Ben Roethlisberger: Whipple taught me how to be a pro

By Peter Cappiello

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(Doug Kapustin/MCT)

(Doug Kapustin/MCT)

As a rookie in 2004, Ben Roethlisberger needed a teacher. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, now in his 11th professional season with the same team, was trying to transition from the college game at Miami (Ohio) to life as a starting quarterback in the National Football League.

That’s when he met Mark Whipple.

Roethlisberger said Whipple, his first NFL quarterbacks coach, helped him learn mental poise during his formative years in the league. He added that the coach, who was at the helm when the Massachusetts football team won an NCAA championship in 1998, also knew when to be hands off.

Whipple worked with Roethlisberger until 2006, when the former left the franchise following the Steelers’ Super Bowl win that year.

“He really taught me how to be a pro when it comes to doing the football side of things,” Roethlisberger told the Daily Collegian through the Steelers. “He didn’t try to change my mechanics, he didn’t try to talk too much during the game to me.”

“His thing always was, ‘I’m going to let you play.’ There’s a reason you’re here and he had nothing to do with why I was here. He was just going to take me and help me mentally to learn anything I needed. I knew about his resume as a head coach and the success that he had, so I knew that everything he had to tell me was accurate.”

Roethlisberger said Whipple, now in his second stint as UMass football coach after a run from 1998-2003, did his best coaching in practices and quarterbacks meetings. His simplest lesson: lighten the mood every now and then.

“I’m not always an ogre,” Whipple said after the Minutemen’s practice last Tuesday. He jokingly feigned surprise when told that Roethlisberger was reached for comment. “In the NFL, the season’s so long that you’ve got to have a few laughs.”

Whipple, who said he keeps in touch with Roethlisberger, believes the pair had success because they trusted each other. He also credits timing, since both he and Roethlisberger joined the Steelers the same year.

“I learned a lot of football from him,” Whipple said. “I had to teach him the offense, which I didn’t know that well, but he’s got great instincts and obviously unbelievable talent. People don’t realize how competitive (he) is. He was young, impressionable, and he listened to me. He became a leader.”

Roethlisberger said it was hardly a chore to listen to Whipple, who often told stories about his family. Other stories were shared when the two golfed together.

“I always appreciated (his) time,” Roethlisberger said. “He was such a good person and a good family man. I know how much his wife and kids meant to him. Just the understanding that (life’s) more than just football time.”

Whipple looks back at his Steelers years with similar nostalgia. The coaching job was his first in the NFL. He fondly remembers the Super Bowl-winning team as a “special group.”

But Whipple’s current focus is UMass. His team is 0-3 overall and was outscored 105-76 in that span.

It’s a slow start, but Roethlisberger believes the Minutemen’s prospects are strong with Whipple in charge.

“Well I know that he’s done it before and I know that he’s been successful,” Roethlisberger said, speaking of Whipple’s tenures at UMass, Brown and New Haven. “For him to go back to a place that he wants to be – I’m rooting for him and wish him nothing but the best.”

Peter Cappiello can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @petecapps.