Colts Defensive Line Coach Helped Mold Undrafted Free Agent Into Hall of Famer
The life of an assistant coach is not one spent in the spotlight. The majority of an assistant's work is done behind the scenes, away from the attention of media and fans.
And to Colts' defensive line coach John Teerlinck, it is supposed to be that way.
"They are the grunts. They are the sergeants of football. They're the hands-on, day-in, day-out, roll-up- your-sleeves, (and) get-down-and-dirty with the players," said Teerlinck.
For 31 seasons, Teerlinck has lived in that world, and lived in it happily, as he turned out pass-rusher after pass-rusher. He never asked for any recognition, and, in turn, never received much, despite the fact that a number of the best pass rushers in the recent history of the NFL have spent time learning their trade under him.
So, it is with great pride that Teerlinck has spent part of this off-season preparing a speech for the induction ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Not for his own induction, but for former Minnesota Vikings standout John Randle, who asked Teerlinck to present him into the Hall of Fame after learning of his election in February. Teerlinck was instrumental in coaching Randle, a former undrafted free agent who finished with 137.5 career sacks.
"He always said we would do this, but in the back of my mind, I (never knew for sure). I'm sure you get bombarded with everybody that you've ever known (after being voted into the Hall of Fame), everybody that you've ever been coached (by) and probably some heavy-hitters. It would have been easy to be swayed and go with somebody more flashy and beautiful and glamorous then stick with the real blood and guts," Teerlinck said.
But Teerlinck got the call, and it is an honor that he does not take lightly.
"I've coached 31 playoff games, six championship games, four Super Bowls and this is bigger than all of those. For an assistant coach, this is huge."
Teerlinck a former NFL player who spent four seasons in the league before retiring because of a knee injury, has taken time this offseason to diligently pull together his thoughts on Randle and his accomplishments. He had a speech prepared, more than one in fact, as he tried to put together the perfect words for Randle's moment. He then found out the Hall of Fame no longer has the presenters give a speech, but instead will dispatch a film crew to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center to interview Teerlinck. The interview will then be cut to four-to-five minutes and shown over highlights of Randle's career.
Teerlinck downplays the change, though, and instead is glad the focus is on Randle, where he thinks it should be.
"I think it's a reaping of a reward. I think it's a coming of age. I don't have to perform. All I have to do is quote a few stats and I can lay back and embellish and absorb (in) the greatness that is around (me)."
Teerlinck has surrounded himself with greatness in his Colts' office. He has framed pictures of some of his former pupils in his office, including a signed program cover of Randle. But Teerlinck takes a humble approach to his role in the development of his defensive linemen.
"I'm just the guy that was there when we got the work done, that's all."
And work definitely has gotten done under Teerlinck. Currently, there are 24 players in NFL history that have amassed more than 100 sacks, five have studied under Teerlinck (Randle, Chris Doleman, Neil Smith, Kevin Greene and Bubba Baker). Teerlinck also has two more apprentices (DT-Trevor Pryce with 90 career sacks and Colts DE-Dwight Freeney with 84 career sacks) closing in on the century mark.
"JT has a very unique and effective way to make guys better and motivated year-in and year-out," said Freeney. "We all buy into his system."
As he prepares to help introduce Randle at the induction ceremonies on Saturday, August 7 in Canton, Ohio, Teerlinck jokingly asked to have but one, small wish.
"I wonder if we can get a bust of me and somehow sneak it in there at the same time."
But it is enough for Teerlinck to know there is a small piece of him being honored as well, as his hard work and countless time has guided more than a few players to one of pro football's highest honors.