Ex-Steelers Linebacker Recalls Making Bad 1st Impression on Mike Tomlin

Mike Tomlin

Getty Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

“This is the Pittsburgh Steelers and we’re about to draft you,” said head coach Mike Tomlin at the outset of a 2016 draft day call to former Steelers outside linebacker Travis Feeney.

“Yeah, whatever, dude. This is a fake call,” responded Feeney, relating the conversation during an interview with former teammate Arthur Moats for the The Arthur Moats Experience With Deke podcast. Feeney proceeded to challenge Tomlin to stay on the phone and back up his statement.

“Then the pick went up (on television), and I said, ‘Oh crap,’” recalls Feeney, evoking hearty laughter from Moats and his co-host, Deke.

Feeney went on to relate another story about how he overslept and failed to show up for work the day after a so-called “rookie party” — one held in the midst of the Steelers’ bye week.

“I missed special teams and a team meeting,” admits Feeney, who says things could have been worse if injured offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins had not come to his door to wake him up and hurry him on his way to practice.

“I thought I was going to get hit smooth for 5K,” concluded Feeney, before Moats recalled how former Steelers defenders Artie Burns and Stephon Tuitt had already been fined $5,000 each by Coach Tomlin during that season.

Feeney didn’t get fined, but he did struggle with the transition from the University of Washington to the league, feeling a bit undersized against NFL competition at 6-foot-4 and just 225 pounds.

That helps explain why the former 6th-round pick was waived prior to the start of the 2016 regular season and spent part of the year on the team’s practice squad. He went on to sign with New Orleans in Dec. 2016 but was released prior to training camp the following year.

Travis Feeney is Currently Starring for the St. Louis Battlehawks

These days Feeney, 30, is thriving in the XFL as a member of the St. Louis Battlehawks, leading his team in sacks and tackles for loss, while also forcing a pair of fumbles and recovering two others. That includes the following strip-sack and fumble recovery against the San Antonio Brahmas.

Feeney says his XFL experience has been “great,” both on and off the field, having previously played in the CFL and USFL, as well as with the San Diego Fleet of the AAF.

“We all know that football ain’t forever,” added Feeney, who says that the XFL makes a concerted effort to help players with “next steps,” for when they retire from professional football. To that end, Feeney says he is in the process of getting his Master’s degree, even as he hopes to get another call from an NFL team.

“It’s a long hope, but who knows?” he admits.

Meanwhile, Feeney is enjoying playing for a winning outfit, as the Battlehawks are tied for 2nd in the XFL North with the Seattle Sea Dragons.

The Battlehawks roster also features former Steelers running back Mataeo Durant, who signed with the Steelers in Apr. 2022 as an undrafted free agent out of Duke.

St. Louis also employs former Steelers backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who serves as the Battlehawks’ offensive coordinator.

Ex-Steelers LB Travis Feeney Urges NFL to Adopt XFL Kickoff Rule

In the midst of his interview, Feeney took the opportunity to comment about the XFL’s novel kickoff rule.

“The kickoff — I didn’t like it at first — (but now) I like it. I feel like the NFL should do the kickoff. The contact part of it is better,” he added.

Feeney is referring to how XFL teams begin play five yards apart on kickoffs, with the kicking team at the opponent’s 35-yard line and return team at its own 30-yard line. That takes some of the most violent collisions out of the game, and is said to reduce the risk of injury.

It doesn’t eliminate the potential for big play kickoff returns.

To date, there has been one kickoff return for touchdown in the current incarnation of the XFL. It occurred last weekend, when Freddie Brown of Hines Ward’s San Antonio Brahmas took a kickoff back 96 yards for a TD against Rod Woodson’s Las Vegas Vipers.