Our Ron Lippock caught up with former Steelers cornerback Randy Fuller, who played for the Steelers from 1995 to 1997 and played in Super Bowl XXX.
First, can you let us know what you’ve been doing with yourself lately?
I’m still in the biggest highs of my life, raising my family, My son is a junior in high school, playing varsity soccer. My daughter is in sixth grade and plays tennis. My wife is doing great with her job. I’m still doing my job full-time, and that allows me to save lives every day.
I help people get treatment. I work at a residential treatment center. People recovering from PTSD, addictions, and mental health issues. They come to my facility for recovery. I love being a resource for them.
What brought you to that career and how hard was it to find that next thing?
It was hard. I had to find my post-NFL purpose. It was hard finding what to be doing next. Mental health really found me. I was happy it did so. I had a friend I played with at Tennessee State who worked at the Vanderbilt Psychological Hospital. He told me he had a job he thought I would be great at. I told him to call me if there was an opening and he did. I interviewed and got the job and have never looked back.
Tell me how you found yourself in Pittsburgh your second season?
I remember before the draft I interviewed with the Steelers at the Senior Bowl and combine. It was my favorite team and after those interviews I just knew I’d be a Steeler. It was my childhood favorite team and I thought I’d get drafted by them. I thought that was going to be the case. Well, it wasn’t the case! Denver drafted me instead.
I was indebted to Denver for the opportunity. I played 10 games as a rookie. But they fired the coaching staff and the new staff brought in its own defense and players. Guys got pushed down the depth chart. I was the fourth or fifth cornerback. But I had played safety some in college and I ended up being the second string safety. I got hurt in preseason though and was one of the last cuts. They let me go and I ended up spending the first two games at home. I had two workouts with the Vikings and the Jets but neither hired me. I told my agent I needed a week to get better. After that my agent called me and told me to pack my bags, you’re going to Pittsburgh, I couldn’t believe it. I kept praying and couldn’t stop stretching every five minutes. This is what I was waiting for, This was after Rod Woodson tore his knee. This is what I was waiting for. I joked that I took Woodson’s spot from him!
How did that first year go?
I was a backup corner and started on special teams. I was learning the defense and practicing. That year we started 3-4. Cowher got all of the players in a room and had an in-depth conversation. He told us what we had to do and what changes he was making. One of those changes allowed me to play more on defense – on third downs.
What changes specifically?
Personnel changes really. Cowher challenged guys to refocus and remember why they were there. The team made it to the AFC Championship the year before. It had the talent. We just needed to focus and make some personnel changes. We turned it around and made it to the Super Bowl.
Well, that’s a great segue to what happened last year in Pittsburgh with some player issues.
It really is. I don’t watch every game but I keep up with what’s going on. I don’t know the team but the successful teams I played for had strong leadership.
From players or coaches?
The players. Definitely the players. Coaches are often figureheads. They put their schedules and agendas out there and give the pep talks, but each player has to decide how hard they want to play and if they are mentally tough enough to compete.
When you see busted coverages, that’s players not doing their assignments. We had elaborate blitz schemes in Pittsburgh. We’d have our inside linebackers cross and blitz the A-gap. If the safety didn’t drop down it’s an easy pass over the middle. We prided ourselves in not making those big mistakes and not letting up big plays.
Do simplified schemes help when those mistakes continue to occur?
I’ve seen simpler schemes and guys still blow coverages. Simpler can be good but you don’t want to be predictable, so teams can do what they want to do. There’s always a play to beat any scheme. You have to be fundamentally sound. It irks me seeing guys running free, no one even in their territory. That’s bad football. You win by not giving up big plays and not turning the ball over.
How did you manage to be that fundamentally sound player? Who helped mentor you?
I walked into a veteran group. I told people I thought I was a great athlete until I got to the NFL. Then I realized I was just a good football player.
Woodson, [Carnell] Lake, [Chris] Oldham, [Darren] Perry, they were very good players. Woodson a Hall of Fame player. They embraced me. They didn’t have to say much. I just looked at their work ethic. They just plugged me into a well-run system and I did what they asked me to do and allowed my mental toughness to help.
Any fun stories you can share of your time in Pittsburgh?
Ha! All I can say is that we were a very confident group. We knew what we were capable of doing. We joked that we spent so much time practicing touchdown celebrations and dances. We had some of the most elaborate schemes I’ve ever seen for celebrations, even though 90% of us would never score a touchdown!
[Running backs Fred] McAfee, [Eric] Pegram, those guys stand out to me. They were my crew. We had fun when we played. You have to. It’s a serious business but we had the most fun I’ve ever had playing football. It was a great group. We’d dunk on each other in the locker room. We all though we were basketball players too!
Along with communication. there are also distractions teams have to contend with, like the Steelers have now. How did the teams you were on handle those?
Whenever we had distractions, I just thought, this was going to be a great year. We thrived on controversy. We came together and it made us closer. I really feel like that’s the situation here, It’s not a bad team. You can have distractions, as long as you don’t let them overtake you.
How do you manage that?
It’s leadership and supporting each other. I don’t think people there don’t have the best intentions. It’s a collective effort. When I was in Pittsburgh I felt close to the front office, the coaches all the way down through the organization. When I left home to go to the team, I felt like I was going to my second home. We embraced and supported each other. I think with this team needs that. It just takes one win to get them back on track. Winning fixes so many problems.