PITTSBURGH – After spending the past 30-plus years as a player and coach with the same franchise, Mike Munchak almost feels reborn since joining the Steelers in late January.
It doesn’t hurt that the 54-year-old Muchak is starting over with a franchise he’s quite familiar with – having played and coached against the Steelers many times – and one that has spent a number of premium picks in recent years on offensive linemen, the area he was hired to coach.
Munchak spent the past four weeks of OTAs and minicamps working with his new players for the first time and will now get a month off to digest what he’s learned about them before training camp begins July 25 at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
“I just think it’s exciting for all of us,” said Munchak, who spent 12 years as a Hall of Game offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans before becoming a coach for that franchise. “We have a new fresh start for me, a fresh start for the linemen. A new way of looking at things (and) fresh eyes on what they’ve been doing and they’ve been successful. There are some good football players here. It’s just a matter of me having an opportunity (to work with them). I’m inheriting a good group (of) high draft choices.”
Munchak, a Pennsylvania native and Penn State graduate, joined the Steelers after being fired following three seasons as head coach of the Titans. He compiled a 22-26 record as a head coach, including a 7-9 mark in 2013.
The Steelers value the fact Munchak not only had a Hall of Fame career as a player, but also was a head coach. He joins defensive coordiantor Dick LeBeau and offensive coordinator Todd Haley as former NFL head coaches on Mike Tomlin’s staff.
“The head coaching experience is a benefit because he doesn’t just see it from his position group or his perspective,” said Haley, who came to the Steelers after three years as head coach in Kansas City. “He sees the big picture, which I take pride in doing, having been there. He is a very good teacher that believes in hard work, like we all do. He is working the guys hard but from what I’ve seen and heard, the guys are excited. They enjoy the challenge. Great players want to be coached. They want to be pushed to see how good they can be, and these guys are eating it up.”
Munchak replaced Jack Bicknell, Jr., who was fired after just one season as the Steelers offensive line coach. While Bicknell was big on the Xs and Os of a play and stressed that aspect, Munchak is more interested in teaching proper technique as a way to get the job done.
“To get a new coach, a Hall-of-Fame player like Mike Munchak, is awesome,” said center Maurkice Pouncey. “He brings a completely different set of credentials to this. He played the game and played it at a high level. We really needed him, which is great for the group.”
Munchak thinks the line, which includes former first-round picks Pouncey at center and David DeCastro at guard, along with left tackle Kelvin Beachum, guard Ramon Foster and former second-round picks Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams, who are competing for the right tackle spot, can be a strength.
That’s been said before, but Munchak feels the time is now for this offensive line to gel.
With Pouncey out after suffering a torn ACL in the 2013 opener against Munchak and the Titans, the Steelers struggled in the first half of the season, allowing 35 sacks. But the line rebounded in the second half and allowed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked just seven sacks in the final eight games.
“Obviously, every group thinks they’re going to be the best group in football (and) as a team we (do as well),” said Munchak. “But everything usually goes with what happens up front and giving Ben time to make throws and open up lanes. These guys are very prideful. They’re very excited about the opportunities.
“I think together it’s going to be fun. It’s been fun for me so far me and I’m hoping that they’re enjoying it, too.”