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Barry Foster, Steelers Running Back, 1990-1994

August 31, 2014
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First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself these days, and how you got involved?

I’m here in Dallas, Texas – I’m a middle-school physical education teacher. I really like having the opportunity to work with younger athletes – to help influence them to stay fit physically and be competitive in whatever sport they choose.

What coaches and coaching lessons did you find yourself falling back on as a coach?

I had great coaches all throughout my time playing football. High school, college, and the NFL. I just wanted to have them me the best that their ability can give me. I have to remind myself that these aren’t high school or college kids. I have to be realistic in what they can and can’t do and help them to compete at the level they are at. Some never competed at an organized level before, so I’m just asking them to give me they best they can give.

You left school as a Junior to go pro – what drove that decision?

A couple reasons, really. The primary reason was that, as an inner-city kid, I needed the increase in money. I needed the economic benefit. I was in a single-parent household and wanted to help my mom. That was the driving force behind the decision. Also, my head coach, the one who recruited me, left for Clemson. The entire coaching staff was leaving and I knew the nee head coach and wasn’t fond of him. That helped my decision.

You were drafted by the Steelers in the 5th round in 1990. At the time Worley, Hoge and Williams were also on the roster. Were you worried then about playing time and getting carries? How did you finally break through and do so?

I didn’t worry about it. I didn’t see the Steelers drafting me – I thought it was going to be the Browns. They called me during the draft and said they were going to take me in round two – that was their first pick of the draft then – they didn’t have a first round pick that year. When they got up to the podium, they said fullback and I thought, there I was. But they selected Leroy Hoard from Michigan instead. I was shocked – they just told me they were going to take me. I was disappointed and left my dorm room. Three rounds later the Steelers called and took me. I didn’t know anything about who was on the roster – I just wanted to make the team.

How competitive was that group of running backs – were you close and helpful to one another or was it more competitive?

It was an extremely talented group. Remember, I was a fullback then. Hoge was a guy I looked at a lot to see what he was doing. Williams and Worley were there – Rodney Carter too. All brought different things. Worley was big and fast. Hoge was big and powerful. Carter could catch the ball well. I was just trying to find my opportunity. as a power running back.

All the guys were competitive though. there was only one guy that stopped to help me – Rodney Carter. He helped me personally – showed me how to understand the plays and practice better. Walton just came over that year as the new offensive coordinator from the Jets – so everyone was really learning his system. Carter showed me how to practice and run plays. he and Dick Hoak helped me the most – the other guys wanted to keep their jobs.

Dick was partial to Merrill Hoge. He really liked Merrill, but he was a professional and made sure we were all prepared.

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?

I was just on a Steelers cruise a few months back with Lloyd and Dawson talking about some of this. We had one of the best locker rooms you could ask for. Tons of guys that were funny, talented….Worley was great at impersonating people. McAfee was a trip. Gary Jones was funny. We all told jokes and made people laugh. It was understood – the unwritten rule was that no one was untouchable – if you did something stupid you would be laughed at, and if you did something good you’d be appreciated. No one was protected.

We had so many veterans. My locker was next to Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake – we all relied on the leadership on that team.

One thing I remember – Lloyd, me and Dawson talked about this. We had a game we started in the locker room. Trash can basketball. We’d take a ball of coaches tape and shoot baskets in the trash can. It started off as a couple guys – went to six or so then the whole team started playing it. Guys were losing money, getting very competitive…. It was just a great bonding experience.

In ’92 you took over as the starter and had a big season – including a huge total of over 425 times carrying the ball via rushes/receptions.  Did you feel at the time “overused”, and how do you feel having such a huge workload affected your career long-term?

No – I didn’t have any concerns – I didn’t feel overused. I had two years of ball under Noll and Walton in their tight end oriented offense. They had their favorites like Merrill – they wanted him to do everything at the time. Worley, Williams were there and we were all frustrated at not getting the ball.

In ’92 Ron Earhardt came in from the Giants – they just won Super Bowl under Parcells. He wanted to run the ball more. And remember, then I was still a fullback, but they gave me a shot. and I had success. So I wasn’t disappointed at being overused at all. I was happy I finally got the carries.

Why did they finally give you a shot at running back?

I think, from what I was told, when Cowher and Earhardt came in they were concerned about the position – it was thin then. Worley had been suspended, and the other guys showed some flashes but that was it. They just asked to take a look at me at running back. They were desperate more than anything I think. I had shown some glimpses before and they tried it. It was as much blind luck as anything.

’92 was also the year Coach Cowher took over for Coach Noll. How did the team handle that transition, and from your perspective, what were the biggest adjustments the team had to make due to the change, and how did it do so?

We were all ready for the change with Cowher, at least most of us. It took a while for a few people to get used to it. It’s just a sense I got. Chuck was  a great coach and did so many great things for the organization. But we felt like we needed to be more competitive  We finished third in the division behind Cincinnati and Houston. We had the talent, but no one liked the tight-end focused offense, except maybe {tight end} Eric Green. No one liked the plays. We’d get in the huddle and when a play was called we knew it wouldn’t work. It was too complicated.

When Bill came in, the first thing he did was unify the team. From the outside, you don’t see or understand it. We were a divided team. The practices were divided. It was always the offense versus the defense. When the offense messed up, the defense yelled at us, and we did the same when they messed up. Even the coaches. The defense had free reign to hit us in practice under Noll – even late. It was Noll’s way of trying to instill toughness in everyone. After Cowher came in, I remember one day in practice a receiver, I think it was Calloway, got crushed by Lloyd. Cowher blew the whistle and yelled at Lloyd. He brought all of us in then – had us all take a knee and told us we can’t do this. It brought the whole team together. From there we started getting it – that this was going to be different from what we were used to.

In ’94, you were traded to Carolina. How surprised were you over the trade, and how upset as well? What did the Steelers coaches/front office tell you about the trade?

I was surprised and disappointed, yeah. I saw the writing on the wall though. In the ’95 season I had a $2.5 million price tag and Bam Morris had a $500k price tag, and we had split carries in ’94 with the same output because of my injuries. So from just the yardage standpoint, we were the same. I thought I’d get one more year to help keep stability there and be kept one more year, but that didn’t happen. I wasn’t angry -just disappointed and surprised.

What advice would you give younger players today coming into the NFL with the same sort of skillsets you came into the league with? And why?

It’s hard to give advice now that the game has changed so much. I’d say just make sure you are the best teammate you can be, be committed to the team and enjoy your time. That’s in the end all you have. Enjoy every moment – enjoy the ride…

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