Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson was badly burned in a Seven Fields townhouse fire early this morning.
Firefighters went 141 Jameson Way at 2:42 a.m. and saw smoke and flames from the street. They found Mr. Wilson, 50, burned "severely," according to a written statement from Jeffrey Schueler, director of public safety in nearby Cranberry.
Mr. Wilson went first to UPMC Cranberry and then to UPMC Mercy for treatment, according to the statement, which offered no detail about his condition.
A team source said Wilson has burns on 30 percent to 50 percent of his body, and the injuries are considered serious but not life threatening. No one else was in the house, the source said.
Firefighters from Adams Area Fire District, Cranberry, Callery, Harmony, Zelienople, and South Butler extinguished the fire.
Steelers president Art Rooney II released a statement on behalf of the team.
"First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with Kirby and his entire family," the statement reads. "We are saddened to hear about his unfortunate situation but we know that he has the best medical care in the country treating him. The entire organization is praying for Kirby to have a full recovery and we will be by his side through this difficult time."
The Steelers are set to play a first-round playoff game Sunday at Denver.
Mr. Wilson is in his fifth season as running backs coach. The team's media guide credits him as "instrumental" in running back Rashard Mendenhall's success in 2009, when he rushed for 1,108 yards with a team-high seven touchdowns on the ground.
Players learned of Mr. Wilson's injuries at 9 a.m. this morning at a team meeting.
But his running backs had an inkling something was amiss when he did not show up for an early morning film session.
"I was shocked at first because usually we meet him early in the mornings to go over a little film," Steelers running back John Clay said. "When he didn't come in the morning, we didn't know what was going on."
Isaac Redman, who will be the team's feature back this weekend, said he was caught off guard by the news.
"He's such a hard-working coach," Mr. Redman said. "He was always the first guy in the building. He was always here. He takes pride in the running backs."
He credited Mr. Wilson for his progress in the NFL.
"He's taken me really from a practice squad running back to a running back that's capable of playing in this league," Mr. Redman said. "He had a lot to do with my development of being able to recognize defenses and being a complete professional in how I go about my life every day. It's just really sad to see this happen to him."
Mr. Wilson started his coaching career in 1985 and has journeyed throughout the country at the junior college, Division I and professional levels. He won two Super Bowls as a running backs coach -- the first with Tampa Bay in 2003 and with the Steelers in 2009.
He spent one year at the University of Southern California as the Trojans' wide receivers coach -- Troy Polamalu's junior year.
Mr. Polamalu said he was the same coach then he is now.
"You kind of get stuck in a groove where everyday you come in and you anticipate seeing the same people," he said. "And all of a sudden, we encounter this circumstance, and it's tough."
Mr. Wilson coached on the sidelines on gameday. Offensive assistant Harold Goodwin gave running backs instructions today at practice, and Mr. Redman said he assumed he would take over Mr. Wilson's gameday responsibilities, too.
Mr. Redman said coach Mike Tomlin, at the request of doctors, discouraged players from visiting Mr. Wilson at the hospital.
Wide receiver Hines Ward said Mr. Wilson occupied the thoughts of all players today.
"You start to think more about his family more than anything. I think football is second," he said. "All the guys' thoughts and prayers are with Kirby and his family. Everyone on this team is thinking more of his family, his health and well being."
It's not just on the field that things can change quickly.
"It's just crazy," Mr. Ward said. "Just yesterday we were laughing, and next thing you know, he's in the hospital. That's the thing, we just got to wait and see and get an update. We can't let that be a distraction. We've still got to go out there and play."
Sadie Gurman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1878. First Published January 6, 2012 2:30 PM