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Offensive line coach no thankless job to Muir

The Bucs' new assistant takes great pride in the position and is one of the league's best at it.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 27, 2002

TAMPA -- It is the least desired position on the field, a dirty, pitiless, underpaying pursuit. And, by Bill Muir's own humorous admission, you'd have to be a masochist to want the job of being in charge of such a group.

Who in his right mind would actually aspire to be an offensive line coach?

The answer: Bill Muir.

Through 36 years of coaching, he has taken one of the most thankless NFL jobs and made it a life love. And along the way, that love not only has helped him survive in the league for more than three decades, but made him good at what he does. Among the top three in the league, Jets coach Herman Edwards said.

"I'm just an offensive line coach. I enjoy being an offensive line coach," said Muir, who also carries the title offensive coordinator with the Bucs. "I've been coaching in the National Football League and I like doing it. I work at it and I guess that's why I'm good at it because I like it and I work at it."

He likes it perhaps because he has lived it, first as a player in the early 1960s. As they say, once an offensive lineman, always an offensive lineman.

In fitting offensive lineman style, he came up the back way, a remote and laborious path that meandered through out-of-the-way locales such as Susquehanna University and Delaware Valley, and later through every off-brand pro league you can imagine.

Heard of the Continental Football League?

It seems only right that after stints in that league and the World Football League, Muir's first gig in the NFL was as a scout with the Bucs in 1978. They went 5-11, losing seven of their last eight.

He got his first NFL assistant coaching job with the Patriots in 1982 and has since worked for the Lions, Colts, Eagles and Jets before returning to Tampa Bay last month. Over the years, he has developed into a feisty, pragmatic instructor who can laugh and scold with the best of them.

The book on him is that he is a thinker and a motivator, an artist at breaking down game film and creating a detailed plan that leaves nothing to chance.

"I'd like to think I'm a good teacher, and I'd like to think what I can do is get in front of the offensive linemen and I can give them a plan that, if they execute it, they have a chance to be successful," Muir said. "And I think I can pretty clearly explain to them how to execute the plan. That's my responsibility to them. Their responsibility to me is to try to go out and deliver. That's why their check is a lot bigger than mine."

The Jets will tell you Muir more than earned his pay in his seven seasons with them. This past season, he tweaked the team's intricate pass-protection scheme and molded a starting unit that included an undrafted free agent (LG Kerry Jenkins), a seventh-round pick (RT Ryan Young) and a fourth-round pick (LT Jason Fabini) into one of the league's best.

They allowed the second-fewest sacks in the league (19) and helped the Jets launch the fourth-best rushing offense (128.4 yards a game). Running back Curtis Martin's 1,513 yards marked the sixth consecutive time Muir's lines have helped produce a 1,000-yard rusher.

"The thing that most good coaches can do is that they can find a way to play to players' strengths, and he does an excellent job of doing that," said Edwards, who was desperate to retain Muir when he took the New York job last offseason. "He knows the game of football. He has adopted a philosophy on how to coach his guys and I think he gets the best out of players.

"And that's what you have to do with offensive linemen because a lot of times they aren't going to be the greatest skilled athletes. We had an athletic center (three-time Pro Bowl player Kevin Mawae), but the rest of the guys were just pretty good players. But what (Muir) did the best with these guys is that he got them to buy into his style and he played to all of their strengths."

The Bucs are hoping Muir can do the same with a line that gave up more than twice as many sacks (47) as the Jets and was part of a rushing offense that ranked 30th in the league. To that end, they signed one of Muir's prized pupils, Jenkins, as a free agent to join a unit that likely will go into training camp missing only retired Pro Bowl guard Randall McDaniel.

Muir said it's too early to gauge the line's potential, but he did promise this: He won't play favorites.

"Obviously there are some guys here who have a leg up because of experience and maybe a lack of competition," he said, "but I'll go with the best five guys."

So what style of lineman does he go for?

"You remember Jake Gaither up at Florida A&M? He wanted them hostile, mobile and agile," said Muir, who knew the legendary FAMU coach and even attended one of his practices. "I buy into that. That's what I want."

In essence, he wants guys like himself.

"I like the concept of trying to generate five people to operate as one. I like the responsibility of having to get them to a productive level. And I like being around these guys," he said. "It's like if you're a runner, you've got talent. If you're a receiver, you can either catch the ball or you can't.

"These guys are -- well, they're all going to get (ticked) off when they read this but -- to a certain extent these guys overachieve. There certainly are some that are greatly skilled athletes. But (mostly) that's not the type of person you're dealing with. They generally are very committed people. They like to work hard. They just bust their butt for you, and I like that."

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