"He's a Quip." If you're from Western Pennsylvania, you probably love football, and if you love Western Pennsylvania football, you understand what it means to be a Quip.
Officially, they're known as the Aliquippa Fighting Quips, and over the years they have combined for 700 victories, 15 WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League) championships, and two PIAA State Championships – which is deceiving because the Commonwealth only started playing those in 1986.
Mike Ditka knows what it means to be a Quip. So does Ty Law. Sean Gilbert and Darelle Revis, too. Jonathan Baldwin and Tommie Campbell are part of the younger generation. But Richard Mann? He's old-school. Played on the Quips' 1964 WPIAL Championship team. Coached there from 1970-74. Being a Quip is part of who Richard Mann is, and that is a compliment.
Richard Mann also is the Steelers new wide receivers coach, and he comes here with 28 years of NFL coaching experience, most recently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002-09. In 2009, Mann also served as the Buccaneers' assistant head coach. Mann and Mike Tomlin were both Buccaneers assistants when the franchise won its only Super Bowl, after the 2002 season.
Shortly after being hired by the Steelers, Mann took some time to discuss a range of topics.
Q. When you assemble the receivers for the first time, what message will you try to get across to them?
A. When I start, I try to give them a feeling for who I am and what I'm all about. We'll get to know each other, we'll have an open forum to talk. I'll tell them what I expect from them and what they can expect from me. We're all accountable. I'll tell them about some of my pet peeves. I don't try to force anything on anybody, but anything I will teach them I know it will work because I've done it before. If there's something the room wants to do, as long as it doesn't interfere with what Todd Haley wants, we can do it. They can coach me up. That's the kind of person I am. I have learned over the years that I don't just coach the starters, I coach everybody in that room, so when it's time to play we don't have to start all over.
Q. You said you will tell them what you're about. Can you explain that?
A. I've been coaching a long time, and I'm a fundamental technique guy. If I'm teaching something, I have a lot of tape from over the years of different guys doing the same thing so I know it works. The bottom line is if the player has good fundamental technique, along with his athletic ability, he can be a productive player.
Q. For a wide receiver to have a good game, in your eyes what would he have done?
A. If he's not getting the ball, he's staying busy in the other aspect of the game, which is blocking. We do it all – we block and we catch. That's part of what I've always preached, that we are not just good receivers but we're also good blockers. Pittsburgh has been famous over the years, and I can tell you that I grew up as a Pittsburgh fan deep down inside and I always have been, but over the years Pittsburgh is famous for running the football. If you're going to be a good running football team, then your wideouts have to block the perimeter. It doesn't have to be us knocking people out or knocking people down. What we have to do is be accountable and trustworthy and do what we're supposed to do.
Q. Are the receivers involved in protecting the quarterback?
A. We protect Ben in that if he throws a pass that ain't perfect, and if we can't get it the other guy doesn't get it. He's got to have confidence that he can anticipate throws, and if some of them are off maybe because he got pressure and had to let it go early and the ball's not perfect, he's got to trust that one of us down the field will take care of it.
Q. What do you think of this group of wide receivers?
A. I think the guys are good players from what I've seen on the cut-ups. I've talked to every receiver on the roster, because that's part of what I do. If I haven't met them, I've talked to them. The ones where I left voice mails or texted, they have gotten back to me. I think we have a good group, and hopefully we'll add another one either through free agency or the draft. It doesn't matter who I got. Whoever I got that's who I'm going to coach. The bottom line is if you put time in, you'll be very happy with me. A good receiving corps is worth its weight in gold to a coach, if you put your time in. As the coach, I have to get them to play. That's what I've always been told. With that said, within the room, I work hard. We'll work hard at looking at the tape to give them some insight into how the opponent plays, we'll teach them the coverages, we'll go over all the rules so we don't make mistakes because that's one thing we're big on. I'll put the time in, and if they see me putting the time in, they'll put the time in. All players, if they believe what you're teaching them will make them better, they'll buy into it. I've always thought that. I can't make them do what I want them to do. I can only ask them, and then try to convince them that this is the way do it. I convince them by showing them the tape and how the same technique has worked against the same coverages, and what you see is what you get.
Q. When you're looking at statistics after the game, besides the final score what statistics are important to you in assessing how your guys played?
A. The bottom line is if we win, we're not making mental errors and we're doing what we practiced. We're doing what we practiced, we're not making mental errors, we have an opportunity to make plays we make them. Anybody can drop a ball, but I hope you'll catch more than you drop. If you're having problems catching, then we try to come up with something to make that better – doing drills or spend a little time after practice. During the course of a week, maybe some receivers don't catch a lot of balls because everybody can't be getting all the balls all the time, so we things after practice, before practice, to sharpen our tools. I'm an old-school coach. I teach. If you do in the game what you practice, the game is a lot easier than practice.
Q. You mentioned yourself as old-school, but do you find that wide receivers are the divas of their teams in the NFL?
A. I coach everybody. I've had some experience where I've been accused of just coaching the starters, and I don't think that's right. I didn't agree with it, and I told the person who said that to me that it would never happen again. That was years ago, and it has never happened to me again. I coach everybody. Everybody has got to do his job. Whatever your role is, that is what you have to be held accountable for. My accountability comes with everybody in the room. I should be accountable to everybody, and that's the way I coach. I always have.