Nick Eason, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 2007-2010
First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career plans. Tell us how and why you get started as a coach and how Tennessee differs from other organizations you’ve been involved with?
I just really retired – my last year playing was 2013 – hasn’t even been a complete year yet. I saw an opportunity to sign up for the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Program and applied to three teams – Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Cleveland. I was excited to be selected by Cleveland and in August I was brought in for two weeks, I’m the type of guy that will give you my all and work hard – go above and beyond. I worked hard and was computer savvy too – I could draw up the plays on the software they used and they liked that. They asked me to stay another two weeks after the first two weeks of the program ended. I helped coach the defensive line and the other defensive coaches. It was a great learning experience.
I’m so thankful for that opportunity. I was scheduled t0 leave at the end of the season – the internship was over. So I went home for a few weeks and was trying to figure out what to do next when I got a call from Ken Wisenhunt in Tennessee. I had a good relationship with him – I played for him in Arizona and Pittsburgh. He called me up and asked if I’d be interested in coaching there and the rest is history. I’m an assistant coach here and I’m loving it.
What coaches and coaching lessons have stuck with you now as a coach and influenced your coaching style – and why?
You know, it’s everyone. I tell the guys here that want to be a coach someday that it’s not just about the work you put in on the field. It’s your preparation in the classroom, the evaluations and paperwork you need to do for scouts and general managers. And its even the computer knowledge and skills – to be able to do it all.
And I’m a good motivator too. I know the right things to say to get people going.
You signed with the Steelers as a free agent in 2007 after a year in Denver and two in Cleveland. What made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh – especially as they had a deep defensive line corps with Smith, Hampton, Kirschke, Hoke, and Keisel?
When I came to Pittsburgh from Cleveland it was after three tough years in Cleveland. It was an honor to come to Pittsburgh and play for four years. I was excited when I got the call – I knew I wanted to be there before I even got there. I knew the history and when I got the call I knew I wanted to be there.
Any good-natured grief from players, having signed from division rival Cleveland?
Just from the fans in Cleveland when I returned. they weren’t nice, those greetings when I went back. They fans would call me names from the stands…. But it changed my life. The opportunity to play and win a Super Bowl, the great relationships with the players and fans….I’m still close to a lot of those players still.
How hard was the adjustment to the 3-4 for you?
It wasn’t that hard to adjust to the 3-4. I was a student of the game and it was all bout technique. I was athletic and smart enough to adjust. Denver and in college, I played in a 4-3, but if you love the game and study and work hard, if you’re a professional, you adjust.
Who on the Steelers team helped mentor you and help you adjust to the Steelers “way of doing things” and the city? And how hard was the adjustment for you?
I learned so much from all of those guys on the defensive line – Kirschke, Hoke, Casey Hampton, Keisel, Aaron Smith…. We were all brothers. Accountability was the big thing – they just elevated my game watching them play and seeing those guys handle their responsibilities on the field, taking on gaps and being where they were supposed to be, Defensive Line Coach John Mitchell taught the simple things – technique, and unselfish play. I never wanted to let those guys down – I knew I had to be on my gaps like they were.
All those guys were like brothers. They all took me in and showed me the Steelers way.
That was Pittsburgh’s first year under new coach Mike Tomlin. From your vantage point as a new player, how did you see the team adjusting to the new coach – how did the players adapt and what was his approach?
It was different I could tell, but I didn’t know any different since I wasn’t there before. Everyone loved Mike. He did things Mike’s way. It was his time. It took some adjusting for some guys. One coach does things one way and then another does it his own way. Both ways make sense you just need time to adjust to the new way.
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/personalities?
You’re talking to one of them! I had a good impersonation of Dick LeBeau. He liked it too. He could attest to that. I did it during training camp – all would be quiet and listen to me do my thing. I’d do it on the bus too, would take the microphone and do my thing…
All the defensive backs had personalities too – Taylor, McFadden, Gay, Troy, Madison…..Defensive backs always do….
You left in free agency for Arizona in 2011 . How hard was that for you to leave and what was the culture like in Arizona, given that there were so many ex-Steelers on the roster then?
It was tough to leave. I had success there but it was time to move on. It was difficult being in a new environment – but back then Arizona was known as Pittsburgh West. Wisenhunt, Haggans I was friendly with, Porter – I knew those guys pretty well. It made the adjustment easier but it was tough to leave Pittsburgh.
But you know, you can go anywhere and succeed if you go to the right place .Teams that are successful are the ones that have those winning characteristics. Teams you know are consistent. And I felt Wisenhunt was doing a great job in Arizona turning things around. I was excited to be a part of his defense and turn it around there. We struggled that first season, but we did well afterwards.
What are your favorite moments as a Steeler?
I think my best moment was at halftime, being down 24-7 to Baltimore in the playoffs. I knew we were going to win that game. I trusted our offense and knew we could win. To win the game and go to the Super Bowl was terrific. We knew we could win – we had that confidence.