Kugler’s qualities showed up on tape
Thursday, January 14, 2010
By BOB LABRIOLA
For coaches, as it is for players apparently, the eye in the sky does not lie.
Mike Tomlin often has made the point that the football team is defined by what it puts on videotape, that he allows the tape to talk to him in the course of making decisions. What the videotape showed him was that Sean Kugler was the right man for the job as the Steelers offensive line coach.
Kugler, who will enter his ninth season as an NFL coach, signed a contract with the Steelers on Thursday, and he will replace Larry Zierlein.
“We have to be world championship caliber, and I felt we needed an upgrade in the production at the position,” said Tomlin about his decision to make a change there. “A lot of times those changes include players and coaches, and it’s a necessary part of this business.”
The ugly part of the business is something with which Kugler became familiar during this past season. As the offensive line coach of the Buffalo Bills, Kugler went through a season that redefined the word “unsettled” when it came to the offensive line, and the team still produced a 1,000-yard rusher in Fred Jackson.
“It starts first and foremost with his tape,” said Tomlin about what impressed him about Kugler. “He coached in the midst of some adversity up there in Buffalo this year, and I was really impressed with his tape. He started two rookie guards – Andy Levitre and Eric Wood – and both of those guys played well, you saw their personality on tape. They were finishers, they appeared to be technically sound, they knew what to do. Then there was a revolving door of injuries and so forth.”
To detail the revolutions of that door, here’s a start:
Bills coach Dick Jauron decided to trade starting left tackle Jason Peters, and then he cut veteran Langston Walker, who was supposed to start at right tackle, a week before the season started.
Kugler had to replace those two veterans with a left tackle in Demetrius Bell who was a seventh-round pick two years ago without an NFL start in his career, and with a right tackle in Brad Butler who hadn't played the position regularly since his college days at the University of Virginia.
Butler tore his ACL in Week 2. Bell was injured in Week 3 and then again in Week 10 whereupon he landed on the injured reserve list.
The Bills started seven different tackle tandems through the course of the season and nine different offensive line combinations over 16 games. Their starting tackles during the season included Kirk Chambers, who originally was cut by the Bills when the roster was reduced to 53 in early September, journeyman Jonathan Scott and rookie Jamon Meredith, who was signed off Green Bay's practice squad. Buffalo also had another rookie practice squad tackle who was supposed to start the Week 16 game at Atlanta – Andre Ramsey – but he injured his calf in practice that week and could not play.
By season’s end, the Bills had five offensive linemen on the injured reserve list – two tackles and three guards – along with their two starting tight ends (Derek Schouman and Derek Fine) who were considered the team’s best blockers. One of the guys who ended up filling in for the Bills was former Steelers No. 1 pick Kendall Simmons, and he vouched for Kugler’s abilities as a coach without being asked.
“Also, the offensive coordinator (Turk Schonert) got fired before the first week of the season,” said Tomlin. “In the midst of a lot of things, the videotape was very good. They got after people, they put hats on hats, they finished. The things Sean and I talked about when he came in here showed up on tape.”
There is a mentality required to play the different positions on an NFL team, and that personality often stems from the assistant coach with whom the players work on a daily basis.
“That could be said for any position. I believe that,” said Tomlin. “The great position coaches I have been around, the core beliefs they have in regards to football and coaching football show up on tape and are displayed by the men they coach.”
As for Sean Kugler’s coaching personality?
“He’s a fundamentalist. He’s rock solid schematically. He coaches (his players to) finish. He believes in some of the core things I believe in in terms of winning by attrition in the trenches. Again, it all showed up on the tape.”