Nobody wanted Mike Munchak to leave. Not Steelers President Art Rooney II. Not Coach Mike Tomlin. Not any of the offensive linemen. Not any of the other players in the team’s locker room, and certainly not any of the team’s fans. But Munchak made a decision, one that was more about family than business, and the Steelers found themselves in the spot of needing of a new offensive line coach.
By all accounts, it wasn’t a difficult decision, and once the announcement was made on who would replace Munchak as the coach of the Steelers offensive line, it became clear that Shaun Sarrett had gotten the job the old-fashioned way. He earned it.
“I was so happy for him,” Maurkice Pouncey told Missi Matthews in Orlando where he’s part of the AFC team getting ready to play in the Pro Bowl on Sunday. “I’ve been with him for a long time now, and I know how much he cares and how much time he puts in every single week. He can get us a lot better, and with all of the new things that are going on in the NFL right now, I think he’s going to be perfect for the job.”
After a playing career during which he was a three-year letterman as a guard at Kent State, Sarrett started grinding his way through the bottom rungs of the coaching ranks. He started as the offensive and defensive line coach/co-strength coach at Streetsboro High School in Ohio in 2004. Then it was on to Marshall University in 2005, where he carried the Swiss Army knife title of Defense Quality Control/Graduate Assistant/Defensive Line Assistant.
Sarrett stayed at Marshall through the 2007 season, still as a do-whatever-was-asked member of the coaching staff, and then he moved to Duke in 2008 as the Blue Devils’ Offensive Quality Control/Offensive Line Assistant, where he got to work with Scottie Montgomery, then the school’s wide receivers coach. Two years later, Montgomery was hired by Tomlin to coach the Steelers’ wide receivers, and two years after that Tomlin was in need of an offensive assistant.
Once Sarrett got himself into the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for an interview, it became clear to Tomlin that he was qualified for the job.
“It was his quality control-like sensibilities at that time that got him in the building,” said Tomlin. “He was very skilled at all of the software used to break down video, and not only was he quick in terms of breaking games down but he was also extremely accurate. He came highly recommended. Scottie Montgomery, who was our wide receivers coach at the time, had a prior experience as a coach with him, and we had some other references. So really, that’s what got him in the building.”
Then Sarrett did the only thing he knew how to do. He went to work. No job was too small. No day was too short. He started early and stayed late, often times very early and very late. And because he was software-savvy and accurate in breaking down video, Sarrett was kept on beyond the typical two-year term for a Steelers’ offensive or defensive assistant.
“When Shaun first got here, he really had few on-field responsibilities. He was more of a coach’s aid, if you will,” said Tomlin. “Since then, he has displayed growth and development in terms of knowledge and abilities to teach, and he has been given assignments over time that have aided him in his growth. He became an assistant offensive line coach, and that was not only in title but also in responsibility. Those who have watched us closely know that he and Munch divided up a lot of the work, that Shaun works with all of the guys in terms of teaching and field development, and he has been doing that for some time. So I’m really comfortable in terms of that.
“Shaun also has had responsibilities in terms of addressing the group and teaching in a classroom setting, per that job description, so I’m also comfortable with his growth and development in that area. I believe that will an asset to him.”
It just so happened that when Sarrett came to the Steelers, his first work space was located in the offensive line’s meeting room, and during the time between then and now he was exposed to Sean Kugler, Jack Bicknell Jr., and then Munchak. During that time he saw the right way to do some things and undoubtedly the wrong way to do some things, and through it all he continued to grind.
The typical two-year term for an offensive assistant for the Steelers became six, and then shortly after the conclusion of the 2017 season Sarrett was given the title of assistant offensive line coach. Almost exactly one calendar year later, Sarrett was promoted following Munchak’s departure, and he now runs the meeting room in which he first began as the football version of a squatter.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Pouncey, who acted on his joy by reaching out to Sarrett to congratulate him even before Sarrett had a chance to inform his All-Pro center that he had gotten the job.
“He’s a guy who learned a lot from Coach Munchak. But first of all, he played football, and so he knows the ins and outs of it. He played offensive line, so he knows the grit of it, the pass protection and the run blocking and things like that. He’s really honed in on technique, and (when you’re) playing football on the offensive line, that’s the one thing you have to teach guys is being a technician and playing the game the right way. He has that, and I think he’s learned from one of the best – a guy who was a Hall of Fame player and obviously a Hall of Fame coach in my opinion. He has a lot to lean on, and we have a lot to look forward to with him being our offensive line coach.”
Even before he became the assistant offensive line coach, Sarrett had duties and responsibilities that went beyond those normally assigned to an offensive assistant. During training camp practices, and even into regular season practices, Munchak would split the offensive line into two smaller groups during individual drills. Munchak worked with one group, and Sarrett worked with the other group. By himself.
“Just how to be more of a technician,” said Pouncey when asked what Sarrett has taught him. “He’s really big on tape study and pushing the envelope on showing things about the guys you’re going against each week. He details his work a lot, and you can appreciate that when you’re playing – a guy who’s detailed and works his butt off for you, you see all the work that he’s putting into it, but you still have to go out on the field and perform. I think he’s the right guy to lead us in the right way.”
Added Tomlin, “Those of us who have been around Shaun understand what an easy move this is, to be quite honest with you. He’s hard-working and talented and deserving.”