By Matthew Marczi
It was reported yesterday that former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak accepted the offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers to become the team’s offensive line coach this season. This is being widely hailed as a great get for a team that desperately needs a man that can lead a talented but young and unrefined crew of offensive linemen.
Born and raised on the eastern side of Pennsylvania in Scranton, Munchak became an accomplished guard playing for Penn State in college before going on to a Hall of Fame career with the Houston Oilers, garnering nine Pro Bowl bids in his 12 professional seasons.
Until now, Munchak had spent his entire professional career with the Oilers, and later Titans, organization, but now he is coming home to Pennsylvania. He spent 14 seasons in Houston and Tennessee coaching offensive lines and became among the most respected at it in the league. Now he will be doing the same in Pittsburgh after a brief flirtation as a head coach.
It’s somewhat reminiscent of Todd Haley, also a native Pennsylvanian who, after being fired from a less than ideal head coaching circumstances, came to Pittsburgh in a more familiar assistant coach capacity. Let’s hope that Munchak’s transition goes more smoothly. Has he met Maurkice Pouncey yet?
On a more serious note, even if Munchak’s second stint among the offensive line coach ranks proves brief and he goes off to a higher position in a year or two, I believe that the impact he can have on this offensive line, and thus this team, can be long-lasting.
It’s not very often that a player that was among the best at his position is also among the best at teaching others to play the position, but that’s what Munchak is. While he went to nine Pro Bowls himself, he sent his own players to 10 Pro Bowls as their position coach. The only lineman with Pro Bowl experience is currently Pouncey, though David DeCastro is certainly on the cusp.
Munchak can harness some of that raw ability and get the most out of this group of players, and can turn a player like DeCastro into a Pro Bowler, if not an All-Pro. But it’s not so much the interior of the offensive line that can most benefit; rather, it’s the edge protectors, the tackles, that could use the most elbow grease.
Marcus Gilbert has been the right tackle for three seasons now, and though his play has been affected by injuries, there’s still certainly much for him to work on. Like Mike Adams, he struggles to anchor against a bull rush, for example.
Adams is of course the biggest project now on Munchak’s plate. The former second rounder crapped the bed in his second season when given the chance to start at left tackle, showing glaring issues in pass protection, keeping his hands down and reaching when his feet get caught behind him. The organization would obviously be very appreciative if Munchak can salvage this high-investment player.
Not that Kelvin Beachum doesn’t deserve credit for taking hold of the starting left tackle spot, where he will presumably enter the offseason. But he, too, can benefit from Munchak’s wisdom. Of the team’s top six offensive linemen, four were drafted in the top two rounds over the last four seasons. Three will be entering just their third year in the league.
Historically, Mike Tomlin has been one to stack the deck for new position coaches by bringing in some new toys, but Munchak’s already got all the clay he can handle. It’s time for him to start molding a championship-caliber offensive line.