INDIANAPOLIS – Kevin Mawae had the unquestioned pedigree to be an asset on Frank Reich’s coaching staff, and there appeared to be an opening in his area of expertise. But there was just one problem: the two had never met.
What to do? Reach out with one of those what-have-I-got-to-lose? texts, that’s what.
“I sent him a cold text when I heard that Klayton might be leaving,’’ Mawae said Wednesday on a Zoom conference call.
Klayton Adams had been the Indianapolis Colts’ assistant offensive line coach the past two seasons, but in mid-January was poised to take a position as offensive line coach/run game coordinator on Herm Edwards’ staff at Arizona State.
It was a job Mawae “thought I was going to get’’ after a three-year stint as one of Edwards’ offensive analysts.
With one door closed, another opened, but only after Mawae reached out to a coach he had never crossed paths with. Through a friend, he came up with Reich’s cell number.
“Shot him a text and said, ‘Hey, I know Klayton is leaving. I would be interested,’’’ Mawae said. “He said, ‘If it happens, hit me back up.’’’
It happened within the next 24 hours, and the dialogue began and quickly intensified.
The end result: Reich brought in Mawae as his assistant offensive line coach – he’ll be under Chris Strausser – and the Colts immediately added one of the most accomplished centers in NFL history. He’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 after a career that spanned three teams and 16 seasons.
Throughout their dialogue, Mawae insisted he never threw his heavy resume at Reich. Not the 238 career starts with Seattle, the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans. Not the eight Pro Bowl selections. Not the three occasions he was named first-team All-Pro.
And not the fact he’s got a permanent bronze bust in Canton, Ohio.
“You don’t assume anything,’’ Mawae said. “I said, ‘This is Kevin Mawae, used to play in the NFL, I’m currently an analyst at ASU, would love an opportunity.’ And it just kind of grows from there.’’
Humility, he added, has its place.
“You never walk into a room thinking everybody knows who you are,’’ he said. “You’ve got to have some humility about this business. It’s not about what I did as a player, it’s what I hope I can bring as a coach. It’s unique in that way.
“You don’t walk around with feathers puffed up (like) a peacock and walk in the building with a gold jacket and say, ‘I want the job.’ You’ve got to prove yourself.’’
Mawae, 50, dabbled in this and that after retiring following the 2009 season. He spent two years coaching fifth and sixth graders, volunteered at LSU and Vanderbilt, helped train athletes for the NFL Combine and served as assistant offensive line coach with the Chicago Bears in 2016 before spending the last three seasons on Edwards’ staff at Arizona State (where his daughter was a top-tier swimmer at the time).
His journey first to Canton and then to Indy was paved by lessons gleaned from four o-line coaches he played for: the late Howard Mudd, Mike Munchak, Bill Muir and Doug Marrone.
“If guys could have the four coaches I had,’’ Mawae said, “then you had a pretty good career. I think there is a uniqueness to offensive line units, when they are playing a certain way, other people know who coaches that unit.
“When you watch the Indianapolis Colts play, it has a Chris Strausser/Howard Mudd stamp to it. It’s unique. When you watch teams that Mike Munchak coached . . . those units become recognized by how well they have been coached.
“For me, that was a goal of mine. That’s a challenge. I want to be recognized as one of the best offensive line coaches that leave the game when my time is up.’’
Strausser will command the o-line room, but Mawae represents a different voice. He was able to excel at a demanding position despite being undersized – 280 pounds was his “sweet-spot’’ playing weight – and fighting a “finesse’’ label by relying on crisp technique and incredible durability. He started at least 14 games in 14 of his 16 seasons. He blocked for a 1,000-yard runner 13 times.
“I hope to accentuate what coach Strausser has done with these guys and bring a unique twist to it in that I’ve done it before,’’ Mawae said. “It’s one thing to coach at a very high level, which Chris has done. It’s a whole ‘nuther thing to play at a very high level.
“When you kind of match those two together you’re going to have something unique that players can really sink their teeth into.’’
A couple of Mawae’s general observations on an o-line that returns four starters: left guard Quenton Nelson, center Ryan Kelly, right guard Mark Glowinski and right tackle Braden Smith:
The makeup of the o-line
“They play tough, they play through the ball, they’ve got an edge about them. Love the nastiness that Q plays with. He’s around the ball, he’s always taking shots. He doesn’t play passive at all (and) that’s pretty neat to see. I think that trickles along everybody along the line.’’
Kelly’s presence at center
“I’m an LSU guy, so I don’t like him from that standpoint because he’s an Alabama kid, but he was a great player coming out of college, and he has all the tools to be a pretty special player, a unique player. I think he’s got the ability to be an elite center, and he’s shown he’s got those tools, and he’s continuing to build his game.’’
Perhaps moving Nelson or Smith to LT to replace retired Anthony Castonzo
“Not specifically about this team but just in general, it’s not as easy as everybody thinks it is. Everybody is like, ‘Just plug them in at guard.’ Well, that just doesn’t happen like that. I think there are unique tools and attributes that a guard has to have versus a tackle and a center, and just to plug and play is not the right way to go about it. You want to put the best five guys on the field talent-wise, but also you want to put the best five combination out there.’’
His approach to coaching the o-line
“The key to coaching is keeping it as simple as possible. People think coaching is a hard deal. I think when you over-complicate it, it confuses guys. It’s a simple principle, the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. The easier you can make it – the easier you can teach it – the better off they’re going to be.
“I spent two years coaching fifth and sixth graders and lower junior high, and I tell everybody, ‘If you can teach fifth graders how to run jet-sweep, you can teach anybody.’’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.