Joe Bugel huddled with 10 offensive linemen in a meeting room at Redskins Park following the Washington Redskins' first minicamp in March. The assistant head coach for offense turned off the lights, then showed highlights of the Hogs, the famed offensive line Bugel guided under Coach Joe Gibbs in Washington from 1981 to 1989.
Images flickered of linemen who began their NFL careers as obscure rookies, including Mark Schlereth, a 10th-round selection, and Raleigh McKenzie, an 11th-round pick. Jeff Bostic, one of the original Hogs, had been a long snapper before transforming into a top-flight center.
"This is how we're going to do things here," Bugel told his new players, ranging from two-time Pro Bowl selection Chris Samuels to rookie Jim Molinaro, a sixth-round pick. "A picture is worth a thousand words. Everybody I'm going to show you on tape has a Redskins helmet on. They're your older brothers.
"No matter where you're drafted, or even if you're not drafted, if you do those things, you'll always be a Redskin."
Then, before Bugel put away the tapes, the 64-year-old offensive coach fast forwarded to the present by concocting a nickname for his new crew: the Dirtbags, derived from seeing a muddied, scruffy Jon Jansen in the first week of practice.
Jansen, one of the NFL's best right tackles, suffered a season-ending injury, tearing his right Achilles' tendon in the preseason opener -- a 20-17 victory over the Denver Broncos in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 9. It was a tremendous loss for Gibbs, whose run-heavy offense behind tailback Clinton Portis relies on the line more than any other unit.
Nonetheless, the Redskins are optimistic they can withstand Jansen's injury largely because of Bugel's reputation for meshing unheralded offensive linemen into formidable units.
Kenyatta Jones, a third-year player who started 11 games for the New England Patriots in 2001, has replaced Jansen in the starting lineup. He'll join left tackle Samuels, guards Derrick Dockery and Randy Thomas, and either Cory Raymer or Lennie Friedman, who are competing for the starting center position, to round out the starting offensive line. For depth, the Redskins added new reserves, including Ray Brown, at 41 one of the league's oldest players who originally played in Washington from 1989 to 1995. Rookies Mark Wilson and Molinaro may be forced into key roles.
After leaving the Redskins in 1990, Bugel struggled as an NFL head coach, going 24-56 over five seasons, four with the Phoenix Cardinals and one with the Oakland Raiders. But he is considered one of the best offensive line coaches in league history and was one of the first people Gibbs lured out of retirement in January when he took the Redskins coaching job.
From 1977 to 1980, before joining Gibbs the first time, Bugel oversaw the Houston Oilers offensive line that tailback Earl Campbell dashed behind en route to the Hall of Fame. With the San Diego Chargers in 2001, Bugel coached an offensive line composed of players earning the league minimum. The makeshift unit created enough holes for tailback LaDainian Tomlinson to gain 1,236 rushing yards, the second-highest total in franchise history.
Bugel's current and former players believe his success stems from masterful motivational skills, communication ability and teaching acumen. Returning Redskins say they have markedly improved through Bugel's emphasis on hand techniques to hinder defenders.
Last season, Thomas, a gifted athlete who is agile despite his 6-foot-5, 306-pound frame, relied on a flawed blocking method -- blocking wide, with his hands several inches apart. It left Thomas's chest open to defenders, making him more vulnerable. A lineman has more control over the defender by keeping his hands close together inside the chest area -- "tight hands," Bugel explained -- before punching out.
The Redskins also have incorporated one of Bugel's trademark techniques: the arm pump, which is used in run blocking. The lineman cocks, or pumps, his arms to his sides before forcefully pushing upward -- "like a fork lift," Bugel said -- into the defender's chest area. It diminishes the chances of holding and keeps the lineman from being passive.
"He wants us to hit 'em in the chest and make their heartbeat stop," Thomas said. "It stuns them at the line because the defense is taught to hit you in your chest, so it's better if you hit them first."
Bugel used imaginary handcuffs, teaching his players through repetition and constant reminders. Thomas, a sixth-year veteran, had previously known a similar technique but stopped using it last season because it wasn't emphasized. Samuels, who is coming off perhaps his worst NFL season, picked up damaging tendencies in recent years -- dropping his head and using his hands improperly.
"I developed some bad habits the past couple of years," said Samuels, a five-year veteran who was still named a third alternate to the 2004 Pro Bowl. "With Joe Bugel coming back, it's definitely going to help us out. He's helped my game out tremendously already."
The Mount Rushmore of NFL offensive line coaches includes Bugel, Alex Gibbs and Jim Hanifan. Bugel differentiates himself from others with a colorful personality and an exceptional ability to inspire -- infusing confidence in the least talented players while prodding star players to reach their abilities. Bugel makes learning, especially in the classroom, enjoyable because of his entertainer's flair, former and current players said.
"He's a combination of Tony Soprano and Shakespeare," said Raymer, back in Washington after playing with the Redskins from 1995 to 2001. "He's a philosopher, but how do I say it? He's an unsophisticated man's philosopher. He came up with the word, 'Dirtbags.' You leave that up to him. He's one of a kind."
It only took Washington's first minicamp for players to realize Bugel's unique touch. During a drill for offensive linemen, Bugel, with a scowl, screamed in Thomas's ear, "You can be replaced!"
Bugel seemed to overlook that Thomas signed a seven-year, $27.6 million contract in 2003; the $7 million signing bonus remains the richest in NFL history for a right guard.
How did Thomas take Bugel's remark? "I've got to go out and get better," Thomas said, chuckling. "You've got to be criticized. You can't be comfortable. I don't think guys are comfortable because [Bugel] can plug anybody in there."
After being hired as offensive line coach by Gibbs in 1981, Bugel plugged in three rookies as starters: Mark May (20th-overall pick), Russ Grimm (third-round pick) and Joe Jacoby, who signed as an undrafted rookie. The other lineman, Bostic, was a free agent who had been a long snapper for the Philadelphia Eagles the previous season. George Starke was the veteran of the group.
Under Bugel's tutelage, Bostic turned into one of the league's top centers. Bostic, Grimm, Jacoby and May reached the Pro Bowl a total of nine times. Bugel named them the Hogs during the 1982 training camp because of their girth. (Bostic, Jacoby, Grimm, May and Starke averaged 280 pounds and 6 feet 5, making them the bulkiest unit in the NFL at the time.) In turn, the players dubbed Bugel Boss Hog.
"I'm not saying that those guys didn't have abilities," said Redskins tight ends coach Rennie Simmons, who was on Gibbs's staff from 1981 to 1992, with Bugel the first nine years. "Obviously, they had to have ability, but it took somebody to get it out of them. And I think Buges has a way of doing that."
Bugel calls Jansen's injury the biggest blow that he has encountered as an offensive line coach; the right tackle would have protected southpaw quarterback Mark Brunell's blind side, and his run-blocking prowess fit well with Portis. Since Jansen's injury occurred several weeks before the regular season, however, it will at least give Bugel time to find a replacement.
"If this was year two, I would worry more about missing Jon Jansen," May said this week. "But now they're still finding themselves. Bugel will eventually get a handful of guys that are interchangeable."
Bugel recalls 1984, when Bostic severely injured his right knee and missed the second half of the season. The Redskins still finished 11-5 as Washington rushed for 2,274 yards, 1,236 of them by John Riggins. In 1989, the club allowed only 21 sacks despite season-ending injuries to Jacoby and May and Grimm's recurring knee ailments. The Redskins, behind Gerald Riggs and Ernest Byner, rushed for 1,904 yards.
"Somebody has always gone down," said Rick "Doc" Walker, who played tight end in Washington from 1980 to 1985. "We've always had a loss on the offensive line."
Bugel's presence on the Redskins is so influential that he heavily influenced Washington's thinking during the 2004 draft. Despite the need for a pass rusher on the defensive lines, the Redskins selected offensive linemen Molinaro and Wilson in the lower rounds instead. "I guess I go back to the days when you pick a Jacoby and give him to Buges," Gibbs said, "and you wind up with a Pro Bowler. You have flashbacks there."
The rookies are no different than the veterans when it comes to Bugel's unusual brand of instruction. It's not uncommon for an NFL player to doze off during a two-hour meeting. When Bugel senses that a player is becoming inattentive, he sometimes responds by screaming or cursing loudly.
"You're probably jumping three or four feet out your seat," Raymer said, "because he just scared the hell out of you. He's been around and knows all the tricks."
And after a great play, Bugel has a habit of yelling: "Thaaaat's football!"
Dockery, a second-year player, said: "He's a character. He makes you laugh when you're around him. You enjoy coming to work because he's a great guy. At the same time, he's somebody that's going to push you to become the best person you can be."
Bugel is known for switching from excoriating a player's gaffe to moments later being effusive about a great play. During meetings, Bugel has shown videotape of a poorly executed block several times in slow motion while throwing things around the room in outrage. Conversely, Bugel dissects good plays and heaps praise on the relevant players.
"He's one of those guys who kicks you in the butt, and hugs you one play after another," recalled Walker, now a local radio personality, echoing current players.
But Bugel's split coaching personality isn't contrived, because players say he adapts to their sensibilities. If Thomas had taken umbrage to Bugel's blunt remarks, the coach said he would have altered his approach.
"You can't treat everybody alike; everybody is different," said Bugel, who makes sure to familiarize himself with his player's relatives. "You've got to find a guy's hot button. Some guys you can kick in the rear end. Some guys you've got to hug and squeeze all the time. When you can master that, then you can put an offensive line together."
Linemen say Bugel also inspires by being active and hands-on. In practice, Bugel often joins his players doing footwork or hitting tackling dummies. When the unit has weightlifting sessions, it's no surprise for Bugel to be there too, pumping iron. Trudging off the field after practices, Bugel is a familiar sight, sweat dripping down his face to his white T-shirt, burgundy mesh shorts and burgundy-on-white sneakers.
"If you've got a big heavy coach telling you you're not in shape," Bugel said, "you're going to look at him like, 'I'm out of shape? Look at you coach. Look in the mirror. Your belly is doubled-up over your pants.' So as a coach you try to be in condition."
Time seems to have frozen for Bugel since his previous Redskins tenure. A swath of Bugel's hair is blonde. But Bugel didn't take a page out of the style book of Dallas Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells, who dyed his hair blond after returning to the NFL in 2003 following a hiatus. "Lacquer but no dye," insisted Bugel, who explained that his hair turns blonde naturally from the sun.
Bugel first left the Redskins in 1990 to become head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, beating out Bill Belichick, then the New York Giants' defensive coordinator, and Mike Holmgren, then the 49ers' offensive coordinator, for the job. From 1990 to 1993, Bugel went 20-44 with the Cardinals. He became an Oakland Raiders assistant for three seasons before being promoted to head coach in 1997. But Bugel was dismissed after one season and a 4-12 record.
"The best years I've ever had in coaching was with the Washington Redskins and Joe Gibbs," said Bugel, who initially retired from coaching after being with San Diego from 1998 to 2001. "I learned a tremendous amount of football from Joe. We had great assistant coaches. When I left here I was naive. I thought every program was run like this organization, but to find out it's not.
"There have been some rocky roads out there, then I made that U-turn when Joe called and said we're going back home. So I'm going to finish on a great note coming back to Washington."