Sun. May 26th, 2024

Retired Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is undoubtedly a titan in professional football history. But even the greats don’t get there on their own. Roethlisberger’s journey from hopeful athlete to Super Bowl champ wasn’t a solo effort — it was one that included mentors who helped mold him into the icon he is today.

It’s like Ben Roethlisberger was destined for greatness right from the start. Long before the Super Bowl rings and the NFL fame, he was just a kid learning football basics in a sports-loving household. His dad, Ken Roethlisberger, a former college baseball pitcher and quarterback himself, was a huge influence. He encouraged his son to try out various sports, but basketball and football turned out to be the boy’s favorites. Papa Roethlisberger would continue to support the budding superstar’s talent well into a pro career.

On a high school field in Findlay, Ohio, Ben Roethlisberger played wide receiver until his coach Cliff Hite moved him to the quarterback during his senior year. We can speculate that playing both positions provided him with a more comprehensive understanding of the game. During a sit-down with USA Today, Hite recalled his favorite Roethlisberger play. “We were playing a school in Week 6 and they scored with 33 seconds left in the game to go up 4 [points],” he said. “We needed a touchdown.

“They kicked off and we ran it back to about the 30-yard line. We didn’t have any timeouts and he threw two bombs; one got us to their 30, the second one scored, and there were 1.8 seconds left on the clock. That helped us get to the playoffs that year.”

As Roethlisberger went on to college, the late Terry Hoeppner, the then-head football coach at Miami University in Ohio, proved to be another pivotal figure. Hoeppner recognized Roethlisberger’s talent when he wasn’t yet on the radar of the more well-known Ohio State. He saw greater potential for Big Ben in the quarterback position and strategically scouted him, offering him a scholarship to play with the RedHawks. Under Hoeppner’s wing, Roethlisberger hit his stride, smashing records left and right and setting himself up for an NFL career that people will be talking about forever.

When Ben Roethlisberger hit the pros, things really ramped up with Bill Cowher leading the charge. The head coach of the Steelers was brutal but brilliant, mixing a bit of fatherly guidance with his game plans. Under Cowher’s watch, Roethlisberger quickly became the youngest quarterback to clinch a Super Bowl win, coming into his own as a top-tier player. In his book, Heart and Steel, Cowher wrote, “It occurred to us that Ben didn’t realize what he was doing was so extraordinary. I cautioned people from talking about it too much, telling them, ‘This is not normal, but don’t tell him. It shouldn’t be this easy for him.’”

After Cowher wrapped up his 15 years as the head coach of the Steelers in 2007, Mike Tomlin took the reins. He was a cerebral, motivational kind of coach famous for his catchy “Tomlinisms” — quirky, quotable coaching phrases. Under his guidance, Big Ben kept evolving and tackling new challenges. Together, they snagged another Super Bowl trophy for Pittsburgh in 2008.

In a 2023 episode of Roethlisberger’s podcast, “Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger,” Tomlin dropped by and talked about that iconic Super Bowl win. He backed Roethlisberger’s decision to throw the game-winning touchdown to Santonio Holmes, even though Big Ben later wondered if he should’ve just gone for a field goal to tie, worrying that the pass might have been intercepted. Tomlin reassured him of the confidence he had in him, saying, “I can’t tell you it scared me. It didn’t. When plays got extended, [you] ate.”

So when you ask, “Which coaches have had the most influence on Ben Roethlisberger’s career?” the real question is: “Which ones haven’t?” Roethlisberger the elder, Hite, Hoeppner, Cowher, and Tomlin each made the best of the QB’s natural talent and helped him to improve his game along the way.

As fans, we’ve been privileged to witness his journey, but maybe the best chapter is yet to come—the one where Ben Roethlisberger, inspired by those who’ve shaped him, steps into the role of mentor himself, guiding the next generation toward their dreams, just as his mentors did for him.

By Manali