Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel retires

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 14, 2010; D01

Joe Bugel knew this day was coming. He had tried preparing a speech, but even then, he'd feel his knees knocking together.

"So I said, 'I'm going straight from the heart, whatever comes out, comes out,' " Bugel said.

When he took the stage Wednesday at Redskins Park to formally announce his retirement, in front of fellow coaches, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and players past and present, he stepped right past the microphone and lectern. Bugel swayed and paced, his emotions dripping off every word.

"There comes a time in a man's life to bow out," said Bugel, 69, "and bow out gracefully."

After 32 years, on his final day as a football coach and as the Redskins' offensive line coach, he touched on the same themes he preached to his players every day: passion, loyalty, friendship. His voice rose and his knees knocked. It was like he was in the locker room one final time.

"Even that speech had me kind of fired up," said Randy Thomas, Bugel's right guard since 2004. "I was like, we going to practice or something?

To clarify, "That's the G-version," said Raleigh McKenzie, a Bugel lineman from 1985 to '94.

A coach with a vocabulary that matches his colorful personality, Bugel's NFL career includes two stints as a head coach and two tours with the Redskins. He was Boss Hog for the mighty and dominant line known as the Hogs, the Redskins' group that bullied opposing defenses in the 1980s. Bugel coached in Washington from 1982 to '89, helping win two Super Bowls. He was lured out of retirement in 2004 when Joe Gibbs returned to coach the Redskins.

"His life was football. He's one of the best teachers," Gibbs said recently.

Gibbs recalled seeing Bugel in the office at 3 o'clock in the morning and being greeted by the same level of enthusiasm he'd see at 3 in the afternoon.

"He'd still be roaring," Gibbs said with a laugh. "You cannot outwork Joe Bugel. Many times we tried."

Bugel was known for punishing his linemen on the field, but defending them fiercely in public. Whether it was a Pro Bowler or a rookie, he pushed them all as far as he could.

"He never let up off of us," said tackle Chris Samuels, a six-time Pro Bowl selection. "Even when you were playing pretty good, he knew you could play a little bit better. He would stay on top of you until you got it right."

Bugel punctuated his off-the-cuff retirement speech Wednesday by pointing out the strong relationships he'd forged with all of the people in the room, particularly the Redskins' owner. He showed off his old Super Bowl ring and lamented that he couldn't help Snyder win one of his own.

"When the owner wins a Super Bowl," he said, "the ring is going to cover five fingers."

Though Bugel's offensive lines the past six seasons didn't keep a lot of defensive linemen awake at night, Bugel will always be tied to the Hogs, blue-collar linemen like Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, Mark May, Jim Lachey, Russ Grimm and George Starke.

"Whenever I go to another training camp, whenever the linemen see me come through the door, the first thing the linemen say is thanks because it was the Hogs who made it so offensive linemen make money today," said Starke, who was one of several former Redskins in attendance Wednesday. "The game was always about the quarterback, the running back or the receivers; no one ever talked about the offensive line before the Hogs. The Hogs were the first offensive line to take over a game all by themselves."

The Redskins' new coach, Mike Shanahan, is a longtime friend of Bugel's, and he began assembling his new staff last week with the knowledge that Bugel would not be back.

"Very disappointed that my first day on the job, he came in and said, 'Mike, I'm going to retire,' " said Shanahan. "Tried to talk him out of it. [I] want him as our offensive line coach, obviously."

"I said, 'Mike, I appreciate that,'" Bugel said. "He'd probably be good to work with and for. But it's time for the Buges to go a different direction."

While Bugel became accustomed to adversity on the field and in the locker room, nothing compared to the days that preceded the 2008 season, when his daughter Holly died of bone cancer. He reflected Wednesday on why he returned to coaching so soon after her death.

"When she passed, my wife says, 'Keep coaching, that's what she'd want you to do. Get your mind off of this.' . . . So I did it. I truly miss her," Bugel said. "That's why I walk around the field after each practice. I still talk to her, you know. Hell, she's still part of the family. I love her dearly. It helped me coaching, it really did."

Even as Shanahan remakes the Redskins' roster, the coaching staff and -- in many ways -- the organization, Snyder vowed that there will always be a place for Bugel, whom he called a "lifelong Redskin."

"I'll miss that," Snyder said, "but we'll have him out. A lot of games, he'll be around. He'll be around. He's always going to be a Redskin."

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