An emotional Jason Kelce fought back tears on Sunday afternoon as he remembered the man who gave him the chance to become an NFL star.
Howard Mudd, the legendary offensive line coach, died earlier this month, two weeks after a motorcycle accident. He was 78.
Mudd spent just two seasons — 2011 and 2012 — as the Eagles’ offensive line coach but his legacy lives on in Philadelphia through his star pupil, Kelce, who went from being a 6th-round pick to an All-Pro and possible future Hall of Famer.
“Oh man. Howard, he’s the one who really gave me a shot in the NFL,” a choked-up Kelce said Sunday. “There weren’t too many teams coming out of college that really believed in me. I had three pre-draft visits to teams. He was a guy who really gave me a shot at playing in the NFL. Not just wanted to mold you as a player, but wanted to mold you as a person. He was constantly trying to talk to you, constantly trying to evaluate you, not just as a player but psychologically and figure out what you were about. And that was everybody, that wasn’t just me, that was across the board. Tremendous accountability.
“That’s about all I got. I feel terrible for Shirley and the family. … He was a good man.”
Kelce, 32, was visibly emotional toward the end of his answer as he remembered his former coach.
Back in 2011, when the Eagles used a 6th-round pick on Kelce, he was just 280 pounds coming out of Cincinnati, but Mudd saw Kelce’s athleticism and potential to fit in his zone blocking schemes. Mudd stood on the table for him.
And in 2011, Kelce ended up winning the center job despite the lockout and started all 16 games for the Eagles as a rookie. He once credited Mudd for making him have the right mentality as a rookie.
"I definitely didn't have a mentality that I was going to be the starter, to tell you the truth," Kelce said to Reuben Frank in 2017. "My mentality was just to go out there and compete and make the team and I think just do the best I can, and fortunately I had an offensive line coach who believed in me, Howard Mudd, and he taught me a bunch of techniques as an under-sized player that I could utilize at this level. I still remember having a conversation with him where he said, 'Do you want to play this year?' And at that point that wasn't really in my mind."
It’s amazing to think back at everything that needed to happen for Kelce to become a star in Philadelphia.
Sean McDermott was fired as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator after the 2010 season and Andy Reid made the shocking decision to make veteran offensive line coach Juan Castillo the new defensive coordinator. After Castillo switched to defense, the Eagles needed a new O-line coach so Reid asked Mudd to come out of retirement. Mudd hadn’t coached since 2009.
“Andy is pretty persuasive,” Mudd said in 2011. “My daughter said, 'Dad you retired. You get to do anything you want.' I said, 'I want to go coach. That's what I do.'"
Mudd was 69 when he came out of retirement to coach the Eagles and his tough-love and blunt style didn’t suit everybody, but the sometimes-cantankerous old coach knew what the heck he was doing. He was about as tough as they come and most of his players grew fond of him.
During the 2011 season, Mudd spent the bye week getting a hip replacement surgery and didn’t miss a day of practice. He showed up the next week on a cart quickly dubbed the Muddmobile. Mudd lasted through the 2012 season and that’s when Reid was fired and Mudd retired again.
His time in Philly was brief but Mudd left his mark. Without him, there might not be a Jason Kelce as we know him. Kelce is forever grateful.