Howard Mudd was one of the greatest offensive line coaches in pro football history.
Behind Mudd’s genius, the silent snap count became a weapon many offensive linemen have used to their advantage in the National Football League for the past three decades.
That technique helped the Indianapolis Colts improve their timing, minimize costly penalties, and hold off pass rushers from sacking quarterback Peyton Manning.
To nobody’s surprise, the Colts became a juggernaut during Howard Mudd’s 12-year tenure from 1998 to 2009. Their decade-long excellence culminated in a 29-17 win against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
It wasn’t just the Colts, though. Mudd helped shore up the offensive lines of six NFL teams during his pro football coaching career from 1974 to 2012.
Sadly, Howard Mudd passed away in the summer of 2020. Hopefully, he will earn a bust and place among football’s immortals in Canton, OH someday.
Howard Edward Mudd was born on February 10, 1942, in Midland, MI.
Mudd played football and baseball when he was a student at Central Intermediate School.
Richie Waite played football with him in middle school and high school during their formative years in Michigan. He lauded Mudd for his exemplary leadership skills as the captain of their football team, per the Midland Daily News‘ Fred Kelly.
Waite also had high praises for Mudd’s family. He thought Howard and his parents were people of high character.
More than 50 years later when Mudd was the offensive line coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011, he sent Waite an autographed team hat and a letter of gratitude for his friendship dating back to their high school days.
“That meant a lot to me,” Waite told Kelly almost a decade later. “He was just a great guy.”
Mudd attended Midland High School in his hometown. He excelled on the track and gridiron for the Midland Chemics. He played for Chemics head football coach Bob Stoppert.
OL Appreciation Post
Howard Mudd, Guard & Coach
49ers, Bears (Player). Multiple teams (Coach)
Super Bowl Champion
NFL 1960s All-Decade Team
A pioneer and a legend. A true “Mushroom”. Left the game better than he found it. Will truly be missed pic.twitter.com/ge5DlgH6d8
— Dean Cullison (@CoachCully_BWYJ) August 15, 2020
Mudd played so well for the Chemics that he eventually earned Second-Team All-State and First-Team All-State honors in 1957 and 1958, respectively. Mudd’s exploits on the offensive line helped the Chemics win a state title in 1957.
Waite, who played running back for the Chemics, told Kelly in the summer of 2020 that running behind the huge Mudd allowed him to carve up the defense and gain a lot of yardage on the ground.
Dave Arnold also played football at Midland High and later worked with Howard Mudd with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks for three years.
Arnold agreed with Waite’s assessment that Mudd was a person of high character.
He also recalled that Mudd wanted to become a doctor or football coach when they were in high school.
“He approached being a coach like a doctor,” Arnold told the Midland Daily News in 2020. “The analytical way he went about it was like a doctor would do it.”
Mudd’s other high school friend Bob Lanning remembered the former acting friendly toward school personnel every time he visited the campus grounds long after he played his final down for the Chemics.
Lanning told Kelly that Mudd was so humble that he never told anybody from Midland High he was a former professional football player.
Lanning also recalled the times when his mother asked Mudd to play the piano whenever he came over to his house when they were in high school. Mudd also played the viola as a member of his high school orchestra.
The legend of Howard Mudd had just begun. He became one of the best offensive linemen in Hillsdale Chargers school history when he reached the college football ranks.
College Days With The Hillsdale Chargers
Howard Mudd attended Michigan State University in Lansing, MI from 1959 to 1960.
Although Mudd became one of Spartans head football coach Duffy Daugherty’s best offensive linemen, his personal life was in turmoil.
“I felt lost,” Mudd told Hillsdale college director of marketing and content Monica VanderWeide in 2019. “I was miserable.”
Former Hillsdale Chargers All-American Warren Spragg showed up at Mudd’s house unannounced in 1960. He invited Mudd to transfer to Hillsdale College and suit up for the Chargers.
Although Mudd felt miserable with the Spartans, he decided to return to Lansing in the fall of 1960.
Undaunted, Spragg called Mudd and tried to convince him again. The latter relented and came with Spragg to watch a Hillsdale Chargers game.
Unfortunately, Hillsdale College’s small-town feel didn’t win Mudd over. However, when he met Chargers head football coach Frank “Muddy” Waters after the game, he had a change of heart.
One of Hillsdale’s greatest players and one of the game’s finest coaches, Howard Mudd has passed away. God speed, old ball coach. pic.twitter.com/szUTTZVSgO
— Andy Losik – Chargerblue (@chargerblue) August 13, 2020
Mudd’s fondness for Waters prompted him to consider the latter an important father figure in his life during their time together with the Chargers.
Mudd emphasized to VanderWeide some 56 years later that he decided to attend Hillsdale College to start on a clean slate and “become a legitimate student-athlete.”
Howard Mudd left Michigan State in 1960 and transferred to Hillsdale College where he majored in biology. He also had a part-time job as an attendant at Hillsdale Hospital, per the school’s official athletics website.
Howard Mudd’s decision helped turn his life around. He became an NAIA All-American and a two-time Associated Press All-State player at tackle and guard for the Chargers. He became a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame many years later.
Waters also appointed Mudd as co-captain in his senior season in 1963. Mudd, who had aspirations of becoming a doctor someday, decided to declare for the 1964 NFL Draft after he graduated from Hillsdale College in 1963.
It was a decision that paved the way for Mudd’s evolution to one of the most brilliant offensive minds in professional football.
Pro Football Career
The San Francisco 49ers made Howard Mudd the 113th overall selection of the 1964 NFL Draft.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s official website, the 49ers stumbled upon Mudd by accident after they initially scouted another player at a college game.
Mudd anchored the 49ers’ offensive line from 1964 to 1969. He helped protect quarterback John Brodie and open up holes for running back Ken Willard during those six years.
The 49ers averaged barely six wins per year during Mudd’s time in The Bay Area in the mid-to-late 1960s. Since joining the National Football League in 1950, San Francisco made the postseason just once until Mudd’s tenure with the team ended in 1969.
Howard Mudd of the 49ers living up to his name at the 1967 NFL Pro Bowl. pic.twitter.com/0c6qVPwrDl
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) March 31, 2018
Despite the 49ers’ ineptitude back in the day, Howard Mudd became a stonewall on their offensive line. He earned three consecutive Pro Bowl berths from 1966 to 1968. Mudd was also a two-time All-Pro in 1967 and 1968.
Mudd spent his final two seasons in the National Football League with the Chicago Bears from 1969 to 1970.
Mudd retired from pro football following a knee injury in 1971. Little did he know he would become one of the game’s most influential minds in the next five decades.
Post-Football Life And Death
Shortly after Howard Mudd hung up his cleats, the Stanford Cardinals hired him as a volunteer coach who assisted offensive line coach Mike White.
When the California Golden Bears hired White to become their head football coach in 1972, he brought Mudd with him to coach their offensive line. Mudd coached their offensive line until the 1973 NCAA season.
The Golden Bears averaged barely four wins per season in White’s first two years on the job. Consequently, California extended its bowl drought to fifteen years.
After Mudd left the Golden Bears in 1974, he traveled 500 miles south to become the new offensive line coach of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers.
When Mudd joined head coach Tommy Prothro’s staff in 1974, the Chargers were in their fifth year in the National Football League. They averaged just four wins in the next three seasons and missed the postseason for the seventh straight year.
Mudd returned to the Bay Area in 1977 to coach the offensive line of the team he played for from 1964 to 1969 – the San Francisco 49ers.
That version of the 49ers was a far cry from the Joe Montana-led team that dominated the 1980s. San Francisco won just five games in Ken Meyer’s lone season as 49ers head coach in 1977.
After making the postseason for three consecutive years to usher in the 1970s, the 49ers missed the playoffs for five straight years.
Mudd’s next tour of duty was with the Seattle Seahawks from 1978 to 1982. Mudd joined a young squad that was in just its third year of existence.
The Seahawks averaged six wins during Mudd’s five-year tenure in the Emerald City. It wasn’t until after he left following the 1982 NFL campaign that Seattle finally broke its seven-year postseason drought.
Watching old #CoolClinic tapes and came across this one from Howard Mudd talking about what Bill "Tiger" Johnson taught him about #NFL #Olineman. Awesome knowledge! Love this clip! pic.twitter.com/HecQs0pmjI
— Steven Ciocci (@CoachCiocci) May 9, 2018
During Mudd’s six-year tenure with the Browns from 1983 to 1988, quarterback Bernie Kosar admired him for his hard-nosed approach and creativity.
Kosar also told SI.com some 25 years after he and Mudd last worked together that the latter had the utmost faith in his silent count technique for his offensive linemen.
As Mudd’s coaching career progressed and noise levels in NFL stadiums reached ear-shattering proportions, he made the center – not the quarterback – do the silent count.
For the quarterback’s part, he tapped his center on the butt when he was ready to receive the snap. When the center looked at the opposing nose tackle, it was his way of telling the rest of the offensive line that the silent count had begun.
They would count silently in unison, “one-one-thousand,” and then the center snapped the ball to the quarterback. Sometimes, the offensive line varied the silent count rhythm to throw the defense off, per SI.com.
New techniques such as the silent count didn’t come easy for pro football innovators such as Howard Mudd.
“It was like suggesting a different route home to someone who has been commuting the same way for years,” Mudd told Bowden in 2013. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t want to go that way.'”
The Browns averaged nine wins per year with Howard Mudd as their offensive line coach from 1983 to 1988. With Ohio native Bernie Kosar leading the charge at quarterback, Cleveland made four straight postseason appearances in Mudd’s last four years with the squad.
Mudd then shored up the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line from 1989 to 1992. Mudd’s strategies helped protect Chiefs quarterbacks Steve DeBerg and Dave Krieg during those three years.
Mudd’s first year on the job coincided with Marty Schottenheimer’s inaugural season as Chiefs head coach in 1989. The two men had worked together with the Browns from 1984 to 1988.
Kansas City averaged ten wins per year with Howard Mudd coaching its offensive line. Although they made three postseason appearances in four years, they never made it past the AFC Divisional Round from 1990 to 1992.
Mudd returned for a second tour of duty with the Seattle Seahawks from 1993 to 1997. They were a mediocre squad that averaged seven wins per year during those five years. The Seahawks extended their playoff drought to nine years in Mudd’s last year with the team in 1997.
Dave Arnold, Mudd’s fellow Midland High School alum and co-worker with the Seattle Seahawks, re-connected with his longtime friend at the beginning of his 12-year tenure in Indianapolis in the late 1990s.
Arnold, who coached Albion College’s offensive line and special teams, went to Indianapolis twice annually to pick Mudd’s brain.
Arnold told the Midland Daily News some two decades later that Mudd was one of the most loyal friends he had ever known. Once an individual earned Mudd’s trust, he had a friend for life.
Talked w/Jeff Saturday on passing of Howard Mudd: 'Man, this is a hard one for all of us. Just devastated for Shirley and the family. He was just an incredible guy. He called greatness out of so many guys. He made you believe. Just so grateful for everything he did for me.'
— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) August 12, 2020
Six-time Colts Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday told SI.com in 2013 that Mudd is “a true student of the game.”
According to Saturday, Mudd knew how to pick his spots as a coach. He didn’t automatically berate his offensive linemen just because an opposing pass rusher beat them on a particular play.
If a pass rusher simply got the better of Mudd’s crew and it wasn’t their fault they got beat, he just let it slide.
On the other hand, Mudd always preached to Saturday’s fellow offensive linemen that sharper mental acuity and better game-day preparation helped slow the game down.
No other offensive lineman earned Mudd’s respect more than Colts left tackle Tarik Glenn. When the two men began working together in 1998, the silent snap count wasn’t just a mere experiment anymore – it became a way of life for Indianapolis’ offensive line.
Glenn struggled in his rookie year in the National Football League in 1997. He had a hard time keeping defensive ends at bay especially when stadium decibel levels were unbelievably high.
The trend continued into quarterback Peyton Manning’s rookie year in 1998. Manning got so fed up that he gave Glenn an earful on the sidelines during a game.
Mudd intervened and told Manning that Glenn couldn’t hear him, per Bowden.
Manning disagreed and said Glenn should hear just fine. An exasperated Mudd told Manning he wasn’t the one deciding what Glenn could hear or not.
Before long, Howard Mudd made his head coach Jim Mora a fervent believer in the silent snap count. Soon, Mudd told Glenn and the rest of the Colts’ offensive line during practice that deaf kids can do the silent snap count. If they could do it, why can’t they?
Mudd didn’t just convert the Colts, he also made believers out of the opposition.
Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator George Sefcik reached out to Mudd after Indianapolis beat his team at home in 1998. Sefcik asked Mudd point-blank if the Colts used a silent count.
Mudd replied in the affirmative but didn’t go into intimate detail. All he told Sefcik was the part where the quarterback taps the center on his buttocks. He never went beyond that, per SI.com.
An astonished Sefcik figured out the rest and eventually used the silent snap count against the Minnesota Vikings in the 1998 NFC Championship Game. Atlanta prevailed, 30-27.
The headstrong Manning soon gave in to Mudd’s three decades of football wisdom.
“I was wrong, and Howard was right,” Manning told Bowden in 2013. “It was my responsibility to make sure all the linemen could hear me, and it was especially difficult for us because we were using a no-huddle offense most of the time. The silent count solved a lot of problems for us.”
One problem the silent snap count solved for Manning and Co. was timing. Whether they did it at home or on the road, they received fewer offensive penalties. Plus, the silent snap count also solved the crowd noise problem and helped Indy allow the fewest sacks in the league during Mudd’s twelve years with the Colts.
Howard Mudd is one of the best NFL assistants ever. Ever.
With Colts (98-09) guided a unit that routinely were among league best in sacks allowed on Manning (in the teens most seasons). Helped make Tarik Glenn and Jeff Saturday one of the best in the league at their positions.
— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) February 7, 2019
Behind Howard Mudd’s silent snap count technique, Tarik Glenn became a force at left tackle, became a three-time Pro Bowler, and helped protect Peyton Manning’s blind side more effectively. Consequently, the Indianapolis Colts became a juggernaut in the 2000s.
The Colts averaged a gaudy eleven wins per year during Mudd’s tenure as offensive line coach from 1998 to 2009. They won seven division titles and the ultimate prize following the 2006 NFL season – Super Bowl XLI.
After more than 40 years as a player and offensive line coach in the National Football League, Howard Mudd finally earned his first and only Super Bowl ring.
Glenn, the once-maligned left tackle turned Pro Bowler, earned his only Super Bowl ring in his final season in the National Football League in 2006. Howard Mudd and Tarik Glenn were world champions that year.
Mudd’s silent snap count caught on with other coaches around the league. Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots began using the technique after the Colts did. It didn’t take long for the Pittsburgh Steelers to follow suit.
According to Bowden, all 32 NFL teams had been using the silent snap count in the 2013 season. While some teams tweaked it to make their own versions, most of the fundamentals that Howard Mudd passed on to the Colts fifteen years earlier remained.
When Mudd finished his 12-year coaching tenure with the Colts in 2009, Manning and the team’s offensive line gave him a fitting tribute.
At a private dinner, Manning and Co. showed Mudd a video featuring clips from NFL Films and interviews with people the latter worked with over the years. Various Simon and Gurfinkel tunes – Mudd’s favorite songs – helped set the ambiance on that night, per SI.com.
Manning also mounted and framed several autographed jerseys for Mudd to cherish. The former felt Mudd attended his own funeral once the festivities wrapped up.
Mudd un-retired several weeks later and spent the next two seasons coaching the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line.
Manning fumed at Mudd’s latest career move. He called Mudd and let him know in no uncertain terms how he felt.
“I want all that stuff back!” Manning told Mudd (via SI.com). “Hell, Howard, when you retire you’re supposed to stay retired!”
Peyton remembers the man who helped keep him on his feet. pic.twitter.com/woWHlMhqQu
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) August 12, 2020
By the time Mudd finished his contract with the Eagles, Bowden noticed that it was blatantly obvious his knees and hips have taken a massive beating over the years. At the time of Mudd’s SI.com interview in 2013, he was walking bent over with a cane.
When Mudd was still coaching Philadelphia’s offensive line, the team provided him with an electric cart so he could get around.
Howard Mudd retired from the coaching ranks following the 2012 NFL season. However, he returned to the Colts as a senior offensive assistant seven years later. He assisted first-year offensive line coach Chris Strausser in the 2019 NFL campaign.
Sadly, Howard Mudd passed away on August 12, 2020. He was 78 years old.
According to ESPN’s Mike Wells, Mudd broke his spine and pelvis following a motorcycle accident in Seattle, WA on July 29, 2020. He spent two weeks in intensive care at a local hospital before passing away two weeks later.
Howard Mudd left behind his wife Shirley and their two sons Darren and Adam. He is a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s.
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