INDIANAPOLIS — Howard Mudd was perfectly fine riding around on his motorcycle and enjoying his retirement in the Pacific Northwest.
Sure, from time to time, various teams and coaches at the professional and college ranks would reach out for advice or for a couple days of consulting opportunities, but for much of the last six offseasons, Mudd was content with leaving his noted past as a highly-successful NFL offensive line coach right there — in the past.
Then the Indianapolis Colts came calling.
At first, head coach Frank Reich was just reaching out for some background on a potential candidate to be his next offensive line coach. Mudd gave his thoughts on his good friend, Chris Strausser, and that was that.
But a few days later, after deciding to hire Strausser, Reich called Mudd again.
This time, he wanted to lure the 77-year-old out of retirement.
Mudd will of course always have a soft spot in his heart for Indianapolis and the Colts organization, but after seeing the improvements made by the team in 2018, and then factoring in the players and coaches he’d get to work with, it didn’t take much to convince him to return.
“I said, ‘Yes. I’d like that,’” Mudd told Reich. “‘In fact, I’ll walk from Seattle, but it’ll take me a while.’”
So on Feb. 7, Mudd was formally brought back to the Colts’ staff, a full-time NFL coach for the first time since 2012 serving a role, senior offensive assistant, that’s perhaps more of a hybrid than anything he’s experienced in the past.
Mudd will still be heavily involved in helping Strausser and new assistant Klayton Adams with the offensive line, but his total experience, which includes more than 40 years as a player and coach in the NFL, is seen as extremely valuable for the entire operation.
Here are a few takeaways from Mudd’s entertaining session with reporters this week:
» Mudd is already blown away by Reich and his staff: During his extremely successful 12-year stint as the Colts’ offensive line coach from 1998 through 2009, Mudd got the chance to work for and with many different kinds of coaches — most notably, the likes of future Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy, as well as noted offensive coordinator Tom Moore.
But just a couple weeks into his new gig, Mudd can feel something special on this particular Colts staff, led by Reich, who was a coaching intern and later worked as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach during the final years of Mudd’s first stay in Indy.
“The atmosphere in the offensive staff room, it’s the best I’ve ever been around,” Mudd said. “It’s like … there’s some coaches that I coached with here that I really respect a lot, and a couple of them are on defense, and Tom Moore was on offense — it’s like having all of those guys in the same room at the same time. These guys all have a lot to say about what you’re doing, but they also have a lot to listen to when you talk to them. That’s just a great atmosphere, when you’ve got eight guys in a room and we don’t have someone’s bored because we’re talking about the running game, or something like that.”
Mudd said it all starts at the top.
“Frank’s just like everyone else,” Mudd continued. “He says, ‘Well, I might get voted down, but…’ ‘Yeah, let’s do it another way.’ I mean, it’s just very collaborative, and I really like it.”
» Mudd thinks this current crop of Colts offensive linemen is more “physically imposing” than those from Indy’s Super Bowl teams of the first decade: Mudd is quick to throw in that while he’s not taking anything away from what his group of linemen was able to accomplish protecting the likes of Peyton Manning from 1998 through 2009, this new wave of Indy O-linemen has been very impressive to catch up on.
“I just took some plays out of the 2009; those guys won 14 games,” Mudd said. “And this group here physically might be more imposing. They are. I think they are. Frank doesn’t agree with me. They’re pretty good and that’s encouraging to look at that.”
The Colts’ offensive line in 2018 allowed an NFL-low 18 sacks, one year after Indy allowed the most sacks, 56, in the league. And what’s even better news is all five starters — Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith — are set to return in 2019.
Again, the offensive line from what some might call the “Manning Era” was every bit as nasty, smart, etc. But the physicality of this current group, Mudd said, could very well set it apart.
“Same attitude. Same level of responsiveness, intelligence. They respond similarly,” Mudd said. “(The current group is) bigger and stronger. That’s what they are. That’s what I’m seeing. I’m not trying to bash anyone because I can’t take away the amount of wins and things like that and they were part of something. But what I see on video is the potential to be ... hoo boy, I think they can be pretty good.”
» And what about Nelson, who was selected First-Team All-Pro at left guard as a rookie in 2018?: “Quenton Nelson has got some special qualities about him. That’s understating it,” Mudd said. “He’s physically very imposing. What he really has more than anything is a heart, and he plays with it.”
Mudd gave an example in the form of a video sent to him by Colts general manager Chris Ballard.
“I guess (Nelson) was mic’d up. I’m not gonna say the words; so there was a pile forward like this, and you see him grab a blue shirt and he said, ‘Don’t you ever talk to those (blank blanks) again!’” Mudd recalled. “He was talking about the defensive linemen; he said don’t ever talk to them again.
You heard that right: Nelson took matters into his own hands with his teammate “because he was saying something good to the opponent.”
“That’s pretty infectious," Mudd added.
But what’s perhaps the best part about Nelson? He wants to be coached.
Mudd said he was in the room recently when Strausser was on the phone with Nelson, who had expressed, “‘I really feel like my technique’s slipped, and I really don’t want that to happen.’”
“So he wants to be coached. He wants to do it better,” Mudd continued. “It’s not, ‘Oh gee, coach, I want you to hear what I think you want to hear.’ No, he said it because that’s what he believed.”
» And what would a conversation with Mudd be without a little Peyton Manning mixed in?: Asked why, specifically, he wanted to come back to the Colts, Mudd talked about Reich; he talked about the obvious trajectory of the franchise; he talked about the talent and physicality of this current group of offensive linemen.
But the man under center was perhaps just as important as all of them.
Mudd raved about the work Andrew Luck was able to do last year in his first season in Reich and Nick Sirianni’s offense, one in which he was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and help lead Indy to its first postseason appearance in four seasons.
“It just looked like he was growing in confidence,” Mudd said of Luck. “I’ve always know he was a phenom. Of course the physical part, I don’t know anything about that. I just felt like he was the real deal. It reminded me of that past. Then coming here, I know he’s eager and he wants it to be right. And he’s smart. Obviously he can throw the ball.”
Reminded him of the past? Like of Peyton Manning?
“Well, performance and lifting the team, yes,” Mudd said. “And if Peyton was standing here I’d say ‘(Luck’s) a better athlete.’ Peyton’s not going to disagree with that.
“I haven’t met (Luck) so I don’t know. Before he came out in the draft Tom Moore worked with him, and he said to me at that time he’s really bright. The word ‘eager.’ His brain works fast. Sometimes smart people can do dumb things. It isn’t a matter of being smart. It’s really being able to process in critical situations and he does. That’s pretty exciting.”