|Mark Gorscak ’79 (left), with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin at the Super Bowl ring ceremony in June, attributes his success as a coach, scout and administrator to his Dickinson education. “It teaches you how to communicate and how to problem solve and be creative as well as organized. That’s how you survive in life. That’s why you can go out and be a psychology major and coach football.”
Say you’re in the Steel City on a Saturday night, kicking it with the locals in a sports bar. The guy on the stool to your right is holding forth about all things Steelers. You chime in once in a while. He looks at you dismissively and says, “You know almost as much as I do about football.”
“I consider that a compliment. Thank you very much,” you respond.
Then the Steelers fan asks what you do for a living. If you’re Mark Gorscak ’79 you admit, “Well, to be truthful with you, I’m a college scout for the Steelers.” Talk about a conversation stopper.
Though he doesn’t often divulge his job title, there are times, he contends while sitting in his windowless office in the Pittsburgh Steelers headquarters. Here he and the other eight scouts view tapes, write reports and decide who will be the million-dollar athletes and who will spend their lives reflecting on high-school or college glory days.
He’s been at it for 15 years now, almost as long as Steve Hoffman ’80, his former Red Devils teammate, who’s been with the NFL for 20, now as special-teams coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Sigma Chi brothers and grad-school roommates enjoy going knuckle to knuckle when they get together—Steve’s three Super Bowl rings from his 16 years with the Dallas Cowboys against Mark’s two Steelers stunners.
If you think the two made it to the NFL front office and coaching staff because they were preternaturally gifted athletes or had family connections, guess again. Though he was a reliable center for the Red Devils for four years, the stocky Gorscak is best known athletically as the guy who snapped the ball to high-school teammate Joe Montana. “One is now a Hall of Famer, and I’m just a guy who works hard for a living,” Gorscak says with a grin.
Though he grew up in nearby Donora as a Steelers fan, Gorscak’s family couldn’t afford game tickets. “I’m a steelworker’s son, and my mom was a waitress/hostess. And if I can throw a train and a dog in there, it would be a bad country-western song,” he says.
Hoffman, the Devils’ primary kicker and punter, who also played quarterback and wide receiver, is a Dickinson Sports Hall of Fame inductee who claims he excelled more at baseball. His parents met as keypunch operators on the Pennsylvania Railroad and raised him in York, Pa.—not a hotbed of future NFL stars.
Their former coach, Wilbur “Goby” Gobrecht ’52, remembers them as “good team members, but they had nothing special as far as outstanding talent in any particular area. They created their own area and got it right, became experts at it—with Steve it was kicking, with Gors [rhymes with course], it was scouting. They got their jobs by being in the right place at the right time. Then their work ethic took over.”
If you’ve read Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Goby’s description of his former players’ career ascent makes sense. Hoffman and Gorscak are, as Gladwell writes, “people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it.”
Both men spent plenty of postcollege time in menial jobs—bartending and working as a study-hall monitor for Gorscak, running change in the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas and working at the Kline Center information desk for Hoffman. All the while they plugged away at football. Gorscak was an assistant coach at Dickinson and McDaniel College (formerly Western Maryland), and Hoffman worked on his and others’ kicking and punting. Though only 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, Hoffman was signed to attend three NFL-team training camps then quickly was cut.
The opportunities that Gorscak and Hoffman seized arose when they were in Florida attending St. Thomas University, living in an apartment that had a collage of Gorscak’s job-rejection letters arrayed in the bathroom. Gorscak jumped at a one-year football-marketing internship at Weber State when coach Mike Price called. He wound up as tight-end coach as well at the Division-I school in Ogden, Utah.
“I always tell kids you never know who’s going to help you get where you want to go, and in this case, for me, it was Mike Price,” he says. After the internship, Gorscak spent a year as the first general manager of the Pittsburgh Gladia-tors arena football team then returned to Weber State, where he was special-teams coach and liaison with pro scouts for nine years. One scout, Dan Deisch, recommended him to the Steelers’ scouting staff.
For Hoffman the break came when he met Jimmy Johnson at a football camp, just before Johnson became the University of Miami coach. “I told him I’d love to work with his punters and kickers if he ever needed help.” He soon took Hoffman up on his offer.
A few years later, “When Jimmy got the job with the Dallas Cowboys, he hired me full time,” Hoffman relates. From 1989 to 2005, Hoffman coached the punters and kickers and studied films of upcoming opponents to help the coaches plot strategy. When coach Bill Parcells cut him in 2005, says Hoffman, “I was the longest-tenured assistant coach anywhere in the league.”
Before accepting the Chiefs post this spring, Hoffman had stints as assistant special-teams coach with the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins. The new job “is a big responsibility, but it makes me feel good,” he says.
“The special teams handle all kicking situations—the kickoff at the beginning and kickoff returns,” Hoffman explains. “I’m in charge of putting the right players on the field in the right position in the right scheme. I make sure every player knows exactly what he’s doing. I have a system of getting the message to them when they’re on the field and am aware of all personnel and who is backing them up at every position. Football is just a big chess game, and we’re always moving around the parts. It’s a 10-act play every night.”
What’s more, “I’m the only coach on the staff who deals with the whole team other than the head coach,” Hoffman asserts. “I have to deal with all the different personalities—the NFL egos—as well as contracts. I have to be more of a psychologist than a coach,” says Hoffman, who majored in economics at Dickinson.
Gorscak, a psychology major, spends more time in his car than on the field. Six months of the year he travels from college to college, mainly in the South, looking for the next Hines Ward or James Harrison.
He arrives early, brandishing two-dozen donuts for the coaches. “I break down the barrier and give them some comfort when I ask questions about the kids. It’s like, ‘Hey, the Steelers are here. He brought doughnuts.’ And the Steelers get treated a little different, in my opinion. We get Super Bowls. We win the right way. Mr. [Dan] Rooney [the owner] is an icon.”
Once he doles out the doughnuts, Gorscak reviews three one-hour tapes for each player he’s investigating to “get a feel for him as an athlete and what he can do for his position.” Then he interviews coaches and sometimes talks with or watches the athlete at practice.
Back in his hotel room Gorscak writes reports into the wee hours. “The first part of the report is going to be any new injuries; the second part is the character—whether he has two supportive parents, if he’s a good worker on and off the field, if he will play hurt, has good toughness, good FBI—football intelligence. … You get a feel for what this guy really, really is. After you put down the positives and negatives, you write a summary. Should he be a starter in this league? Will he draft in the third round? You put a value on him.”
To the current Super Bowl champs, character is a big part of the final assessment. “I know for a fact that we look at character more so than some teams,” Gorscak claims. “It’s important because when you’re in dire straits and it’s rug-cutting time and you’ve got to score a winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, character comes through.” On the flip side, “if you have bad-character guys on your team and you keep bringing them in, they all gravitate together and will bring you down.”
If you ever have the chance to view one of Gorscak’s detailed reports or see him on TV starting the 40-yard dash at the Combine, the job fair for NFL players each February, you’ll agree with Hoffman’s assessment of his old friend. “He’s meticulous, thorough and really conscientious. He’s loyal to a fault and would be a great guy to work with.”
So far, working together hasn’t panned out. But neither Steelers scout nor Chiefs special-teams coach will be the last stop for these former Red Devils if they can help it. Gorscak could see himself as a general manager of an NFL team, a college athletics director or professor. For Hoffman, it would be the top coaching spot for a pro team.
“But for now, I just want to do this well,” Hoffman says. “I’m nervous. It’s a ton of work. I’m afraid we’re not going to be good, because we have a young team. The majority have less than three years of experience. I need to mold these young guys and convince them I’m trying to help them get better. If you do it the right way, they will play hard for you. My goal is to be the coach on staff who the guys respond to.”
Join Gorscak on a VIP tour of the Pittsburgh Steelers' headquarters in the Ring Leaders Slideshow.