Kirk Botkin, Steelers Tight End/Long-Snapper, 1996-1997
What made you decide to get into coaching and what has been your favorite part of coaching to date?
I was born and reared into coaching; that was all I ever knew. I would go to practice and games with my dad. I am a coach’s kid. I knew that I really wanted to coach when I was midway through college. I knew that when my playing days were over, that I wanted to pursue coaching as a profession. I love the competition, and I enjoy teaching and watching kids grow and develop.
I started coaching at my old high school (Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown Texas). After a year of high school coaching, I decided that I wanted to get into college coaching. I contacted Ken Hatfield (he was my first college head coach as a player, and he had recruited me out of high school). He was at Rice University which was about an hour away from where I lived. I asked if he had a GA position available, and he did and hired me. I coached there for a year.
Jack Crowe, called from Jacksonville State Univ. in Alabama, it was a I AA program in Alabama. My family and I were there for five years, and then I was given opportunity to coach at the Univ. of Louisiana-Monroe, a Div I school. I coached for two years in Monroe, LA. We beat Alabama at Alabama that last year at ULM. That was one of the highlights of my coaching career.
I left there and coached at the University of Arkansas, my college alma mater. I coached for two years, with Bobby Petrino as head coach. I then moved to Texas and coached there for Texas High, a large high school in Texarkana, TX. I began pursuing my masters in education, when after a year, I got the offer to come to the University of South Carolina. It’s definitely been a highlight coaching with this staff and of course Coach Spurrier. He is a brilliant football coach, and it‘s a great group of coaches that I work with everyday. I enjoy going to work.
My favorite part of coaching is the big enjoyment of watching the kids develop. I like the X’s and O’s of the game, the strategic matchup from week to week and the competitive part of coaching.
What coaches have influenced you most now as a coach and what specific coaching lessons and playing experiences do you find yourself falling back on most?
My dad and my high school Coach Jim Stroud are my two biggest influences. I have been fortunate in this profession to be around some of the greatest coaches to ever coach the game. At the University of Arkansas I had four head coaches in five years. (Ken Hatfield, Jack Crowe, Joe Kines and Danny Ford). Then I played in the NFL (Bill Parcels, Jim Mora and Bill Cowher were my head coaches). Charlie Weis, Joe Marciano & Mike Mularkey were my position coaches in the NFL. I have been fortunate to coach with Ken Hatfield, Jack Crowe & Steve Spurrier. I have taken so much from all of them.
The one lesson that has always stuck with me is from my dad who always said work hard, do things the right way the first time you do it and be a good person.
My high school coach instilled a mental toughness that carried me through my college and professional career. I probably would not have made it in the NFL for five years without that mental toughness
The most consistent thing learned is to demand effort & teach good fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. ALWAYS WORK ON FUNDAMENTALS!
How has your NFL playing experience influenced you as a coach and how have you seen it affect the kids you now coach? And how have you seen the college game change since you were in college?
As a former NFL Player, I took bits and pieces of what I learned from the coaches. I applied what I learned from them into teaching and coaching my players. I think they listen to me a bit more because I have reached that level and that is what many players want to achieve after their college career is over.
I think the offensives today are more up tempo, wide spread then when I played. The game has much more television exposure then when I played also.
What made you sign with the Steelers? What sold you on the team?
I was a free agent at the time, and what sold me on the team was that they originally wanted me out of college. The Steelers was always one of my dream teams from the times I was a little kid.
How did you develop the long-snapping skills and was it frustrating for you not getting more playing time on offense as a tight end?
My senior in college was the first time I ever long snapped. Danny Ford was the Head Coach, and we needed a long-snapper. Almost everybody on the team had to try out for it. He told me to, “Pick up the ball and snap it.” That was the first time I had ever done it in my life. I learned quickly in the NFL the more skills you had, the longer you hang around the NFL and the more marketable you will be.
If anyone ever asked, I was a tight end who could long snap. I was always a team player. However I could help the team I was willing to do it, and that skill helped the team.
Who on the Steelers team helped mentor you and help you adjust to the team culture? How did they do so? Any examples?
My mentor with the Steelers was Jonathan “Hawk” Hayes. He was a long time veteran and took me under his wings. He taught me the ins and outs of the City, the Steelers and the NFL.
When you were with the Steelers they made it deep into the playoffs the two seasons you were on the team. How did the team and coaching staff handle getting so close but not quite making it to the Super Bowl?
No one liked the fact that we didn’t’ make the Super Bowl. That is the ultimate goal in the NFL. To get to the AFC Championship game and lose to a team (Denver Broncos) who we had beaten earlier that year was a very frustrating experience.
Who were the leaders on the Steeler teams you played for and how did they assert themselves as leaders? Any examples?
Dermontti Dawson , Greg Lloyd, Rod Woodson and Jerome Bettis were just a few guys who were leaders on the team. They each worked hard everyday and led by example as well as vocally both on & off the field to encourage our team.
You ended playing for three teams and re-signed a few times over the course of your career. How difficult was that for you and what do you say to fans who see the sports as all “limelight and glory”?
NFL football is a business. I have spoken to many ex-players about this matter; and whether you are a rookie or a 12 year veteran, the vast majority of players don’t know if they are going to make the team or not each year. You have to go out and prove yourself daily. There is always someone looking to take your job; if not on your team, they can pick them up from anywhere.
Any examples of the hijinks/personalities?
I was usually the guy who kept things light in the locker room. I will keep most of those stories for myself. (LOL)
What are your favorite moments as a Steeler?
My first favorite moment was when I first arrived in Pittsburgh. It was at night, and they picked me up from the airport and brought me into the city. We came through the Mt. Washington Tunnel and that was when I first saw the city of Pittsburgh all lit up and shining on the three rivers. It was pretty impressive.
My second was every game I played in Three Rivers Stadium with the terrible towels and the great fans of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh fans are the best in the world!
Third, I made some great friendships in Pittsburgh, and I am thankful for those lasting relationships.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh.