Will Wolford, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1996-1998
First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself these days?
I’m a stock broker at Morgan Stanley – that’s my real job. I manage some active and retired coaches’ and players’ money, but that’s not the bulk of my business by any means, I’ve always been interested ins tocks and bonds, Wall Street….sop I made that move in 2009.
And of course, you’re a coach as well. Can you let readers know how you got involved in coaching?
It was an easy fit. I retired in ’91 and moved back to my hometown. My real good friend was the head coach of a fifth and sixth grade team there so I was hired as the offensive and defensive coordinator. When he left, I took over as the head coach in 2001 after a year as the assistant coach. I coached for a couple more years at a high school where I used to play, but then left to do color commentary for the Colts. There was too much travel – it was too hard to coach doing that.
Then this job opened up – for the first time in thirty-one years at St. Xavier High – a very large Catholic high school here. We have over three-hundred players – over 20% of the school plays
How does having played hurt and help you now as a coach?
There are lots of parents who are very invested in their kids. So dealing with the parents can be a negative. You can’t just throw the kids in the pool and see who swims the fastest, or have them get on the mat and see who beats who, like in wrestling. It’s all very subjective as a football coach, and a lot of the parents don’t like those answers.
What coaches and coaching experiences from the NFL have you taken with you now as a coach?
I took a little from everyone. Coach Levy and Coach Cowher were night and day – had different styles. And Marchibroda was in the middle. Marv never cussed – he let his coaches coach. He always had lots of stories and was like a father-figure.
Coach Cowher was fiery. He wasn’t fun to work for as a coach but a great guy to play for. Marchibroda wore his heart on his sleeve.
You can’t be an actor as a coach. You have to have a reason to rip a player or praise them. Kids are too smart – they see right through you. You have to be true to your personality. When I’m upset, I’m upset. That was one thing about Cowher – he often got angry for the cameras, which isn’t good.
So, in ’96, you signed with the Steelers in free agency. What made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh?
It was an easy call. I was looking at that point to win – winning had everything to do with my decision. It wasn’t about money for me – the money was going to come. Pittsburgh gave ne the best chance to win. I turned down better offers from teams that weren’t as ready – that weren’t ready to win.
Who helped welcome you to the team and city – and how so?
From the beginning I bonded with Coach Cowher actually.. I played next to his college roommate in Buffalo and had a good feel for who he was. I was older so we had a good relationship.
Dermontti Dawson was so freakishly talented and the nicest guy. John Jackson was from Eastern Kentucky – so I had a lot in common with him. It’s easy as an offensive lineman to bind with each other. We’re not worried about getting the ball of making plays. We just want to be invisible and work well together.
Who were the leaders on the team at the time, and how did they do so?
Dawson was the leader on offense. Leaders have to be vocal at times. But not all the time. They need to lead by example and Dawson challenged everyone to work as hard as he did.
Lloyd was the leader on defense, then Kirkland took over. Lake and Woodson were potential Hall of Famers then – just great guys across the board.
Tell us a bit how humor played a part in the locker rooms you were in – and with whom?
Every locker room then had the phone jokes – shaving cream in the locker room phones so players would take calls and get shaving cream on them. Now all the phones are on their waists – I doubt the locker rooms even have phones now. I do remember one time in Buffalo, we stayed in a hotel during mini-camp and there was a gun and firearms show near us. I bought a pair of handcuffs and gave them to the weight coach and told them they were fakes. He put them on and actually cuffed himself. He was stuck there all day!
Jerry O (Olsavsky) – he was always late. His locker was next to mine. If the game started at 1:00, you were supposed to be there at 11:00 and on the field at 12:00. Jerry kind of did his own thing. He’d show up at 12:10 and didn’t tape up – would just get to the field at 12:15. He lived close by and I guess figured he could just drive in quickly and get started.
You retired in ’98. How hard was that for you and why did you do so?
In ’98 Cowher made me an offer to come back. I tore my pec muscle at the end of the season though and decided not to have surgery to fix it. If you’re not going to be a power lifter or play again you didn’t need the surgery. I think my passion and love for the game was tested at that point. When you can’t learn anything more about the profession and improve, it’s easier to walk away.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I loved living in Pittsburgh – I lived in Wexford and loved coming downtown. The fans were diehard but not so over the top that they made you feel uncomfortable, which could be the case in some cities. They were nice and respectful. This also was before the days of camera phones too.
I enjoyed playing for Bill Cowher. He had a top notch staff and we were real close. The play0off lose to Denver at home was tough. We were so close – and the team had so many class acts.