The loquacious former Steeler on his dual post-football career paths, pay-per-view conversations with coaches and why Troy Polamalu is named in his will
There was a point during the 2014 football season when Ike Taylor realized his 12th NFL season would be his last. The veteran cornerback officially announced his retirement in April, a few days after Troy Polamalu—his teammate since the Steelers drafted them both in 2003—did the same. So far, Taylor has found plenty to do in retirement: He’ll be a coaching intern with the Steelers through training camp, and last week, he attended the NFL’s Broadcast Boot Camp at NFL Films in New Jersey.
“I’m going to leave both of those doors open,” Taylor says of coaching and broadcasting, “and if I can go through both doors, I’m going to see if I can split my body in half.” In a conversation with The MMQB, Taylor had plenty to say about his transition to life after football, how much he loves Troy Polamalu and the man who will replace Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh, new defensive coordinator Keith Butler.
VRENTAS: Now that your NFL career is over, what appeals to you about sports broadcasting?
TAYLOR: About six years ago I really took interest in it. Just delivering information, really getting in depth with it. People think it’s just a walk in the park. The good guys make it look easy on TV, but when you sit down and talk to them, you understand it’s a lot of work. I’m talking about the James Browns, guys who have been doing it for 30-plus years, so there’s a reason why they are making it look easy. But it’s like any other job. You’ve got to be dedicated, you’ve got to be willing to put the work in, and on TV, you’ve got to know what you are talking about. What I have learned from this boot camp is that it’s all about credibility. Your name, your information is going to be as good or as bad as you make it, depending on the way you deliver it and the information you give out to people and fans.
VRENTAS: Are you currently exploring any broadcast opportunities for the 2015 season?
TAYLOR: I would love to. It’s just a matter of time and who wants me. It’s a long line waiting [for these jobs], and I’m sure they see guys come and go—so have I in the football world. It’s about the people who really want to dedicate and put the time into it, and I’m one of those guys. I’m one of those team guys, one of those selfless guys, so time will tell. I always believe timing is everything, so when the time is right, I’ll get my shot.
VRENTAS: What have the first few months of retirement felt like for you?
TAYLOR: My transition has been kind of smooth. During the season it will really show and tell for me on how I feel, because my body is so used to getting ready for training camp, and now that’s not happening anymore. But, mentally, last year when I got hurt [with a broken forearm], I kind of prepared myself during the season on whether I wanted to play or not. And what determined that was my young guys: the Antwon Blakes, the William Gays, the Brice McCains, the Cortez Allens. When I enjoyed seeing them getting better as men and as players on the field more than me actually going back out there and playing, I knew it was time to hang the cleats up. Then once Troy [Polamalu] made it official, I kind of made it official, too, because we came in together. I look at it like, we come in together, and we’re leaving together. But when it got to that point during the season, my mind was already kind of made up. Guys are retiring now in the offseason because they have had a few months to think about it, and I’m sure it’s hard. I had a jumpstart on those guys because I was kind of thinking about that during the season. It just hit me. I wasn’t thinking about it, and then all of sudden, it was like, “Man, I’m done.” Everybody said, “You’ve got two at least, three more good years.” Nah, I understand what you are all saying, but I’m done. And I’m sure a lot of people thought I was playing until they actually saw that announcement, and they realized, damn, he’s for real.
That transition, I see for a lot of guys, is hard, because you are not the man anymore. You’re not on the pedestal anymore. There are no more VIP services. So I see why a lot of guys can’t make that transition. But I’ve never been The Man. From my standpoint, if you just ask guys who have played with Troy—who is a future Hall of Famer—he was Michael Jackson and we were The Jackson 5. We knew our role. We knew how special of a guy he was, so we understood that. When you’ve got guys who can put their egos aside, and they just so happen to be pro athletes, it makes it easier for their transition when you step out of the league. That’s why my transition has been kind of easy. My son and my lady, spending time with my family, that’s the joy I get every day.
VRENTAS: You take a lot of pride in having only played for one NFL franchise. Now that you are retired, have you had the chance to reflect on how rare that is?
TAYLOR: Just listening to other guys on other teams, now I really appreciate that. At the time, that was just my loyalty. If I have a weakness, loyalty is my weakness. Once I am loyal to something or someone, I’m 10 toes in regardless of what the situation is. I had veteran guys when I was a rookie tell me, “Ike, the grass ain’t always greener. You’re going to have some contract situations where you’ll probably get paid more if you go somewhere else. But one thing you can have here with the Pittsburgh Steelers is stability.” And if you look at life in general, the heck with football, if you can just have some stability in life, it’s going to take you a long way. I’m glad I did stay for 12 years in Pittsburgh. I had two opportunities to leave. Two. My contract in 2006, and my contract in 2010. And I’m so glad I didn’t.
VRENTAS: You have been back working with the Steelers’ secondary during OTAs as a coaching intern. What has that been like?
TAYLOR: Passion. I’m in the game, but I’m not in the game. I thank Coach T [Mike Tomlin] because he doesn’t have to say, “Yeah Ike, you can come back and intern.” He could tell me no. But he knows what I bring. I’m a personable person. I get along with everybody. I’ve always been a team guy. I don’t mind starting from the bottom and working my way up. I understand the process. But my thing is, if I can help one guy on that team—just one guy, and it doesn’t even have to be my position—make that transition from college, or make that transition from being a good player to a great player, on and off the field, that’s my joy right there.
VRENTAS: How do you coach players to make that transition?
TAYLOR: Some guys are self-motivated. Some guys you’ve got to put motivation in them. As a coach you can’t control what kind of guys you have, but you can control their productivity, the way they learn the game and how they prepare for the game.
VRENTAS: The Steelers’ defense has had a lot of departures in the same year. You. Polamalu. Dick LeBeau. Where will that unit get its new identity?
TAYLOR: Coach Keith Butler. My mindset on Coach Keith Butler was totally different. Like, Coach Keith Butler, man, he’s a linebacker. He was a second-round linebacker from Seattle, and he had nothing but Pro Bowlers come through Pittsburgh, so I’m like, time will tell. But actually sitting down in his meetings and actually having time to grade players, trying to help players during the OTAs and seeing his mindset, I’m like man, Coach Butler, you really shocked the heck out of me. I liked you before, I’m not going to say I love you now, but we’re getting close. He’s got a mind out of this world. But of course, he did wait his turn. He sat, he put the years in, he put the time in, and I think this year you’re going to see a good defense for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
VRENTAS: You weren’t initially sure about what to expect from Keith Butler as a defensive coordinator?
TAYLOR: The one thing I have learned about Coach Keith and our relationship is we are brutally honest with each other. So from a player to a coach perspective, our relationship was kind of odd, because we could say things to each other that probably a player and a coach shouldn’t say to each other. But now, since I’m on the other side of the fence, it’s even better. The respect level, he values my opinions and my thoughts, and of course I’m going to value his opinions and his thoughts.
VRENTAS: What’s the most brutally honest thing he ever told you as a player?
TAYLOR: We’d have to put that on pay-per-view.
VRENTAS: How tough of a task is it following Dick LeBeau?
TAYLOR: Man, it’s hard going behind a Hall of Famer. But at the same time, when an opportunity knocks, why not try to do or do better than what a Hall of Famer did, especially after sitting under him for all those years?
VRENTAS: How weird is it for you seeing LeBeau in Tennessee now?
TAYLOR: As long as Dicky is happy, I’m happy. That’s what we call him, Dicky. Dicky is a living legend. Dicky is one of my alltime favorites. There is no smoother, more charming, cooler, Jesus-walking-on-earth (other-than-Troy-Polamalu) than Dick LeBeau. He’s one of a kind. The man has a CD. Can pretty much play any instrument you want him to play. He just so happened to act back in the day. He was in Detroit in the time of Motown. We call him white chocolate. Like, he’s just that guy. I don’t care how old he is, he’s just that guy. If you want to play him in pool, he’s gonna get you. And if you want to play him in cards, he’s going to win. And if you want to play him in golf, you’re wasting your time. His legend ain’t going nowhere. Because don’t forget, he still has one of his puppies, Ray Horton, who grew under Coach LeBeau and now he’s the defensive coordinator over there in Tennessee.
VRENTAS: You and Troy navigated your playing careers together. How have you navigated retirement together?
TAYLOR: Take the GPS off and put the Wi-Fi on. That’s how you navigate it. We couldn’t have scripted it better. Well, we didn’t even script it, it just happened. I was going to retire regardless. I didn’t know when Troy was going to retire. But I told myself, when Troy makes his retirement, I would make mine. That’s my loyalty toward Troy. The man is in my will, so that’s letting you know how I feel towards him.
VRENTAS: He’s literally in your will?
VRENTAS: What are you leaving to him?
TAYLOR: I can’t say that. You tried, though.
VRENTAS: When did you put him in your will?
TAYLOR: Years ago. Years. Years. That’s how I feel about the man. Words can’t really describe it. It’s an unusual bond. And I appreciate that. Like, I look up to that man. I’m older than him, but I look up to him. So that lets you know how I feel about him.
VRENTAS: You’ve always talked about your close relationship with Steelers chairman Dan Rooney. What advice did he give you for the next phase of your life?
TAYLOR: He didn’t talk about it. He showed it. He’s a Hall of Fame owner, a guy who truly and genuinely cares about his players—I’m talking about a players-first atmosphere. His door is always open unless he’s doing a business call. There is no appointment to see Mr. Dan Rooney. There is no appointment to see Mr. Art Rooney. Doors are always open. I can’t speak for other organizations and say there are appointments or there are not appointments, but when you can just walk into an owner’s office and have a basic conversation, I feel like that’s special.
VRENTAS: Based on your experience matching up with receivers around the league, who do you think will be the best receiver in the NFL in 2015?
TAYLOR: I still keep him at the throne: Antonio Brown. There are a lot of talented guys in the league, but I can’t name one talented guy who works just as hard with that kind of talent as Antonio Brown.
VRENTAS: After 12 years with the Steelers, what legacy do you think you left behind?
TAYLOR: Old-school, hard-nosed, hard-working, blue-collar sonofagun that was an unselfish teammate and all he cared about was his teammates and treating people with respect.
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