State Your Case: Howard Mudd
A "body of work" candidate as a player, coach
(Published November 2017)
When a candidate is brought before the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, the voters are asked to consider him for only one specific area of achievement – whether as a player or as a coach or as a contributor.
There is not supposed to be any overlap. But voters looked beyond that restriction in recent classes to induct two Hall of Famers for their “body of work” in football.
John Madden was inducted as a coach who won a Super Bowl and an NFL-record 75.9 percent of his games – but also for expanding the popularity of the game with his work as a television commentator and as the face of the video game Madden NFL.
Dick LeBeau was inducted as a player who intercepted 62 career passes, third best in NFL history among pure cornerbacks – but also as an inventive and successful assistant coach who molded 13 defenses into Top 5 units as a coordinator.
Another worthy Hall of Fame candidate lurks in the gray area between two successful modalities – Howard Mudd. He was an all-decade guard for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1960s and also one of the game’s top offensive line coaches over a 37-year period with seven teams. Like LeBeau, Mudd won his only Super Bowl ring as a coach – LeBeau with the Steelers and Mudd with the Colts.
Mudd was a ninth-round pick of the 49ers in 1964 out of tiny Hillsdale College but won a starting spot in his rookie year. A sound technician, Mudd was voted to the Pro Bowl in his third, fourth and fifth seasons. But the 49ers struggled to compete throughout the 1960s playing in the loaded Western Conference with the Baltimore Colts, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.
Scuffling along with a 31-39-5 record with Mudd in their blocking front, the 49ers traded their Pro Bowl blocker to the Chicago Bears midway through the 1969 season for some defensive help – Pro Bowl corner Rosey Taylor. But his career in Chicago wouldn’t last long. Mudd suffered a career-ending knee injury seven starts into the 1970 season.
“What I achieved when I played means a lot to me,” Mudd wrote in his book `The View from the Offensive Line.’ “But my coaching career has been far more satisfying.”
Look no farther than that Super Bowl ring that Mudd wears from the 2006 Colts. The Colts won 12 games that season, then beat the Chiefs, Colts and Patriots in the AFC playoffs and the Bears in the Super Bowl to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Indianapolis.
The Colts reached the pinnacle of football with a blocking front that included a first-round draft pick (Tarik Glenn), two fourth-rounders (Dylan Gandy and Ryan Diem) a fifth rounder (Jake Scott) and an undrafted college free agent (Jeff Saturday). Three years later, in Mudd’s final season on the staff, the Colts won 14 games with an offensive line that included a fourth-rounder (Diem), a sixth (Charlie Johnson) and three undrafted college free agents (Saturday, Ryan Lilja and Kyle DeVan).
Take Mudd’s coaching history back even further to Cleveland in the 1980s. The Browns went to consecutive AFC title games with a blocking front that featured a fifth-round draft pick (Mike Baab), a seventh (Cody Risien), two 10th rounders (Dan Fike and Larry Williams) and a 12th (Paul Farren).
Both Saturday and Risien developed from their humble beginnings into Pro Bowl blockers under Mudd.
“There are few people I would credit my football career to more than Howard Mudd,” said Saturday, who played in six Pro Bowls. “This guy taught me techniques and would force me to do things I didn’t honestly think I could do.”
Indeed, Mudd was a stickler for technique. He not only wanted defenders blocked, he wanted them blocked the right way. That led to some intense moments on the practice field, in the meeting rooms and on game-day sidelines. But his coaching style developed talent and maximized the ability of even his achievers, like Glenn.
“When I think of Howard’s style, I think we meshed really well,” said Glenn, who would go to three Pro Bowls under Mudd. “We had great results. But to get that result, it’s almost like a pearl being made. There’s a lot of agitation to get something nice. Or a diamond. The pressure to make a diamond is so intense. But in the end it’s something great.”
Greatness has already been identified in Mudd. The NAIA inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1979 for his playing career at Hillsdale. Then in 2014 the Pro Football Writers Association gave him the Paul Zimmerman Award for “lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL.”
What Mudd achieved on the field as a guard for the San Francisco 49ers and off the field as an offensive line coach for the Browns, Colts, Chargers, Chiefs, Eagles, Seahawks and 49ers gives him an impressive 45-year NFL “body of work.”
Such a “body of work” deserves consideration for a bust in Canton.