Culture, chemistry and Luck drew Howard Mudd back to Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- Howard Mudd is 77 years old, and he easily could be enjoying retirement by riding his motorcycle across the country after more than 40 years in the NFL as a player and coach.

In fact, Mudd didn’t think he would ever return to Indianapolis after he left following the 2009 season.

“Me coming back? No chance," he said. “For what?"

But there was Mudd earlier this week, using a cane to walk into the Indianapolis Colts' media room, sitting down and talking about what drew him back to the franchise where he spent 12 years.

“[New offensive line coach] Chris [Strausser], my friend, Frank [Reich], the Colts and how well they had done,” Mudd said. “I know Frank very well from having worked with him. Frank can make a pretty compelling argument and he can convince you of a lot. It was very exciting. ... He’s a football guy and that was exciting to me. It was a few days later when he asked, and it was just kind of meant to be.”

Mudd’s respect for Reich is so good that he told the Colts head coach that he would “walk from Seattle” even it would “take me a while” to get there to join his staff as the team’s senior offensive assistant. Mudd and Reich formed a relationship during their first stints with the Colts. They overlapped with the franchise from 2006 to '09.

It’s no surprise that what also drew Mudd back to Indianapolis is something that’s commonly talked about when the Colts are mentioned: a strong culture.

A strong culture, trust in the organization and the right situation -- working with Strausser -- helped Mudd decide to end his consulting job working with different NFL teams across the country. Strausser came to Indianapolis after spending the previous two seasons as the Denver Broncos' assistant offensive line coach. Mudd will work with the entire offense, but it's only natural that there likely will be more of an emphasis on the offensive line, as that's his specialty.

“There are three parts to that,” Mudd said. “One is [Andrew Luck] -- that’s a big deal. Second thing is the group of offensive linemen and the way they are playing. Along with the offensive line is, watching them, I took some plays out of the 2009 [season]. Those guys won 14 games. This group here, physically, might be more imposing. I think they are. Frank doesn’t agree with me. They’re pretty good and that’s encouraging to look at that.

"I guess there’s a fourth thing. Then I’m hearing, I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m hearing from the equipment people that were here before, the medical staff, those kind of people are saying, ‘Well, this locker room is really something. It almost has an innocence to it.’ So that’s something I don’t know yet. But the other thing is the atmosphere in the offensive staff room, it’s the best I have ever been around.”

It's easy to connect the dots.

The Colts had a future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning the last time Mudd was with the organization as offensive line coach. Now they have Luck, the player who replaced Manning in 2012.

“I always knew [Luck] was a phenom," Mudd said. “I just felt like he was the real deal. It reminded me of the past ... performance and lifting the team. And if Peyton was standing here I’d say, ‘[Luck is] a better athlete.’ Peyton’s not going to disagree with that."

The offensive line had strong continuity and often imposed its will when blocking for Manning and opening up lanes for the running backs the first time around. They gave up the fewest amount of sacks six times in Mudd’s 12 seasons. The 2018 offensive line gave up an NFL-low 18 sacks.

That has Mudd thinking there's something special coming together in Indianapolis. Manning led the Colts to double-digit wins 11 times. The Colts have won at least 10 games in all four years that Luck has played all 16 games.

"What I see on video is the potential to be -- hoo, boy -- I think they can be pretty good,” Mudd said. “Really. That excites me.”