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Steelers Interviews

Interview with Former Steelers Tackle Ryan Harris

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Ron talked with former Steelers and Broncos tackle Ryan Harris. Harris won a Super Bowl in Denver before signing with the Steelers in 2016. Five weeks into the season, Harris was diagnosed with a shin injury which turned into an infection that nearly required amputating his leg, forcing him to miss the season. He retired the next year.

First, can you tell me what you’ve been doing since your time in the NFL?

Well, now that I’m retired officially, I’ve been in to real estate, broadcasting, and doing a lot of speaking.

I’m doing sports talk radio in Denver and doing Notre Dame radio broadcasts. I’m also doing work for the local TV station in Denver – handling post-game work for CBS.

My speaking work is on leadership and team-building, based on my experiences in the NFL.

How hard was the post-NFL transition for you?

For me, I remember when Coach Kubiak once said that the guys who are successful in their post-NFL transitions are the ones who jump into something quickly. So my first and second years, I just said yes to everything. I had to change what I was used to doing. Before I would say no to a lot. To tickets, distractions.

It’s also a total loss of identity. The biggest loss was of my schedule. I knew as a player what people were doing every day. We’d talk during the day. I knew I could see guys Monday night because we had Monday nights off.  So that was hard. I had to find what was important to me. Being a part of the community. Being a dad and a husband. I took time  with my wife and we built out our next steps. My family sacrificed for 10 years – we moved 18 times over five years. So my family was my priority now. So we made sure to settle down and re-prioritize things. I had a teammate that took his own life. That all impacted my decisions.

Your last season in the NFL was in Pittsburgh. Why did you go to the Steelers in free agency?

They called my agent right after I became a free agent and gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I just thought Pittsburgh was my best chance at winning a Super Bowl. After we played them the prior year I knew it was a good team. I wanted the chance to play for a storied franchise that helped shape the entire culture of the NFL. Joe Greene, the Rooney Rule. It was a team that constantly rose to the occasion. It was a chance to win a Super Bowl there.

Did anyone help take you under their wing when you got there? Even as a vet – you were still on a new team and new city.

The offensive line room was a great room. Munchak was great to play for, and Foster and Wallace were so welcoming. As a father of two I just needed a place to live and to know where to find the grocery store. Other than that I was there to win a championship.

Tomlin – he was the best leader I ever had as a head coach. I was a vet – I had been in the NFL for 10 years. But I still needed to earn the respect from the team.

What do you remember most from you time in Pittsburgh?

Outside of almost losing my leg below my knee. … It was the most competitive team locker room I played in. Tomlin had unbelievable talent at every position and created a competitive mentality in every player. From the front office to the players – it was in every part of the program. It makes sense why they win. No one was more important than anyone else. The team takes on the spirit of the city – the blue collar idea that no one is more important than anyone else and hard wok paid off. Tomlin used to talk about combat catches. That you couldn’t count on the refs – you had to make catches under duress. Blocks too. He had high expectations and knows what it takes to get there.

With that in mind – any thoughts on what had been going on with the Steelers and their offseason, knowing how Tomlin approaches leadership and the locker room?

Well, I wasn’t there for two years of course. There were clearly some issues with communication and production – I don’t know. Not making the playoffs certainly isn’t the standard.

There are always stories – issues with relationships we don’t see. That’s why fans are fans and media is media. They aren’t on the inside. I can’t tell you what’s going on there now. But I can tell you from my time there there was never a clearer communicator in the NFL than Tomlin. He builds trust and respect from players you can’t just command without being a good leader and communicator.

I remember going to Pamela’s to for breakfast – they had delicious pancakes. It was so crazy for me, going from being in the huddle with Peyton Manning then to Ben Roethlisberger. It was amazing to be in that competitive atmosphere.

The offensive line used to get together every week. That was a welcome surprise. Talking to Alejandro Villinueva about Islam – religion and politics – having those great conversations. It was a lot of adults who weren’t afraid to talk about tough things at difficult times. It was a fun environment to be in.

You played for one season in Pittsburgh before retiring. What happened and how difficult was that for you?

I almost came back just for Mike Munchak – and the offensive linemen were all so great. I had a bruise on my shin and when they drained it, it got infected. I went to the hospital, and after the Chiefs game the doctor told me I was a lucky man. The infection made it’s way to the bone but not into it. He said it would have been a much different conversation and one I wouldn’t like if it did.

All the guys came to see me – I was there for weeks. Some guys brought me food. Alejandro Villinueva sat with me and we talked the crap. It was a tough time but they all made it easier.

And that led to the retirement decision?

It made me think about what I was doing, I had two kids. I won a Super Bowl and had a successful career. I thought about how much longer I wanted to do this and realized it was time to move on. I wanted to play for 10 years. I didn’t want to be that guy that said he shouldn’t have played his last two years.

I had four surgeries – three of them on my back. I told my wife that i didn’t think I’d get injured like that. She told me she thought about it every day. I didn’t want to put my family through that anymore.

Mike Tomlin called me and had nice things to say when I let people know I was done. The team invited me back a number of times. I have to say the Steelers family thing is real. I couldn’t be happier with my decision to play there. I retired an old guy – I played for 10 years. I had some great success. But it was time to move on.

Ron Lippock is the author of Steelers Takeaways and has interviewed over 650 past and present Steelers players, coaches and personnel. You can purchase his book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Steelers-Takeaways-Memories-Through-Decades/dp/1681570076

Copyright © 2018 Pittsburgh Sports Now / Steelers Now. In no way affiliated with or endorsed by the Pittsburgh Steelers or NFL.

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