Shaun Sarrett faces a ton of pressure for the 2019 season — almost literally. As the leader of 300-plus-pound men on the Steelers offensive line, Sarrett steps into a coaching position left vacant when Mike Munchak accepted the same role out west in Denver, a move to be closer to his family as Munchak winds down his legendary career.
Following in the footsteps of a Hall of Fame player and legendary offensive-line coach may seem daunting, but reading Sarrett's emotions leaves one wondering. Sarrett was relaxed and jovial during Steelers OTAs and minicamp at the Rooney Complex, fielding questions with a smile and a chuckle. If any of this is too much for him, he sure has a funny way of showing it.
"Oh, it's been great. The guys have been great to me. The transition's been easy," Sarrett was telling me on the field after practice. "I've been with them for the last, you know, going into my eighth year with them, so they made it real easy. To be honest with you, Coach Munchak prepared me for this and it's been a good ride so far."
That's not just a nod of respect to his mentor there at the end, either. To hear Sarrett tell it, Munchak literally prepared him for this moment, in great detail and with laser-focused specifics. Munchak was the Steelers offensive line coach, yes, but he was also there for Sarrett, a point never lost on either man.
"It was funny, Coach Munch said it was his job, when he first came in, his job was to coach the o-line, but his job was also to prepare me to be an o-line coach in the NFL," Sarrett said. "And I took that to heart. He did it every day. He was testing me on things, quizzing me on things — just like he did to players. I was glad he did it. At first, I was like, 'Man, this is pretty tough.' But then I was like, 'Damn. I'm glad he did it.' Because it did prepare you."
Already, the results show. Players are feeling the similarities in Sarrett's approach and execution to Munchak's, leading to some running jokes around the locker room in the early goings.
"I guess you already heard B.J. Finney: 'The only thing that's missing's some dry humor from Munch,'" Sarrett said. "That's about it. I got my little nuances that I'll do, but Coach Munch and me are very similar in things and how we solve things and stuff like that. I really didn't change a whole lot when I took over. A lot of the calls are the same, all that stuff, just minor tweaks here and there."
OK, but there has to be something challenging about the transition. Everything Sarrett said made perfect sense to me, but it's still going from backup vocals to the spotlight as the frontman of an elite group. There had to be some nerves, some jitters, some hiccups — something — right?
"No, no. There really haven't [been challenges]," Sarrett responded. "Just filling out and making sure that the way I see things, they [the players] see it the same way. Munch had a way of seeing things that they fell right into. I just want to [make] sure I'm on that same page. I want to make it as easy as possible for them ...
"When you work with a guy five years and you're spending 80 hours a week with him in the room and you're watching how he does things, and then he's asking you for your opinion and your opinion becomes his opinion as well, it just turned out to be working together as a unit, as a whole. And then you start seeing things the way he saw it."
Perhaps the only difficulty Sarrett's faced at all came in actually getting the job. While he wouldn't deny his excitement to seize such a lofty position at the NFL level with the team that put him on the map, Sarrett noted the other side of the coin as well. Munchak was leaving. For real this time.
And as it was throughout Sarrett's tenure to that point, Munchak was right beside him when the announcement came.
"He was actually there with me, and we sat there for a moment. He says, 'It's your gig now. You take it and run with it,'" Sarrett said. "Which I was excited to do ... I was getting the job. I was also sad because I was losing a mentor, a guy I looked up to and I still look up to to this day. If I have a problem, I'm going to lean on him. I'm going to call him. He's been great to me and he's been great during the transition. Just that moment ... it was kind of bittersweet."
Sarrett didn't linger too much in his emotions there, though. After that sentimental touch, he bounced right back with one of the best anecdotes of camp to-date: A story about his nickname, "Sweet Feet," and how James Harrison totally blew his cover one day at the facility.
This one's too good to transcribe. Take it away, Mr. Sarrett:
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