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Football: How Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl ring helps new Cajuns assistant coach Darnell Stapleton

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 9, 2021

He has a ring.

It’s big, and bright, and brings instant credibility.

But new Ragin’ Cajuns assistant offensive line coach Darnell Stapleton knows starting on a Super Bowl championship team carries him only so far in his chosen post-NFL path.

“I think it’s huge – for the recruiting part of it, as well as the initial buy-in,” said Stapleton, who left Sam Houston State after three seasons as offensive line coach there to join Billy Napier’s UL staff.

“But I also think … probably the biggest thing I learned as far as getting into the coaching profession is that the things I did as a player (only carries) you so far.

“You’ve got to be able to teach, and articulate to young men how to get things done,” Stapleton added. “What I did as a player won’t really affect wins and losses in the future.”

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Stapleton’s days with the Steelers

So rest assured there will be a few stories for Stapleton to share with his new students when the Cajuns open spring practice March 16.

Stapleton will work alongside new offensive line coach Jeff Norrid, a former Florida Atlantic assistant, as the two succeed Rob Sale, who left for a reported position with the New York Giants, and the late D.J. Looney.

“I was fortunate enough to get picked up by a very historic franchise, and we had the right pieces, the right mentality, back in 2007-2008, 2008-2009, to do what we all set out to do,” said Stapleton, a starting center at Rutgers from 2005-06 and a Rimington Trophy finalist his senior season.

Stapleton played for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2007-09 and started at right guard on their Super Bowl XLIII winning team that beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 on Feb. 1, 2009.

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His time with the Steelers ended after a preseason knee injury led to him spending the 2009 season on injured reserve and subsequently getting released.

Stapleton never played in another regular-season NFL game. But his Super Bowl appearance with the Steelers is treasured.  

He’ll never forget a 1-yard Gary Russell touchdown run, set up by three Ben Roethlisberger passes to tight end Heath Miller and three to receiver Santonio Holmes, that helped put Pittsburgh up 10-0 in the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

“We ran 22-double on the goal line,” said Stapleton, also a former graduate assistant at Rutgers and ex-offensive line coach at Bucknell.

“The first touchdown of the game was a play ran right behind me and my right tackle. That’s one of the highlights of the game as far as a play goes.

“But,” he added, “then the atmosphere afterward – the euphoria, the celebration, the feeling of satisfaction as far as accomplishing something that many wish they can do, and actually accomplishing it – is one I will always remember as well.”

Holmes’ 6-yard touchdown catch with 35 seconds remaining finished the comeback for the Steelers, who became the first NFL team at the time to win six Super Bowls.

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New Cajuns assistant has lots to offer

But that was then.

This is now, and Stapleton knows history is old news in 2021.

Stapleton understands it will take more than a shiny ring to make a lasting impression on an offensive line that returns late-season starters Max Mitchell, O’Cyrus Torrence, Shane Vallot, Ken Marks and Carlos Rubio and that adds, among others, former UL Monroe starter T.J. Fiailoa and former Florida commit George Jackson

“It’s a feat I kind of use in coaching as far as my experience,” Stapleton said, “but, you know, my experience as a player doesn’t always directly reflect how guys I coach end up playing.

“That experience helps you so much, and I think part of coaching is getting guys to do things, and know how to articulate and coach that, so that they have those opportunities.

“It was an awesome experience, one I’ll never forget, one that kind of helped me build some relationships with my teammates … that last a lifetime,” Stapleton added. “Because those are moments that you remember forever. But it’s a small part of who I am as a coach.”

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