INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – This isn’t where Howard Mudd expected to be. Not settling into a northwest side hotel, and certainly not reacquainting himself with the Indianapolis Colts.
The plan was to be on his rental property in the Phoenix area with his wife. The plan was to be relaxing, getting on Shirley’s nerves and riding his motorcycle.
“I was supposed to go down there and ride,’’ Mudd said with a laugh. “But I came to Indianapolis instead.’’
He’s back with the Colts as a senior offensive assistant on Frank Reich’s staff. Mudd will work with Chris Strausser, Reich’s recently-appointed offensive line coach and someone Mudd developed strong ties with during their time in the Seattle area.
More to the point, Mudd is back doing what he loves doing and what he’s done for the majority of his life. He’s back coaching.
“I enjoy coaching, I do,’’ Mudd said. “I like teaching. I have experience and I like the response that students have. Notwithstanding a ring and the successes and whatever else, the thing that I’ve always enjoyed most is the relationship that I have had with players that I have coached over a long period of time.
“That goes with sharing information and a common experience. I happen to be the guy that says, ‘Well, let’s head in this direction,’ and they respond. I believe as a coach you give them some of your wisdom and give them some order in their life and then you watch them grow.
“It feels really good to be able to help someone help themselves. I guess that’s what teaching is all about. That’s my passion.’’
Mudd turns 77 Sunday, and Indy seems an appropriate place for his latest celebration. His 40-plus year career as an NFL assistant includes a 12-year stint as the Colts’ offensive line coach during what was an ultra-successful stretch (1998-2009). It included two trips to the Super Bowl and one world championship.
One of the pillars to that success was an offensive line that routinely was one of the league’s best. The offense generated at least 5,000 yards during those dozen seasons and the overriding reason was impeccable pass protection. The Colts ranked no worse than 10th in fewest sacks allowed on Mudd’s watch. They were No. 1 six times, No. 2 once, No. 3 once and No. 4 twice.
Mudd’s favorite phrase: Keep the quarterback ‘clean.’
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “I’m one of two guys that our job is to keep 12 clean. That’s what our job is. Keep him clean. He’s the guy that makes it all work.’’
12 is Andrew Luck, who hopes Strausser and Mudd replicate the type of pass protection scheme afforded Peyton Manning. From 1998-2009, the Colts allowed 18.9 sacks per season despite averaging 581 passes. They allowed 15 or fewer five times.
Mudd steps into an area that realized incredible growth last season. After allowing a league-high 56 sacks in 2017, the offensive line was part of a protection scheme that yielded a league-low 18 in ’18. It features guard Quenton Nelson, who earned first-team All-Pro recognition as a rookie, and two other first-round picks: left tackle Anthony Castonzo and center Ryan Kelly.
There has been little time for Mudd to adequately evaluate the offensive line room, but his first impression was positive.
“Look at the production,’’ he said. “Look at the difference in what they were prior to last year and what they became. That’s pretty impressive.
“I haven’t seen a lot, but from what I’ve seen the culture is a proper one. They play hard. They know what they’re doing and they play hard. That’s a good mindset.’’
It’s Mudd’s responsibility to work in tandem with Strausser and Reich, and it helps there’s a shared history.
Mudd and Reich were assistants under Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell from 2006-09. Mudd and Strausser became acquainted when Mudd was dealing with retirement and dabbling in coaching/consulting in his hometown of Seattle and Strausser was at the University of Washington from 2014-16.
“I shared some stuff with him and spent a lot of time with him,’’ Mudd said. “I would watch video of their practices and games and we would exchange ideas.
“We got to know each other that way and we’ve gotten to be really close, philosophically and otherwise.’’
Mudd retired from coaching in 2012 following a two-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, but the desire still pulsated through his veins.
Back in Seattle, he worked with high school and college coaches and players – “big guys’’ he calls them – always eager to share experience drawn from more than a half-century’s involvement in the NFL. Before becoming an NFL assistant, Mudd was an elite offensive lineman with the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears; he was named to the NFL’s First-Team All-Decade Team of the 1960s.
Recently, he’s helped tutor Kaleb McGary. The Washington offensive lineman sent tape of his Senior Bowl workouts for Mudd to evaluate leading up to the NFL Scouting Combine later this month in Indy.
Whenever the opportunity has presented itself, Mudd has fallen back into his role as teacher.
Now, he’s back in Indy.
“It’s wonderful being back with Frank,’’ Mudd said. “I really identify with Indy. The guys that played here when I was here before (made it) a special place. I can get sentimental about the Heartland of the United States and all that, but you walk into this town and that enthusiasm has been recreated here.
“It may have gotten sideways for a little while, but the inherent characteristics and quality of people are there. Frank and Chris (Ballard) have done a great job with that.’’