Carnell Lake: ‘I Did Pinch Myself’ After Getting Coaching Job With Steelers

It depends on the season—sometimes the game—but the view of Pittsburgh Steelers former defensive back and current defensive backs coach Carnell Lake has certainly gone through its ups and downs. Generally liked as a player, until he wound down his career with the Jaguars and Ravens, his tenure as coach has been a rollercoaster.

Lake had little coaching experience when he was hired in 2011 to replace the position vacated by longtime Dick LeBeau disciple Ray Horton, who left to take the defensive coordinator job with the Browns.

During his first two seasons, the Steelers were actually the top-ranked defense in the league in terms of passing yards allowed per game. At the time, they had Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark on their last legs of effectiveness, paired with Ike Taylor, and then Keenan Lewis, before he signed with the Saints.

There was an ugly period in between before the upswing we now appear to be on, and Lake has seen his popularity rise a bit once again thanks to the youth movement of players such as Sean Davis, Artie Burns, and Mike Hilton.

While he was a Pro Bowler as a player, he was able to do so bringing diversity to his job. A college linebacker, he converted to safety when he entered the NFL, and he also spent time playing cornerback, so he has been able to communicate to his players the perspective of the game from a number of positions.

That is one of the qualities that the Steelers found attractive about him when they signed him, in spite of his limited experience. And he to this day does not take for granted the opportunity that the organization has afforded him, coming from such a minimal coaching background.

I did pinch myself”, he told the team’s website about getting the job as defensive backs coach as part of an interview for their Legends Series. “I was very fortunate to not just come back to an organization

that drafted me, but to work with some of the finest minds in coaching”.

This might not sit well with the Fire Mike Tomlin crowd, but Lake is very impressed with his head coach. “It’s not said too much now, but Mike Tomlin will go down as one of the best coaches in the league”, he said. “His record and tenure in one spot, when you look at what he has done, I am blessed and learning a lot from him. I am lucky”.

And the Steelers are lucky to have Tomlin, who has the third-most wins in NFL history through the first 11 seasons of his career as a head coach. They are fortunate to have the stability that has defined the organization for so long, which includes the retention of their coaching staff, of which Lake is a part.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • nutty32

    Lake is awesome. Special players at SS & mack LB really makes the D system work.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    “I did punch myself,” said Lake in wake of Tom Brady throwing for over 400 yards at Heinz Field.

    (I kid! I kid!)

  • Steve Johnson

    Awesome? Too many communication breakdowns in the secondary.

  • BurghBoy412

    Carnell Lake- Excellent Player, Horrible Coach

  • nutty32

    Meant he was awesome as a player. As a coach, really have no idea as I don’t know what he does on a day-to-day basis.

  • PittShawnC

    Shaquille Richardson

  • Mark

    Lake as a great player, he was great, however, it isn’t translating to his safeties. We get up and down (most down) play from his safeties.

  • Generic Steelers Fan

    “It’s not said too much now, but Mike Tomlin will go down as one of the best coaches in the league”, he said. “His record and tenure in one spot, when you look at what he has done, I am blessed and learning a lot from him. I am lucky”.

    I guess it’s time to stop listening to what pro bowl players have to say. Tomlin is terrible and I should know.

  • SwagDaddy330

    dumbest comment of the day…. congrats!

  • SwagDaddy330

    I agree, Troy & Ryan Clark were so up and down during their careers. There was never any consistency from them.

  • Petherson Silveira

    The wrost coach that we have.

  • BurghBoy412

    Carnell Lake is easily the weakest link on this coaching staff. EASILY. Why has the secondary been this teams biggest liability for over a decade? After a while the lack of talent excuse looses its value. Eventually you have got to start looking at the secondary coaching staff. Down years happen but a decade worth of poor play is a very large sample. It’s time to move on from Lake

  • treeher

    What, you expect him to diss his boss? What ELSE would he say?

  • Sarcasm dude. Take a look at the handle. The whole profile is satirical.

  • copanut

    “Carnell Lake is easily the weakest link on this coaching staff. EASILY.”

    You must not be familiar with Danny Smith.

    “Why has the secondary been this teams biggest liability for over a decade?”

    Weak drafting for the secondary might play a role. Some facts looking at the past 15 drafts (since Troy):

    1. There has not been a single top 10 pick, or even top 15. Troy was 16.

    2. In the past ten years there has been only one pick in the top 50 (Artie Burns, 25).

    3. There have been two top 90 picks (Golson, 56, who never played a snap; and Sean Davis, 58). There have been only three other picks in the top 100 (Cam Sutton, 94, who just took his first snaps; Curtis Brown, 95, who did nothing; and Keenan Lewis, 96, botched by management not coaching).

    In short, there has been little to work with by the secondary coaching staff until recently. For a nine year stretch, the highest pick delivered to Lake was Golson and due to injuries, he never played. That means up until last year Lake never got to work with a pick higher than 95, Curtis Brown, and that’s pathetic.

    The good news is that the last two drafts have brought in picks at 25, 58, and 94, and the lucky supplements of Haden and Hilton really help. Even so, the youngsters still have a lot to prove and more help is needed at safety.

    Lake MAY be a terrible coach, but we lack the data points to know that one way or the other. If the secondary does not morph into a team strength by the end of next year, I’d say the case will be stronger.

  • BurghBoy412

    I understand where you’re coming from but rarely do the players in the secondary improve. They continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Now either the players are complete buffoons or they are being coached at an extremely inefficient level. The choice is obvious IMO

  • copanut

    Could be. I just don’t know. A case could be made that in the past Lake has made bland but edible chicken soup from a pantry full of chicken guano. That excuse won’t fly so well next year because these top players in their third year should be in their prime (Burns, Davis, Hilton).

    Burns seems to have backslid in his second year at least has been badly exposed in zone coverage, and if that isn’t fixed Lake will take the heat. Davis has been spotty but mostly solid. Haden and Hilton have been good. Mitchell is adequate but no superstar, and not going to get better. Sutton is an known. They will probably pick up a safety in the draft to groom, maybe second round now that ILB is an increasing priority.

    The bigger issues to me cut across the entire defense: communication and tackling problems. Maybe that’s more on Butler.

  • Steve Johnson

    My Bad, lol. Yes, as a player he was awesome! Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson was the best CB/Safety Tandem since the 70’s.

    As a Coach? I think it’s time for another voice in the room. Too many communication Breakdowns, guys not knowing where to line up, Pathetic.