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2012 NFL Training Camp: Coach Wilson's Emotional Return to the Steelers

After suffering burns to nearly 50% of his body, Wilson returned to Steelers mini camp in May.
After suffering burns to nearly 50% of his body, Wilson returned to Steelers mini camp in May.Handout/Getty Images
William RenkenCorrespondent IIIJune 5, 2012

The news broke out suddenly on January 6, 2012.

In the early hours of the morning around 3 a.m., a fire erupted suddenly in the house of Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson located in the Seven Fields suburb about 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh.

A grease fire that started in the kitchen of his house left the 50-year-old Wilson with burns on nearly 50 percent of his body, yet he remained in stable condition as he was airlifted first to UPMC Mercy hospital. However, due to the extensive area of the burns he suffered along with heavy smoke inhalation, Kirby was placed into a medically induced coma while the doctors performed numerous surgeries to repair the damaged areas of Kirby's body.

Despite the tragedy of what happened, the prognosis was that Wilson would pull through from his injuries. At the same time, though, it would leave the Steelers without a key member of its personnel heading into the Wild Card Game with the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium...

Wilson became a member of the Steelers' staff in 2007 when head coach Mike Tomlin assumed the role of head coach of the team. Tomlin handpicked Wilson to be the team's running backs coach (from an extensive resume of tenures in Tampa Bay, New England, Washington, and Arizona), and would become instrumental in the development of Rashard Mendenhall as the team's workhorse running back.

His results speak for themselves. Mendenhall produced back to back 1,000 yard seasons in 2009 and 2010 and was only 72 yards shy in a shortened 2011 due to a knee injury suffered at the end of the season.

With Mendenhall out for the rest of the year following his injury in Week 17, Wilson and the Steelers turned to Isaac Redman to lead the ground attack for the rest of the Steelers' 2011campaign. But Redman's time to prepare with Wilson for the Denver playoff game would be shortened with the fire that broke out not even 48 hours after the Steelers' win at Cleveland.

Despite Wilson's absence, Redman was successful on the ground against the Broncos, notching up 121 yards on 17 carries. However, an overtime strike from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas ended the Steelers' season abruptly and sent Denver to the divisional round of the playoffs with a 29-23 victory.

Wilson would remain in the hospital for months following the fire in January.

The sad irony of it all is that it was rumored that with Bruce Arians' removal during the offseason that Wilson was next in line to be offensive coordinator. However with the tragic turn of events, and Wilson's extended rehab dividing his time, the team had to go in a different direction, eventually signing Todd Haley to the position.

In March, reports and tweets from Steelers' personnel and players confirmed that their coach was not only doing well but was soon to be finally released from the hospital.

With his rehabilitation still continuing, Wilson made his emotional return to the Steelers during their mini camp in early May, much to the delight of the team's veterans and rookies. With Mendenhall still on the mend following surgery to his injured knee and a couple of new faces in the backfield, the Steelers will need Wilson's energy and experience to bolster a running attack amidst a new offensive scheme.

If Wilson's success with Mendenhall is any indication, then Redman, as the projected No. 1 back for the Steelers, could be in for a breakout season in 2012. But first and foremost, it's just good for the team to have their coach back, safe and healthy.

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