LATROBE, Pa. -- It took several hours -- probably because of the stunning nature of it all -- but Darryl Drake's former pupils and current Steelers began to express their sorrow at this untimely death late into Sunday night.
Drake, 62, died unexpectedly Sunday morning as the Steelers returned to Saint Vincent College following their first preseason game Friday night.
The Steelers canceled practice both Sunday and Monday as they deal with the situation. And players who had interacted with Drake, both with the Steelers and in his previous two jobs with the Cardinals and Bears expressed their feelings on the passing of the longtime receivers coach.
Former Pitt and current Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald posted a heartfelt response to Drake's death on Twitter.
I’m heartbroken for anyone who had the privilege to know Darryl. As a man, a coach, a husband, and a father, he was as good as they come. pic.twitter.com/VEVmjdVGbL
— Larry Fitzgerald (@LarryFitzgerald) August 11, 2019
Fitzgerald went on to say Drake had made a meaningful difference in his life.
"I can’t put into words the impact that Darryl had one me…he was my position coach for 5 years, and he’s been one of the greatest mentors and friends in my life since we met," Fitzgerald wrote. "We’ll get through this difficult time by focusing on all of the love that Darryl had for others and that we all had for him — it’s what he would want.
"Let faith guide us all through this incredibly difficult moment…sending prayers to all of the extended Drake family, especially to his incredible wife Sheila and their beautiful children."
Current Steelers' star JuJu Smith-Schuster also wrote about the difference Drake, who joined the team in 2018, made on his life.
Rest In Peace Coach Drake pic.twitter.com/N6tg9h2kez
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) August 11, 2019
"Coach was an amazing role model not just for myself, but a lot of people who he touched," Smith-Schuster wrote. "I wish I could see you just one more time."
Former Steelers receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey shared a video of Drake in the moments before a wide receiver meeting last season leading a prayer, something Heyward-Bey said Drake did before every meeting.
Ima share a lil video of how Coach Drake would start every meeting. I hope these 10sec shows everyone why the football community is hurting right now. RIP COACH WE LOVE YOU. REST EASY! pic.twitter.com/GsrSuskJfT
— Darrius Heyward-Bey (@theDHB85) August 11, 2019
The Steelers now face the task of replacing Drake -- at least in the meeting room and on the field -- just one month before the start of the season while also dealing with the emotions of the loss.
Head coach Mike Tomlin will hold a press conference Tuesday morning to go over the team's plans to honor Drake and discuss the team's plans for moving forward. But it's obvious from the reaction of the players who worked with Drake, he won't soon be forgotten.
— Ryan Switzer (@Switz) August 12, 2019
Tomlin will have to scramble to find a replacement, though he could choose to elevate one of his three coaching assistants -- Denzel Martin, Blaine Stewart or Matt Symmes -- to the position.
Martin, a defensive assistant, had previously been an intern in the team's scouting department. Stewart, son of former WVU coach Bill Stewart, has been with the Steelers for a season. Symmes joined the Steelers after working two years for Duke as an offensive assistant.
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