PITTSBURGH – Shaun Sarrett wants to set something straight about the origin of his “Sweet Feet” nickname. It has nothing to do with boxing, Golden Gloves or otherwise. No matter what the members of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line seem to think.
If Sarrett is being honest, the team’s new line coach – promoted in the offseason after Hall of Famer Mike Munchak left to take the same position with the Denver Broncos – isn’t quite sure how the mythology that linked “Sweet Feet” to boxing got started. He will allow, however, that he didn’t necessarily do anything to discourage it.
“Sometimes you’ve got to let those guys think that,” he said with laugh.
The truth, much like the plainspoken and folksy Sarrett’s approach to his job, is far simpler. An offensive lineman at Kent State in the early 2000s, Sarrett was doing a drill one day when teammate Shawn Armstead noticed Sarrett gliding over the turf. “Sweet Feet” was born.
Fifteen years later, it lives on, a moniker Sarrett knows he’s unable to shake even now. Not that he cares.
“I’m just happy to have a name here with the Steelers,” Sarrett said Tuesday. “I’m proud of it.”
Hard to blame him. Sarrett graduated from Kent in 2004 with no pro prospects, so he threw himself into coaching. That started a methodical climb from high school assistant to the man in charge of a veteran group that evolved into one of the NFL’s best during Munchak’s five seasons. Sarrett was actually sitting with Munchak when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin offered Sarrett the job to be Munchak’s replacement. It was more than a little surreal.
“There was a moment when you’re sitting there for a minute and you think, ‘Man. You know, you had a goal – be an NFL coach – and then you’re like, ‘Wow. I made it,’” Sarrett said. “Then all of a sudden, just as that moment happens, you got to think to yourself, ‘I’m here. Now what are you going to do to stay here?’ You’ve got to keep grinding, just like anything else, like you did to get there.”
Sarrett lacks Munchak’s gold Hall of Fame jacket and bone-dry humor. That’s where the differences largely end. The two worked 80-hour weeks together for five years. Sometimes Sarrett would throw an idea out there and Munchak would adopt it. Having one of the greatest linemen in NFL history not only listen to his ideas but implement them gave Sarrett a jolt of confidence and more than a bit of street cred with the players.
“He’s watched more film than probably any other coach I’ve ever met,” left tackle Alejandro Villanueva said of Sarrett. “And he’s got his own flavor to things, which I believe is going to be refreshing for the offensive line.”
Where Munchak was decidedly old school – he preferred to do X’s and O’s on a dry erase board – Sarrett brought the meetings into the 21st century. Fewer printouts. More PowerPoints and video cut-ups.
“I think guys in this day and era, you’ve just got to keep them modernized and keep them entertained in a way,” Sarrett said.
As long as he’s teaching them in the process. Sarrett joined the Steelers as an offensive assistant in 2012. He’s not concerned about the dynamic between himself and the men he leads changing now that he’s the main voice in the room.
“When you’re sitting there with them day in and day out, what they do is they see you, and if you’re trying to help them, they start caring,” he said. “If you’re trying to help them, they’re going to listen. They really do. For them, they want to be in this league as long as they can, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to keep these guys in this league playing at a high level as long as they can, to continue to get them paid.”
That’s something Munchak did as well anyone in league history. Villanueva, center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro all became perennial Pro Bowlers who received lucrative contracts under Munchak’s guidance. In a way, his legacy will serve as a guiding light.
“There’s definitely a part of your resume that had Munch there that you don’t want to let down,” DeCastro said. “You never want to let down a guy like that. He’ll always be with us.”
Yet there’s also a chance to prove the group that gave Ben Roethlisberger time to lead the NFL in yards passing in 2018 wasn’t merely the byproduct of Munchak’s teaching. It was a collaborative effort, one in which Sarrett played a pivotal role, one that’s now expanded considerably.
“We’ve built ourselves up to a certain standard around the league that everybody notices,” Foster said. “I think around the league, when everybody sees us operate, they’ll change their perspective on (Sarrett). I’m looking forward to it.”