LATROBE, Pa. — As the Pittsburgh Steelers broke training camp Thursday, players were still deeply affected by the loss of assistant coach Darryl Drake, who died Sunday.
Wide receiver Ryan Switzer got emotional when speaking fondly of his position coach.
“I’m a better man, I’m a better husband, I’m a better son, I’m a better friend, I’m a better teammate because of coach Drake and because of the things that he taught me,” Switzer told a group of reporters at Saint Vincent College. “I promise you, they won’t go in vain. I’ll take the things that he instilled in me and the things that he shared with me from his experiences the rest of my life. And I think that’s the best gift that he could’ve ever given me. “
Switzer had to pause a few times during his remembrance of Drake, who called his receivers his ‘sons’ since he had daughters but no boys of his own.
JuJu Smith-Schuster and other receivers declined comment this week, perhaps not ready to speak on an emotional matter.
Coach Mike Tomlin, who cancelled two practices and ordered grief counselors for his players and staff, said coaching was simply a platform for Drake’s “ministry,” a deep desire to affect people’s lives. The long-time receivers coach worked with the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals before Tomlin hired him in 2018. Tomlin said Tuesday the entire team is “devastated” but intended to “march on.”
Thursday’s practice ended abruptly due to weather, but afterward quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shared with reporters the impact the coach had on him. Roethlisberger and Drake were often spotted chatting at length during breaks in practice action.
“I only knew him for a year and a half, but I think in that year and a half he meant more to me than some people I’ve known my whole life,” Roethlisberger said, according to Steelers.com. “I know he was an amazing football coach but he was an even better man, better husband, better father and a better man of God than he was a football coach. What he brought to this team and to me and our relationship together was truly something that can never be replicated. He will be very dearly missed but we know that he’s with us and he’s in a better place.”
Drake would want the Steelers to shift their attention to football and brotherhood, said Switzer, who admits Drake wouldn’t be happy that he’s taking the loss so hard.
“As long as we keep Drake’s legacy alive, it’ll be part of our story [in 2019],” Switzer said. “So, you can’t get through it alone, and that’s something that us as a receiver room have been preaching. We’ve been trying to stay together, and if each one of us can just be a little bit strong, then collectively as a group, we can be stronger together.”