clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A season or two of Mike Munchak may be all the young line needs

The hiring of Mike Munchak to coach the Steelers talented but under-developed offensive line was universally applauded. However, along with the praise came the concern that Munchak may only call Pittsburgh home for a season or two before he lands another head coaching job. But if Munchak can make a difference and elevate the likes of David DeCastro and Mike Adams, his time in Pittsburgh won't be wasted.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When Pitt head coach Paul Chryst was hired two seasons ago, many Panthers fans feared he might use the position as a stepping-stone to another more high-profile and lucrative head coaching job at, say, Wisconsin--his alma mater.

In addition to playing for the Badgers in the 80s, Chryst eventually became their offensive coordinator in 2005 after many years as an assistant coach as various levels--including college football, the NFL and even the CFL.

When you also factor in that Chryst was born in Madison, Wisconsin, and grew up there, it would be a traditional move for him to want to, maybe, wind up back with the Badgers as their head coach.

Pitt fans, more than frustrated after three decades of mediocre football, were offended that their program, once one of the more elite college football factories in the country, had been reduced to simply a stepping stone.

My opinion at the time was "Who cares?" I think it would be a good thing if Chryst can use the Pitt job as a stepping stone to a more attractive head coaching job elsewhere because that would mean he obviously did a good job and perhaps lifted the football program out of the malaise it's been in since the days of Dan Marino.

If you're a Pitt fan, you should be so lucky.

That brings me to the Steelers recent hiring of Mike Munchak to coach their offensive line. Munchak is a former NFL guard, who played 12 seasons with the Houston Oilers and performed his craft so well (nine Pro Bowls, 10 All-Pro selections and a member of the 1980s All Decade team), he eventually landed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

Munchak became an assistant coach with the Oilers right after retirement and eventually was named the Titans offensive line coach in 1997 after Bud Adams moved his franchise to Tennessee.

From everything I've read from media members, experts and even knowledgeable football fans, Munchak was one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL during his 14 year tenure. Therefore, it is obviously a great hire by head coach Mike Tomlin, who has spent practically his entire seven-plus seasons in Pittsburgh trying to find the right guy with the right touch to take his notoriously under-achieving offensive line and lift it to the ranks of at least respectability.

Ah, but there's the matter of those three seasons Munchak spent as the Titans' head coach before parting ways with the organization after the 2013 season. Obviously, since it was only a three year stint, Munchak didn't exactly have great success in Tennessee. In fact, he was just 22-26 overall and never took his team to the playoffs.

However, by all indications, Munchak was more than welcome back on the Titans' sidelines, the only caveat being he had to leave several of his assistant coaches go and was only fired after refusing to do so.

It was a noble move by a man of high character, but the Titans' still owe Munchak $3 million dollars, which they will pay him in 2014, minus what Pittsburgh pays him to coach their offensive line--not a bad way to get fired.

Obviously, this little nugget has a lot of Steelers' fans a bit worried that Munchak will leave after his contract with Tennessee is finally paid up and teams start calling him for head coaching interviews in about a year or so--which they most certainly will.

Let's face it, it's rare for a younger coach (at 53, Munchak is still relatively young) to only take one stab at the top of his profession, and when those half a dozen head coaching jobs pop open next January like they always do, the guys with head coaching experience (regardless of how successful they were) will probably be on most team's lists.

And if it's not the NFL, college teams might find Munchak's high character and high moral values attractive and could come calling.

Munchak played at Penn State under the legendary Joe Paterno in the late 70s and early 80s and was rumored to be a candidate for the job at Happy Valley two years ago, shortly after Paterno was fired, and again recently when Bill O'Brien left the program after two seasons to coach the Houston Texans.

Chances are, these scenarios are going to play out as early as next year and Munchak could leave. After all, offensive line coaches don't make $3 million a year, and high character or not, it's hard to pass up the kind of money that head coaches make.

My thoughts on the possibility of Munchak leaving for a head coaching position after a year or two?

We should be so lucky.

If Munchak is courted by other teams (both pro and college) to be their head coach, that would mean he was probably successful with the Steelers. If he can come to Pittsburgh for even a year or two and make these young and talented offensive linemen better, to me it would be worth it.

I used the word "under-achieving" earlier to describe the offensive linemen that have played for the Steelers under Tomlin, but the fact is, a lot of those guys weren't that talented. From Trai Essex to Justin Hartwig to Darnell Stapleton to Chris Kemoeatu, the pedigree of guys trying to protect Ben Roethlisberger and block for Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall simply wasn't that high prior to the 2010 season.

However, with the addition of two first round picks and two second round picks over a three year period, the pedigree and expectations for the offensive line were higher than they've ever been under Tomlin.

Unfortunately, the results haven't been what many had hoped for. Whether that's because of injuries, inexperience or lack of development, I don't know, but I do know Pittsburgh has enlisted the help of one of the best in the business to perhaps diagnose the problem and then hopefully cure it.

Mike Munchak may only stick around for a season, but if he can make a difference with a young offensive line that, just two seasons ago, had everyone doing back-flips after the drafting of David DeCastro and Mike Adams, it would be a season well-spent, and his contributions could be felt around here for a long time to come.