LATROBE, Pa. -- Longtime NFL assistant coach and current Steelers receivers coach Darryl Drake died Sunday morning.
Drake, 62, had been with the Steelers the past two seasons after previously serving as the receivers coach for the Cardinals from 2013 through 2017.
The Steelers announced the news at approximately 10:30 a.m. Sunday as they reported back to training camp at Saint Vincent College. The team canceled all of its practice activities and availability for Sunday, and canceled practice on Monday, as well.
"We are at a loss for words following Darryl Drake’s passing this morning," team president Art Rooney II said in a statement released by the team. "Darryl had such an impact on the players he coached and everyone he worked with throughout his entire career. He was a passionate coach and had a tremendous spirit toward life, his family, his faith and the game of football.
"Our prayers and thoughts are with his wife, Sheila, his three daughters, his grandchildren and entire family during this difficult time."
Drake, who played for the Redskins and Bengals in the late '70s and early '80s, had a long and successful coaching career that began immediately after his playing career ended in 1983. He joined the coaching staff at his alma mater, Western Kentucky, that season and also coached collegiately at Georgia and Texas. He jumped to the NFL in 2004 to become the Bears’ receivers coach, staying with the team until 2012.
Thinking about you Coach Drake. Your passion, love, and laughs always meant a lot. I hope you are at peace. We miss you so much. RIP
— Cam Heyward (@CamHeyward) August 11, 2019
Drake joined the Steelers in 2018, replacing longtime receivers coach Richard Mann, who retired following the 2017 season.
"Darryl was a close friend and had a tremendous impact on my coaching career. He was an amazing husband, father and grandfather, and it is difficult to put into words the grief our entire team is going through right now," Mike Tomlin said in a statement released by the team.
"Darryl loved the game of football and every player he ever coached. We will use our faith to guide us and help his family throughout the difficult time. My heart and our prayers are with his wife, Sheila, and Darryl’s entire family."
He helped JuJu Smith-Schuster become one of the game's rising stars, overseeing the second-year receiver's breakout in 2018 when the 22-year-old caught 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns.
Rest In Peace Coach Drake pic.twitter.com/N6tg9h2kez
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) August 11, 2019
Drake had looked forward to continuing to work with Smith-Schuster and the rest of the Steelers' young receivers room.
"He's still learning, he's still growing," Drake told me last week of Smith-Schuster. "The sky's the limit for him. He's a different kind of player, has different talents than a lot of other guys. He's not your jet, but he's a guy who has a tremendous amount of upside.
"I really like the room. I like what they’re doing. I like the mindset. We’ve still got a long way to go. But so far, it’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of determined guys in there. As long as they continue to work and grow and mesh together, do the things Ben (Roethlisberger) asks them to do, we’ll be successful."
This season, Drake was tasked with helping the team find ways to replace the production of Antonio Brown. Brown, who had six consecutive 100-catch seasons, was traded in the offseason to the Raiders.
"One thing you don’t do is you don’t replace Antonio Brown. You don’t replace those things he did," Drake told me. "You have enough talent on your team for guys to have different roles and do certain things. There are certain things that they have to do. Each and every guy has a certain thing he does well. It’s our job to put them in a situation where he can flourish. It’s his job to take advantage of it.
"Those are huge numbers. We don’t know where those touchdowns, those numbers are going to come from. But there will be opportunities for guys to make those plays. When they get opportunities to make those plays, they’re got to make them. It’s that simple."
Drake was a native of Louisville, Ky.
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