MIAMI -- Here’s Howard Mudd’s plan: After the Super Bowl, he’ll go back to Indianapolis, then spend some time in Arizona.
And the next time he reviews film, it won’t be from the coaches’ tape of Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7 against the New Orleans Saints. Instead, it will be from the long-lensed Nikon camera that’s hung around his neck for the last week of his NFL career.
Mudd snapped a picture as he walked off the Indianapolis Colts' plane Monday and more at Tuesday morning’s annual media circus.
“In case it turns out to be a nice picture to remember the event itself,” he said. “It is the last one, but it’s also a big deal. At the media day [of Super Bowl XLI] I had my wife’s camera and I had it on video and it was supposed to be on still, I screwed it up some.”
The Colts' storied offensive line coach will call it a 40-year career as a player and coach after Super Bowl XLIV. Unlike many grizzled veterans before him, he’ll be free from temptation to return.
Pete Metzelaars, the heir who will replace him for the Colts, knows things will never be the same.
“I think they’ll be a little softer,” linebacker Gary Brackett said. “I don’t think anyone is as hard as nails as Howard, that’s really old-school coaching at its finest. I guess he played a while in this league and was a very tough, aggressive lineman. And that’s exactly what he does for his linemen.”
Mudd played as a lineman for the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears from 1964-71. He has coached in the league since 1977 for San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland, Kansas City and, since 1998, Indianapolis.
That happened to be the year the Colts spent the No. 1 pick in the draft on Peyton Manning. Mudd said he’s pleased to have played any small part in the career of the quarterback, a player his unit has made sure is rarely on the ground. (Ryan McCrystal of ESPN Stats & Information tells me that since sacks became an official stat in 1982, no one has endured more sacks than former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway with 516. At his current pace, Manning -- who has suffered 215 sacks in 196 games -- would break that record at some point during his 29th season in the league, just before his 50th birthday.)
While he might appear gruff, Mudd can be a sweetheart. He’s a motorcycle aficionado. Mudd wants nothing more in retirement than to dote on his grandchildren in the Seattle area, get more fit and ride, wet roads be damned. Maybe he’ll get better with that camera, too.
Over the years, his lines have worked to fend off some pretty good pass rushes from division rival Tennessee. As a result of those matchups, he forged a friendship with Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn.
The friends rode their motorcycles together through Africa last summer.
Washburn raved about Mudd’s inventiveness as a player, when he figured out ways to slow down the likes of Hall Of Famer Merlin Olsen despite being overmatched. Basically, Mudd said, his ploys were spin moves or unconventional routes to regain position and sometimes pushes that carried Olsen or another rusher right past the play.
“I’ve seen a few clips, they were black and white,” Colts guard Ryan Lilja said. “He ran around and it’s funny to see him do the same thing that he teaches us that not a lot of people do. He was a gritty player, man.”
Washburn makes a much broader declaration: “Name me one head coach in this league that’s as good a coach as Howard Mudd. You know what the answer is? Well, there are none of them. That’s it. There is not one coach in this league as good as Howard Mudd, not one head coach that’s near as good as Howard Mudd. Not close. …
“He thought outside the box before outside the box was a saying. He’s a creative guy. He could have gone to law school, he could have been a doctor. He thought about both of them coming out of college. He’s not your typical person.”
Gregg Williams has been plotting since the NFC Championship Game for ways to beat Mudd’s line and protection schemes. The Saints defensive coordinator fondly remembers his first encounter with Mudd and has harkened back to it during game planning.
Williams was a high school coach in Kansas City, Mudd was offensive line coach for Marty Schottenheimer with the Chiefs.
“The first time I ever heard anybody talk about the inside and the outside zone, it was Howard Mudd back in the mid-80s,” Williams said. “It was a unique thing how he was teaching the footwork and the whole zone blocking concept.
“I never forgot that. In fact, I just ran across those notes in my file against last week. And every single time I play the Colts … I’ve always pulled those notes out. They still hold true.”
Mudd can sit on the sideline with Manning, figure out what a defense is doing and solve a pass rush scheme in one series while Indy’s defense is on the field. Lilja said Mudd watches more film than anyone he’s ever known aside from Manning.
The Colts’ starting line is composed of three players who were not drafted (Jeff Saturday, Lilja and Kyle DeVan), a fifth-round pick (Charlie Johnson) and a fourth-round pick (Ryan Diem). Johnson and DeVan both ousted second-rounders from the lineup, where understanding and production, not status, dictate who plays.
“I just kind of point them,” he said. “Players have to play better than you can coach them. I can tell them how to do the job. They have to reprocess that and make it better and they do that and I respect the intelligence of the players that I coach, their resourcefulness, their heart. They fight.”
He will miss the camaraderie, with players, coaches, equipment men, everyone.
But it’s time for what’s next before there isn’t time left for it.
“I’ve watched other coaches, players,” Mudd said. “I’d like to walk away when I feel like I’ve got something left and still not have given everything I’ve got and they usher you out the door and say, ‘it’s about time you did something else.’ Maybe I beat them just by a year or two. Are there more things that I’d like to do? Sure.
“My wife [Shirley] and I talked. We’ve had a really good run, football’s been good to both of us. We can walk away from it knowing it’s been a good life. In Seattle we have all the grandchildren. I got good advice, someone said 'don’t do anything specific and let it come to me.'”
First, if things go as the Colts intend on Sunday, his players will come to him.
Some sort of big sendoff will be in store.
“We’ll be celebrating with him that he went out the right way,” Diem said. “I am not sure what that will entail yet, but I am sure it will be pretty awesome.”