Our Ron Lippock spoke with former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis about his time in Pittsburgh, leaving for New Orleans in free agency and how he thinks the game is changing today.
First, can you let me know a bit about what you’re doing with yourself now?
Well, I’m just trying to stay alive, really. I’m in the process of taking care of my kids. I had my daughter when I was in Pittsburgh and now I have a son too. I’m just raising my kids and trying to be the best parent – the best father I can be.
I’m also doing some work with the youth here in New Orleans. There’s a lot of problems and negativity here. It’s my job to give back to the community. I’m a high school coach and help with youth camps, and have my own youth camp as well. I also have the Keenan Lewis Foundation which helps kids in the community.
Let’s talk draft. Were you surprised the Steelers drafted you? What did you think?
I wasn’t surprised. I worked extra hard to get to that point and it was an opportunity and a blessing to be drafted by one of the best franchises in the NFL. I was honored they had faith in me to be part of their organization.
Who helped mentor you as a rookie and helped how you the ropes there?
It was a little bit of everybody really. Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark – the New Orleans guys helped me. They opened their doors to me, Hampton, Willie Gay, Polamalu – they were all there for me. It was a big family.
How did they help you most?
They showed me how to be a true professional, You don’t get much of an opportunity to adjust. They showed me that I needed to be on time and on schedule. The older guys would stay late and watch film. That helped me to learn discipline. It helped extend my career to New Orleans.
Tell me about that. How hard was it to leave in free agency to New Orleans and what drove the decision?
It was a tough process. I appreciated the Steelers – they drafted me and I found guys there that I liked to stick around with. I established myself there. I was involved in the community and the Pittsburgh way of living. To the 412.
There was only one team that made the decision difficult – New Orleans. I was from New Orleans and it was always a dream of mine to play there. I had the opportunity to fulfill a dream. Still, it wasn’t easy. I was there for four years. They taught me how to play there. It was tough leaving.
Any fun stories of your time in Pittsburgh?
Hines used to play pranks on the media guys and young guys. He’d make guys look at blades of grass and throw dirt at them. It was cool to see a veteran guy still playing pranks.
They would always ask me to go get Popeyes for the guys. I always made excuses about not being able to get it because I got tired of doing it. I didn’t tell them I lived right near it!
You mentioned earlier that you were coaching some in high school. What lessons do you find yourself thinking about now as you coach?
LeBeau and Tomlin emphasized a lot that everything you do is on tape. That’s your resume. I didn’t understand that until I hit free agency, Sitting there watching other coaches watch your tape was tough. it made me realize why it was so important to go 100 miles-per-hour every play. Every play was important. They’d criticize everything you did wrong. I don’t understand why they’d do that – I guess for contract negotiations. They’d go back over all of your weaknesses. I guess it’s just part of the negotiations.
I’m sure you watch this current Steelers team, What do you think is causing the Steelers struggles on defense?
They need to get back to the old Steelers way of playing football. Smash mouth and hit everyone as hard as they can. We had guys like Farrior, Harrison, Keisel, Ike, Troy, Ryan. Those were the guys before them. They have to understand what Steelers football is. How they played then. How to play physical and tougher.
I had to learn early. I didn’t get it. I was stuck on the Keenan Lewis way of doing things. I had to learn to be more physical and outwork the opponent. There’s a tradition you need to take pride in. Putting on the Black and Yellow is an honor. The emblem means a lot. There’s a real meaning behind it. I don’t think a lot of these younger guys get it. I used to watch tape of Mel Blount and Carnell Lake to understand that better. To get a real idea of what Steelers football was.
How was it different in New Orleans?
It was very different. I had to be a leader there. The legacy there wasn’t as strong as it was in Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh I would sit in meetings with Hall of Fame and All Pro players like Troy Polamalu. I had to now be ready for that task. I always was the best player on my team until I got to Pittsburgh. Then I was at the bottom of the chart. I had to create a name for myself and be more of a leader when I got to New Orleans.
Lastly – do you like the way the NFL has changed since you played?
I like the way it’s headed. I don’t think it’s been that big of a change, really. I just don’t think a lot of the young guys get it now. They don’t understand now that it’s an honor to be a part of the game. They need to stop worrying about the media and that other stuff. Guys like me – I wish I had a longer opportunity to play. My career was cut short by injury. I don’t think they see how lucky they are to play the game today. I’m not seeing that anymore.