Former WKU player, coach Darryl Drake dies at 62

Darryl Drake

Drake Kizer

Darryl Drake, the wide receivers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, died at age 62 on Sunday.

Drake began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at WKU in 1983 and later served 16 years as an NFL assistant coach with the Steelers, Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears organizations.

“We are at a loss for words following Darryl Drake’s passing this morning,” Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a statement. “Darryl had such an impact on the players he coached and everyone he worked with throughout his entire career. He was a passionate coach and had a tremendous spirit toward life, his family, his faith and the game of football.”

At the time of his passing, Drake was preparing for his second season as the Steelers’ wide receivers coach. Hired on Jan. 26, 2018, Drake guided Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster to a pair of 100-reception campaigns during his only full season coaching up receivers in Pittsburgh last year.

“Darryl was a close friend and had a tremendous impact on my coaching career,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said in a statement. “He was an amazing husband, father and grandfather, and it is difficult to put into words the grief our entire team is going through right now.

“Darryl loved the game of football and every player he ever coached. We will use our faith to guide us and help his family throughout the difficult time.”

Before Drake reached the NFL coaching ranks in 2004, he’d already spent 21 seasons as a collegiate assistant coach. Drake coached at Georgia, Baylor and Texas during the 1990s and early 2000s, but the Louisville native got his first shot on the sidelines at his alma mater — WKU — in the mid-1980s.

Drake played wide receiver at WKU in 1975 and from 1977-78 under legendary head coach Jimmy Feix. Drake was a member of the 11-2 squad that won the Ohio Valley Conference championship and played in the 1975 Division II Championship game.

As a senior, Drake helped the Hilltoppers to an 8-2 record and another OVC championship. He later spent time with the Washington Redskins in 1979, the Ottawa Roughriders of the CFL in 1981 and the Cincinnati Bengals in 1983 before turning his attention to a coaching career.

After working as a graduate assistant at WKU from 1983-84, Drake didn’t leave the Hill for many years — he coached wide receivers from 1985-88, the secondary from 1989-90 and served as passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 1991 before leaving Bowling Green for greener pastures.

Despite coaching Pro Bowl receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall during his illustrious coaching career, Drake never forgot his roots — he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1980 and a master’s degree in 1984 during his time as a WKU student-athlete and later graduate assistant.

Drake told the Herald in October 2014 that Feix “saved his life” during his time at WKU. Feix refused to let the youngster fall by the wayside due to poor grades early in his college career, and Drake said his former coach kept sending him words of encouragement via mailed letters throughout his own coaching career.

“I just can’t really explain what [Feix] meant to me as a man, as a father, as a coach,” Drake said in 2014. “So many things I’ve learned from him that I’ve taken with me on this journey that I’m on. I’ll forever be indebted to him, I’ll always love him and he helped me become a man. They were lessons that allowed me to become a man and allow me to do the things I’m doing today.”

Drake is survived by his wife, Sheila, his three daughters — Shanice, Felisha and Marian — and two grandchildren.

Sports Editor Drake Kizer can be reached at 270-745-2653 and [email protected] Follow Drake on Twitter at @drakekizer_.