In new career, Matthews embraces grunt work

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

A three-coach-to-five-starters ratio is the sort of thing Bruce Matthews might have made fun of during his 19-year career as an offensive lineman with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans.

But now that he's the third coach in just such a scenario, he's taken a softer stance and has a quip at the ready about it: "Until John Benton told me the Rams had four coaches for their two quarterbacks, or they did when Mike Martz was up there, I thought we were something special. But apparently that's not the case."

Alex Gibbs is technically the Texans' assistant head coach/offense, but he is the mastermind behind the line's run-blocking scheme. Benton is the offensive line coach and focuses a bit more on pass protection. Matthews is one of two entry-level coaches designated as an "offensive assistant."

There is little glamour in such a job. But during an illustrious career, Matthews never acted as if anything was below him. So it's not that surprising that the Hall of Famer, who turns 48 on Aug. 8, is just fine working at a photocopier, changing out the transparencies during an offensive line meeting or doing whatever is asked.

Still, glimpses of it can be striking.

"Me and Chester [Pitts] are back there, pointing," right tackle Eric Winston said. "'That's HoF over there, changing the transparencies.' I think that says nobody's above doing the little things."

A line entering its second year in Gibbs' system trying to spring Steve Slaton and protect Matt Schaub now has an additional resource; an offensive line encyclopedia at the ready.

"He's here to help us, he's not trying to come in and take everything over," left tackle Duane Brown said. "But he's always there for advice. You hear little stories about him and the guys he went against. He's played at different positions across the line. He knows what it takes to be successful and have a long career. Whenever he speaks up to say something, I'm all ears."

At a special-teams meeting during minicamp, Matthews sat quietly in the back of the room. When he raised a hand with something to add, coach Gary Kubiak said the entire room turned to get its eyes on the new coach.

"Some guys are huge talkers and you take bits and pieces," receiver David Anderson said. "Some guys just talk a little bit and you've got to really listen to what they say. And that's the way I think Bruce is."

Matthews retired in 2002 and returned full time to Houston, where he made up for a lot of lost time with his wife, Carrie, and their seven children: Steven, Kevin, Marilyn, Jake, Michael, Luke and Gweneth.

He put together an ironman legacy as a player, appearing in 296 games, more than any other non-kicker in league history at the time.

Then Matthews tore up one knee while coaching a son's team and the other while helping with cleanup following Hurricane Ike. His hobble now is a bit disconcerting. He said it's partly from calf issues that came after back surgery in his fourth year with the Oilers, partly from limited strength in his left quad following the Ike-related knee injury.

After years away from the NFL and with the kids older, he started to get an itch, connected with Kubiak and got a foot in the door with his hometown team, embracing the rookie coaching life just as he embraced all the trappings of being a rookie player in 1983.

"I don't look at it as demeaning in any way, shape or form or like I am taking a step down," he said. "I look at it as a great opportunity to learn everything about the offense that I didn't know. The other coaches here, I've picked something up from each of those guys. More than anything, I always considered playing and being in this league a great privilege and being involved in this capacity, I value it as much as I did playing."

He's entered gracefully, wary of stepping on toes and carrying advice from his very close friend, Mike Munchak. The Oilers other Hall of Fame offensive lineman made a similar move from playing to coaching, though without the pause between the two. Munchak became Tennessee's offensive line coach in 1997.

"He's a hard worker," Munchak said. "Everything he does, he's going to do perfectly. So if they have him doing transparencies or drawing pictures or lining up the drills, he's going to do it as perfect as you can do it. He wants to be the best at whatever he does. If he ever becomes the line guy, then I am sure he's going to want to outdo me and outdo what the Titans do because that's Bruce Matthews. He'll want to be the best line coach that ever coached."

The two good friends now have to consider new boundaries.

Matthews regularly called Munchak when he was coaching his sons -- Kevin is now a lineman at Texas A&M, Jake is a highly recruited rising senior at Elkins High School in Sugarland, Texas, who Kubiak has joked looks ready to play for the Texans -- for reminders about how the Titans drilled certain things or conveyed certain techniques or messages.

"I can't help him anymore," said Munchak, who played with Matthews for 11 years and was his offensive line coach for five. "We were just talking the other day about something and I said, 'I can't talk to you about that stuff anymore. I'm not going to give you anything, you'll pass it on.' He said, 'I wouldn't do that,' and I said, 'Yeah, you would.' I said, 'Maybe when you're the guy we can talk during the offseason, but I can't be talking to you.'

"Titans-Texans, that's a whole different level now. Don't have your wife be calling Marci either, trying to get stuff during the season. He just started laughing. I said we can't talk football anymore. Maybe when you're playing someone else and we need you to beat them, then maybe I'll help you out. Right now, sorry pal, we've gone to another level of the relationship."