
You left Pittsburgh in 1996 to play for Jacksonville. What brought on that decision and looking back, is it something you’d do again?
In hindsight I can’t say I wish I stayed – I had a great time in Jacksonville, but I loved playing for Pittsburgh and Bill Cowher.
It transpired after we lost the Super Bowl and I became a free agent. Cowher called me and said that no matter what you hear management say about me, he wanted me back and to be a Steeler. I told my agent – Drew Rosenhaus – that I didn’t want to leave Pittsburgh unless there was a mind-blowing offer. I had unfinished business in Pittsburgh – we just lost the Super Bowl and we had a good team.
Well, I was visiting my family when Drew called me and said Pittsburgh was dogging me out. Saying I wasn’t even their best offensive tackle. Now, I remember what Cowher told me and I told Drew that. So he told me he’d call Pittsburgh and put me on a three-way call, without Pittsburgh knowing I was on the line. So I’m not sure who it was on the Steelers line, but he just blasted me. Saying I had only started for two seasons, that my first year was horrible, that I was much too young to be asking for that kind of money, especially as a two-year starter with just one good season.
Now, I was young and didn’t understand anything about negotiating. It all rubbed me the wrong way. I hung up the phone after fifteen-twenty minutes od assault. My agent called me back and I told him I wanted to prove I could have success elsewhere. I thought the Steelers was the right place and system for me, but now the hell with that. I told him to find me a new team. I over-reacted. I was angry and made a decision emotionally. Two days later my agent came back with a contract from Jacksonville – that made me the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL.
Now, did my agent set me up? He probably did looking back on it. Maybe he used me….but that’s the kind of lesson I want to teach others about now.