ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Mike Munchak is a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
The nine-time Pro Bowl guard was inducted in 2001 — and he’s got the gold jacket to prove it.
But as he gets further away from his playing career and his pupils in the offensive line room get younger and younger, some of the name recognition he earned as a player may be fading.
“You walk in the door, you’re in front of the room for the first time, [and] a lot of these guys have no idea who I am and most of them don’t know I’ve ever played a down in the NFL,” Munchak said Thursday. “They have to go Google me and figure out who I am.”
Once his players realize his credentials, though, Munchak captures their attention. Then comes the tricky part.
He has to keep it.
“I think when you have a resume — whatever the resume may be — if you had some success as a player or as a coach, I think when you walk in the door you have that,” Munchak said. “They’re wondering, they’re willing to listen, and after that, it’s, ‘What can I do for them? Can I make you better?’ I think that has a big part of it. If I can’t help you and I can’t make you better, then I think you start losing it real quick.”
Munchak, who will enter his first season as the Broncos’ offensive line coach after five seasons in that role in Pittsburgh, hasn’t had to worry about losing a team's attention or trust.
During his three years as a head coach and 19 years as an offensive line coach, Munchak’s teams have boasted some of the league’s best offensive lines. In 16 of those 22 seasons, Munchak’s unit finished in the top 10 in fewest sacks allowed in the league.
Most recently, Munchak helped turn around a Steelers offensive line that was among the league’s worst. During Munchak’s five years in Pittsburgh, the unit gave up the second-fewest sacks in the league.
Now, Munchak will try to improve a Broncos unit that was improved in 2018 but still must take strides to be among the league’s best. But first, he’ll need to get a sense for a personnel group that could change drastically depending on free agency and the draft.
“We just got here this week and just started watching the tape, getting to know the guys that are here,” Munchak said. “Obviously [there are] a lot changes from year to year with the personnel that you have and we’re beginning that process now. We’re just starting to watch the tape and getting more familiar with what they have. They’ve had a good, solid group. I obviously know a lot of the guys just from coming through the draft, so I’m looking forward to meeting them and spending time with them. Obviously they had some injuries here with some people, so there’s some work to do there. I’m excited about the opportunity to come in and build something special here.”
It’s Munchak’s plan for fostering that improvement that’s most impressive. Head Coach Vic Fangio said Thursday it was “non-negotiable” for his assistant coaches to be good teachers, and it’s clear that’s a prerequisite that Munchak easily fills.
When he starts working with the linemen when the offseason program begins in a few weeks, there will be an emphasis on teaching — and there won’t be a “one size fits all” approach.
“That’s one thing I love about coaching the most — the teaching, the relationships with the players and with the offensive linemen,” Munchak said. “That’s part of having success, that those guys realize how much they have to rely on each other, the five of them. Achieve as much as you can and help each other so it’s not one-on-one. A lot of times, there are ways you can help each other."
But there was more that drew Munchak to Denver than just an opportunity to help build another team’s offensive line.
Munchak joined the Broncos, he said, in large part because of his family. He interviewed for the team’s head-coaching position with President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway and the Broncos’ search committee, but even after he wasn’t chosen for that role, he remained interested in the organization.
“I’ve been with one organization for over 30 years with Tennessee and Houston,” Munchak said. “My wife and I at that point when we were leaving Nashville, we always thought that family would be a big part of the decision going forward. We ended up going to the Steelers, which got me in the right state — I grew up in Pennsylvania and went to Penn State, so it was nice to get back. I also wanted to be with a great organization, which we were there. Going forward, we thought the same thing. I came here for the interview and I thought that went well.
“I know the Broncos are always a great organization. As a player, I got to see them knock me out of the playoffs a couple of times. I knew how special it was here. Obviously, then I got to go to the same city as family, so it was like a double plus for me. [This is] an opportunity for me to be with family, but also to be a part of a great organization that wants to win, has won three Super Bowls and is working hard to win more.”