Is Tunch Ilkin a legitimate candidate for the offensive line coach position vacated by Sean Kugler?

Bob Levey

Is there any truth to the rumors that Tunch Ikin may become the next offensive line coach, and what would this mean for the Steelers?

Bill Cowher once offered former Steelers player and current radio analyst Tunch Ilkin the team's offensive line coach job. Ilkin turned the job down because of the time commitments, but the compelling question is what would make Cowher offer the position to a former player that has no previous coaching experience?

Tunch is renowned in league circles for being a master at teaching pass protection. He was an undersized left tackle that was able to last as long as he did because of excellent technique.

It goes a little beyond that, however.

Ilkin revolutionized pass protection; specifically, how offensive linemen use their hands in pass pro. Ilkin was really the first one to bring the techniques of martial arts into pass protection. Ilkin taught that in order to get more power with a punch, a linemen needed to punch with the muscles in their back in addition to the ones in their chest. This could be accomplished by squeezing the lat muscles together before the punch.

Hand-eye coordination was stressed also. Therefore, you would see Ilkin basically looking like a boxer hitting a heavy bag. Instead of throwing jabs, hooks, and crosses, Tunch would deliver two and one hand punches. Over and over again until it became second nature.

Ilkin would also work on things like the quick replacement of hands after a defender knocked them down and hitting small targets like shoulders.

Those are just a few, basic examples. It goes a lot deeper. Basically, Ilkin took the use of hands in pass pro and turned it into a science. Ilkin visited many teams after he retired to teach other coaches the techniques that allowed him to play as long as he did in the NFL. Everybody now does some type of version of the "Tunch Punch".

Rae Crowther is a company that has been selling football equipment forever. If you go on their website, you'll see a Tunch Punch ladder. Picture an agility ladder that you might see on those stupid Under Armour commercials. Only, the ladder is mounted on a wall instead of on the ground. You move down the ladder but with your hands instead of your feet. Nowadays, offensive linemen work on their hands just as much as they do on their feet. This is the influence of Ilkin.

So, no doubt, Tunch knows his stuff when it comes to pass protection, and he obviously knows how to teach it since he has been asked to do just that at so many places. However, there is a lot more that goes into coaching than just that. Would Tunch be able to communicate with today's athlete? Would he be able to deal with the grind of coaching in the NFL? Can he teach Marcus Gilbert to inflict some pain on the opposing team instead of the guys in the same uniform? Who knows?

I had the chance to meet Ilkin once. He is the type of guy that is able to walk into a room and get the attention of everyone. He has that natural charisma. He is able to capture an audience. That is probably one of the things that is most over-looked in coaches. It doesn't really matter what the coach knows, what matters is what the player knows. As simple as that sounds, ego doesn't allow some coaches, even some in the NFL, to really buy into that philosophy. I don't see that as being a problem with Ilkin.

It not as easy as just looking at some of the guys that are currently available and say they would look great in Black and Gold. That is what happened to the Eagles. They brought in Howard Mudd to coach their offensive line after Juan Castillo was promoted to defensive coordinator. If there is a Hall of Fame for offensive line coaches, Mudd would be in on the first ballot. But, he was a disaster in Philly. Mudd likes big offensive linemen because he believes in a vertical pass drop set, whereas Castillo always preferred smaller, more athletic linemen. The overhaul that resulted really impeded their offense. Some guys may teach things a certain way that doesn't fit with Haley or the players we currently have. That narrows the list, and would obviously bode well for Ilkin if he was interested in the job.

Because of the upcoming draft, I would expect the Steelers to hire someone sooner rather than later for the offensive line job. Whether Ilkin is hired or not, you can bet that some of the techniques that he developed will be utilized.

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