Steelers RBs coach Kirby Wilson makes triumphant return
By Mark Kaboly
Published: Thursday, June 14, 2012
The voice from the sidelines bellowed out to Isaac Redman: “Red, tell him that’s not a cut-back run.”
A few moments later, rookie running back Chris Rainey jogged to the strategically parked Toro Workman utility vehicle located along the sidelines of one of the fields at the Steelers’ practice facility to get a firsthand explanation.
Baron Batch made a similar trek not long after Rainey.
It’s not been an uncommon sight over the past month for a running back to feel the wrath of Kirby Wilson.
“He’s like Superman out there,” Redman said.
Superman has nothing on Wilson.
Despite burns to 45 percent of his body and suffering severe smoke inhalation during a Jan. 6 fire at his Seven Fields townhouse that required him to be placed into a medically induced coma, it’s difficult to notice a difference in Wilson today.
“He is one of those coaches who brings energy to the entire field,” safety Ryan Clark said. “Even right now in his state — driving around in the cart — the guy can take light-hearted jokes about driving around in a cart. He is a true story of perseverance.”
Wilson still yells and screams. He’s still is passionate about coaching. And he is as gritty as ever.
“He may be even grittier,” said safety Troy Polamalu, who played at USC when Wilson was a running backs coach there.
Dressed in long pants and a long-sleeved Steelers shirt with a floppy hat, Wilson has yet to miss any of the 14 offseason practices, including two-a-days during minicamp this week.
This after Wilson had numerous surgeries during his three-month stay at the UPMC Mercy Trauma and Burn Center. He was released in early April and was back at work not long after.
“From what we heard about the situation, we didn’t even know he would be back,” running back Jonathan Dwyer said. “We thought a year or two.”
So you can imagine the surprise when workouts began in early April and Wilson was there working at his desk.
“First day back, and we see Kirby in there,” fullback David Johnson said. “It meant a lot. It makes it feel like you can do anything and makes everything else seem so small.”
The Steelers have yet to make Wilson available to the media, saying they are allowing him work his way back first. But by all indications, Wilson already is back.
Initial plans were for to let him ease his way back into coaching. Head coach Mike Tomlin said in March the plan was to use assistant special teams coach Amos Jones to help Wilson.
Wilson hasn’t needed the help. He’s been in charge of the running backs since he returned.
“Outside of him sitting down a little bit, he is out there doing everything,” Redman said.
And that surely includes screaming at a running back when they mess up. Dwyer dropped a swing pass out of the backfield earlier in the week, and Wilson let him hear it.
“Don’t get confused just because he is riding around in a cart most of the time. He is still going to yell at you and scream,” Ben Roethlisberger said. “That puts a smile on my face ... that I hear Kirby yelling at someone.”
Wilson has been doing more than yelling — Johnson can attest to that.
Johnson is making the transition from tight end to fullback and credits Wilson for making the move go smoothly.
“He is helping me be a better player,” Johnson said. “He is helping with technique and footwork. I am already feeling like I am improving.”
And, of course, he’s been inspiring.
“He is so excited about being back out here,” Clark said. “After fighting for his life, his excitement comes from being able to work with us. To me, that’s inspirational.”