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.