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Mike Munchak talks about his departure from the Steelers, and if he would ever return

The Hall of Fame player and coach isn’t ready to call it a career. Could a reunion in Pittsburgh be on the horizon?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

NFL fans love the “name brand” when it comes to coaches, players and even General Managers (GM). They want someone they know, a name they recognize. Just because they recognize the name doesn’t always mean it will workout though. One of the times the name recognition did work out was with Mike Munchak.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans knew Munchak from his days at Penn State, as well as a player for the Houston Oilers. If that wasn’t enough to jog their memory, Munchak’s tenure as the Tennessee Titans’ head coach made him a known commodity.

When he was hired as the Steelers offensive line coach, fans were ecstatic about the hire. Why? Because his Hall of Fame career, combined with name recognition, gave fans hope.

And Munchak delivered in a big way.

Munchak turned the Steelers’ offensive line into a formidable front to protect Ben Roethlisberger and help turn the Killer B’s offense into one of the most high powered units during his time in Pittsburgh.

When Munchak left the Steelers he made it very clear why he left — family. Munchak had interviewed for the head coaching vacancy with the Denver Broncos, but when Vic Fangio was the team’s selection, Munchak chose a lateral move to the Broncos to be closer to his family.

But would he ever return? Recently Munchak joined Ron Cook and Joe Starky on 93.7 The Fan, and let’s just say he didn’t rule it out.

“We talk…” Munchak told Cook and Starkey before quickly stopping and saying “that’s one of those things I don’t really want to talk about. I was more at the time, trying to stay in Denver, out West. It’s something we never really discussed because, as much as I loved Coach Tomlin, there is no better head coach in football as a player to work for or as a coach to work for. I learned so much from him and the Rooney’s and the way they run their organization. For me that was a great learning experience. I learned a lot from my years there.”

When the Steelers had an opening at their offensive line coach following the departure of Adrian Klemm, many speculated the team could bring Munchak back. Munchak didn’t say the Steelers called, but said he was trying to stay out west to be closer to family.

“At the time I was trying to stay out west.” Munchak said. “It was not something I was considering at the time when they may or may not have had an opening. I was 100% focused at trying to stay out in this part of the country. It didn’t quite work out this year for that to happen.”

At 62 years-old, is Munchak ready to hang up the whistle for good? Not even close.

“I love the game too much,” Munchak said. “I’d love to continue to work, especially offensive line coaches. It’s something I love doing, I love teaching. I love being around the players whether they be teenagers or in their twenties or thirties. It’s something I love doing, so it’s something I would like to continue doing.

“Hopefully if the right opportunity comes up this year or next year, whenever, I would continue to coach.

“I’ve been blessed to always have a job, so much is about the opportunity, the fit, the timing. The timing unfortunately wasn’t great for what was going on in Denver (the last few months). My family is here. Having the opportunity to work in the same city that your family is in is a rare opportunity. I was hoping to keep that going.

“Unfortunately, that did not work out this year, but I’m hoping to continue to work. We will see what happens in the future.”

The Steelers offensive line hasn’t been the same since Munchak left, but it isn’t solely on the coach leaving which caused the downturn. Players like Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and David DeCastro retired and/or were released, and Alejandro Villanueva’s contract wasn’t picked up before he joined the Baltimore Ravens for two seasons prior to his retirement. While the cupboard wasn’t left bare, it also wasn’t busting at the seams with young talent.

Nonetheless, Munchak looks back on his time in Pittsburgh fondly.

“My years in Pittsburgh were awesome,” Munchak recalled. “My five years there was something I will never forget. The hardest thing I ever did was leave there. It was a family decision more than anything.”

The Steelers filled their vacancy this offseason at offensive line coach with Pat Meyer, and the hope is Meyer is able to get the young offensive line the Steelers possess to improve and make their offense as formidable as Munchak did when he was in Pittsburgh. But with these quotes, if things don’t go well for Meyer, expect fans to be clamoring for Munchak’s return.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp.