Deep down, Robert Mathis has always been a coach. A natural leader who set the bar on game day, at practice, and in the locker room – becoming an actual coach was never something he thought about.
“I did not. I always rebuked it. I turned it down,” he said.
But the longer he played, the more he found himself coaching.
“I guess later in my career, I was kind of motivated to pass the knowledge along. The older you get, the less you’re able to do – but the more you can teach.”
It’s a role he began to embrace. And pretty soon, his love for the game and his urge to teach it was too strong.
“I can’t get away from it. I’ve just come to that conclusion. I just can’t get away from it. I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying a new challenge and embracing it and I’m loving it – back to the old scheme and back to new beginnings.”
After a 14-year NFL career – all with the Indianapolis Colts – it’s a fresh start for the former outside linebacker and defensive end, who’s now in his second year as a pass rush consultant for the team.
Asked what brought him back, he simply replied, “The blue and white – period. That’s all I know. I love it too much.”
And with a new coaching staff and a return to the 4-3 defense, it’s a fresh start for everyone this season – one he’s excited about.
“It’s what I knew my first nine years. We played under it – a lot of success and we won a championship. We’ve got a quarterback to build around again. I feel like the stars are realigning for us.”
Mathis left his mark on the game as a player, racking up 129.5 quarterback sacks, the most in Colts franchise history.
One of the things that motivate him today is passing along his craft.
“Pass rusher is the number one occupation in the NFL besides quarterback,” he said. “Look it up. I said it. Yeah, I did.”
These days, good pass rushers are hard to come by. And he has his own theory as to why.
“I decided a lot of guys aren’t being taught the right way. I was taught how to pass rush from John Teerlinck. He taught me the right way. A lot of guys in the league were getting away from it.”
It’s a key role in an NFL defense and it’s one that’s defined his career. After terrorizing quarterbacks for 14 seasons, Robert Mathis decided that if he’s not making life miserable for quarterbacks, someone has to.
“I love pass rushers and I hate quarterbacks,” he said. “I feel like I have a job to keep a legacy of the rushmen going. You have Teerlinck, you have Marinelli – Mike Phair, he’s a Marinelli product. I’m a Teerlinck product. We’ve got to keep it going because it’s proven and it makes pass rushers.”
And that’s his calling – to build the next generation of pass rushers.
He tries not to use “old guy talk” and a lot of “back in my days,” but Mathis said he’s found himself reverting to that more than he thought, earlier than he thought, and more than he likes. But the players laugh it off, knowing he’s earned the right.
“It’s mutual respect. They understand the body of work and they know I respect them and want to teach them. It’s coming from a good place,” he said. “Our guys have embraced it, they accepted the challenge, and we have a nucleus that we can really build on. I think we’re the best kept secret.”
The best kept secret may be Mathis himself.
He set the bar as a player. He reinvented himself as a coach. And he’s dedicated himself to building the pass rushers of the future.
“Honestly, the funnest part is being able to talk trash now and not have to back it up. I make my guys have to back it up. I have fun with them. They keep me young and I just enjoy it all around.”
Robert Mathis said he’d never coach.
But he couldn’t stay away.
Just months out of retirement, he came back as a volunteer, an intern, and now, here he is – Coach Mathis.
“It’s what I do and I love it too much and I’m here. What can I say? I lied.”