When Tim Worley was drafted by the Steelers in 1989, the first-round pick brought with him a world of promise and a future in the NFL that looked bright. He was a first-team All-American his final season at the University of Georgia, and was the UPI SEC Offensive Player of the Year. He finished his Georgia career with 2,038 yards and 27 touchdowns, numbers many thought would translate into a long and prosperous NFL career.
Worley had a strong rookie season, rushing for 770 yards and five touchdowns. But that would be his best season. He rushed for only 418 yards his second season, battled injuries the next year and the following year the lifestyle he was leading caught up to him as things took a bad turn when he was suspended by the NFL. Worley ended up coming back to the Steelers after the suspension, but was later traded to the Chicago Bears and retired after the 1994 season.
His life has taken plenty of twists and turns since he hung up his cleats, but the latest path he is on is one that he takes pride in, serving as a motivational speaker through Worley Global Enterprises. He knows he has made mistakes in his life, but instead of letting them hold him back, he is moving forward in a positive direction.
Worley recently took time out to talk about a wide variety of topics, from his on-field play to his off-field problems, and opened up about what life has been like for him.
You grew up a Steelers fan. What did it mean to you to be drafted by the team?
It meant the world to me. It was a dream come true. My mother and I were the Steelers fans in my family. My mother was always a huge supporter of Mean Joe Greene. She actually got to meet him in 1989 when she came up for a game. It was so off this planet when it happened, when I was drafted. I think I stayed in the party too much, though.
You did have a good rookie year. Was that season about just going out and playing football?
I was just excited about playing. I had to make my adjustment to the next level, to the speed of the game. It was more of a mental thing. I did perform well my rookie year.
It was the adjustment to everything that got me. I was so used to being a part of something that I just didn’t get it deep down in my heart. I had my own house in the city, I lived by myself. I wasn’t going back to the dorm with my teammates. I had to make that transition. I was always a part of a team and living with the guys. I realized I am an adult, a professional football player, in a big football city, and I have to pick up the pace and do this the right way. There was a lot of fear in there because of the pressure.
Was it overwhelming being a number one pick for a team you were a fan of?
It was overwhelming, but immediately after I got to Pittsburgh and got settled in the overwhelming part started to fade and I was in reality and knew this is a job and I need to be at my best. At the same time the responsibilities that came with a first-round pick hit, a high profile athlete, a professional athlete, not just on the field but off the field too. I realized later that I wasn’t ready for that responsibility. I had all of the ability in the world but as far as being ready to be responsible with all of the things that came with that as far as character, I wasn’t ready and I am man enough to admit those things now.
Did the pressure get to you?
It puts a lot of weight on an individual’s shoulders. Coming into Pittsburgh they had struggled in the running game for a few seasons. I think picking a first-round running back you are going to expect a lot out of him immediately. That’s what happened. I ended up missing the majority of rookie camp before I came into training camp. I can remember the first regular season game against the Cleveland Browns and Chuck Noll put me in there and I fumbled three times. I was in good shape, but I wasn’t in football shape. I figured the only way I was going to learn was to get in there and make mistakes. That season ended up panning out pretty good. But the weight that was on my shoulders to be the best, to be that guy, coming from the fans, your teammates, the organization it was sort of heavy. Being as young as I was I didn’t know how to release that. In some areas I was able to, in some areas I stumbled.
Do you think having more offseason programs like they do now would have helped you?
I am so grateful that the young guys today have programs in place during the offseason to help them not just on the field, but off the field too. I was 22-years old when I came into the league and became an overnight millionaire so to speak. I didn’t come from money. I didn’t understand money. All I knew is if you had money, you could spend it. I am not pointing fingers; I blame myself for what went on. I didn’t understand. I had a lot of people around me that weren’t good for me. I believe the pressures I endured on and off the field it drove me into different areas that weren’t healthy for me. It was drug and alcohol abuse. I got caught up and into a place I couldn’t get out of. I pray to God today that every mistake I made is not in vain, because I learned from it. These are the things I teach today.
The people that weren’t good for you, were they around you because you played for the Steelers or people you brought from home?
Back then I didn’t understand what the meaning of friend was. I was such a passive person then. I wanted everyone to like me. I was the clown of the team, a jokester, the Eddie Murphy guy. That was my personality. I was damaging myself because I allowed people that weren’t good for me to hang around me. Those people brought along a lot of bad things. Don’t get me wrong…I made the choice to do a lot of those things. Nobody held me down and made me do anything. But you are the company that you keep. It’s the people that latch on and some were friends from the past I brought with me. I call it the vulture culture today. They didn’t love me. Not taking shots at anybody, but those weren’t friends. Now I have what I call best friends. Jesus is my best friend and outside of that, my wife is my best friend. Today that is how I live. I learned so much from it. I learned so much from my failures.
What kind of impact did Chuck Noll have on you?
Believe it or not Chuck Noll had a major impact on me. He epitomized hard work. I believe today you don’t see the type of strategy that Chuck Noll portrayed as far as our work habits, our practices. We went at it in practice. We went full speed in practice, hitting hard. In the games it was pretty simple to play because of that. Chuck Noll taught me a whole lot. He taught me toughness, patience, how to slow the game down and not just rely on my speed. He taught me about the mental part of the game. I have nothing but the utmost respect and honor for him. It was wonderful and amazing playing for the legend.
Chuck Noll was the guy who wanted to draft me. There was a statement made when I was in college that I reminded him of a young Jim Brown. When I heard that it blew my mind. When you hear these types of things, and I believe I had that much talent, but when your character doesn’t match your ability there are sabotage buttons all around you. Every time I felt like I was moving up the ladder, I would press the sabotage button because my character couldn’t handle the responsibility. That’s what happened.
What was it like to play for Bill Cowher as well?
There have been a lot of misunderstandings about what people think was the way I left Pittsburgh. When I left Pittsburgh, I asked to leave. One of the things Coach Cowher did was bring some players in to his office to meet us. He called me in and we talked about my career, the offense I was running before, having three different offensive coordinators in just three years. He said I know your style; I want to surround the offense around you. I want to give you the ball 35 times a game. I was excited. Coach Cowher was a player’s coach, he was on my side. He was a guy you could talk to. I loved him.
But when I got that good news, I got so excited I went out and pushed the sabotage button. That is what got me suspended for an entire year. That is when Barry Foster stepped in and he had an amazing season. He rushed for over 1,600 yards. That could have been me. Even after I was suspended, they brought me back and still kept the faith in me.
But I didn’t know how to handle it, sitting on the bench when I came back. I was a third running back. Barry Foster was first, Leroy Thompson second. One day Coach Cowher asked if I was frustrated. I told him yes, do you think you can shop me around to a team that needs a running back to come right in and play. He did that and I thank him for it. When it happened I was excited, but I was sad. I cried when I got on the plane and left Pittsburgh. Those guys left a huge impression on my life in a positive way.
Did you kick yourself that you pushed the sabotage button instead of being able to take on the challenge?
I kicked myself, I body-slammed myself. I punched myself in the eye a couple of times. What else, I crashed my motorcycle. I was basically sick. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I went through a season of wanting to die. God gave me the strength to get through it. I was able to get the treatment that I needed to figure out what was going on with me. When I was able to come back, I worked my butt off to get back in a Steelers uniform. I made it back. And when I came back we went to Barcelona in the preseason and I had a pretty good game. But at the same time when I came back, the sabotage button started to be hit again and I went back into that lifestyle, not using drugs but moving into that lifestyle again.
What was the low point of your career?
When the cocaine began to consume me and it began to affect my play. You saw it. I began to get in trouble, I got a DUI. I failed several drug tests and I was suspended for a whole year, I forfeited a season. Anybody would say if you did that, something is wrong. It made me take a look at myself. I thank God the NFL stepped in to help me to get treatment and see what the problem was. We find out it’s not just the addiction, it’s things that run deeper on the inside that pushes us towards those dangerous things. I found out I was a passive person, the way I felt about myself. Sports were an outlet for me in areas where I felt inadequate. I thought for a while my only identity was as an athlete. But that was a lie from the pits of hell. My lowest point, the embarrassment and the shame, is when I fell into depression, I failed a drug test. I got suspended, I was hiding. I didn’t want to see anybody. I felt like there were times I just wanted to die. I wanted to disappear. Those were my lowest points.
What was the highlight of your NFL career?
I would have to say my rookie year. I was excited. I had a ton of money in the bank. I was like a kid in a candy store. It was fun times. One of the things about me, you didn’t have to pay me to play football. Football was something I came into when I was 10 years old and I loved it. I figured if I had to be in school and go out there on the field and knock people in the mouth and not go to jail for it, I said I am all in. That is the craziness of football players. Nothing is like the high of the cheers you hear. Nothing can replace that. When I stepped away from the game I was trying to replace that high with other things. That high was from 75,000-80,000 people cheering and being on that pedestal for so many years. And then you retire when you are 29-years old and the cheering stops. I asked myself, what do I do now? To replace that high we find other things, drugs, things that are detrimental to us. The only thing that can replace any of that and fill that void and hole in your heart is Jesus and I had to search that out myself.
You spoke before of others having faith in you. At what point were you able to have faith in yourself?
I had to hit rock bottom. I went through so much when the new millennium hit. I got separated in 1999 and divorced in 2002. I hit rock bottom. I lost everything, all of my money, all of my possessions. I had to move back home with my parents, embarrassing, shame, depression. When I was going through all of this I was abusing alcohol, using drugs on occasion. In 2002 my oldest brother Rico passed away from an aneurism suddenly, just 40 years old. This happened while I am going through all the other stuff. You talk about being floored. I was thinking just take me now Lord. In 2004 by youngest brother Corey dropped dead of a heart attack in Walmart, just 34 years old.
I wanted to die. I wasn’t thinking about committing suicide, but I wanted to die. I was out of it. I was thinking what is left. I lost my two best buddies. You talk about pain. I had people badmouthing me, laughing at me, all because of my failures. Those were the same people clapping for me when I was successful.
Through that pain, the hurt, all of the things I went through, God always had a plan. He knew I was going to come through this. I started to connect with people, started to walk the narrow path. I slipped up some. But finally, finally…when I went to jail for 23 days in 2008 and when that happened I got on my knees and surrendered to God. Ever since that day my life has completely changed. Everything around me has changed, my friends, my language, I married the person I have always been in love with. We dated in 1988 and broke up and got back together in 2009. When I aligned myself with God he brought her into my life. He brought it because I live for him now.
What are you doing now?
I have been speaking for a lot of years but my wife and I started the company in 2009, Worley Global Enterprises in Huntsville, Alabama. We are a motivational speaking, leadership consulting corporation. I earn a living by running my mouth now. My wife Dee is an expert at what she does. It started slow, but things take time. My wife and I are a team. I don’t function right without her, and she doesn’t function right without me. We are perfecting our dance. We travel all over the place, speak to different organizations, corporations, churches, high schools, all type of stuff. I am also a spokesperson and mentor coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club of North Alabama. I am a busy man and I love it.
I try to tell young people my biggest fear used to be talking in front of people and now I love it. That is what I do and will continue to do until the day I die. I am excited about life. I am alive today. I have peace. I am living the life, the dream God put in me. I am getting better and better.
Is that important to you that you have learned from your mistakes and can share with others what you did wrong?
I truly believe that when you learn from your mistakes and you are able to reach back and help other individuals, it’s not in vain. We all make mistakes. I was very disappointed in how my career went because of my choices. I made a choice to get involved in certain things that were negative and bad for me and it caught up with me. I am pretty sure I could have played in the NFL for a long time but choices cut that short. I look back and thank God because all of the information, going to the school of hard knocks, I learned so much and I can reach back and talk to young people and adults. It allowed me to see the gift God gave me for speaking, and teaching. I have no regrets as far as my life, but I do look back and I tell myself you could have done a whole lot better in your football career. That is the mistake I made. I had to get through it.
After playing I went through years of depression, not wanting to have anything to do with football. I wanted to escape the whole athletic world. That’s how bad it had gotten it had taken a toll on me. Once I came to my senses, got the right people around me and surrendered my life to God, he showed me unbelievable grace and mercy.
How tough was it going through depression and not wanting to be around the game you once loved?
I know for a fact when I was abusing drugs that took that passion away from me. That’s one thing I tell young people today, whether you are drinking, doing drugs, or whatever, eventually it’s going to take your passion and that drug or lifestyle is going to become your passion. That’s where I was. The drugs and alcohol began to overwhelm me and took away my passion for the game. I took my foot off the gas. I was excited as a 22-year old, wide-eyed rookie when I came to Pittsburgh. But I made those bad choices. I just believe that you learn from your failures. I like talking to people who have been to hell and made it back. I have been to hell and I made it back only because the grace of God. It was nothing Tim did.
Are you able to watch football again? Do you still watch the Steelers play?
I do every opportunity that I get. I am a diehard Steelers supporter. I have always loved the Steelers. I love Coach (Mike) Tomlin and the staff and what they have been doing lately. I love the Pittsburgh Steelers.