Bugel was the Redskins’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in 1981 and 1982 and was named assistant head coach in 1983, retaining his offensive line duties and holding that position until he left after the 1989 season to become head coach of the Phoenix Cardinals. His offensive line helped the Redskins advance to three Super Bowls, including wins after the 1982 and 1987 seasons.
Bugel also served as head coach of the Oakland Raiders and spent time as an assistant for the Detroit Lions, Houston Oilers, Raiders and San Diego Chargers during an NFL career that spanned 35 years. Bugel returned to the Redskins when Gibbs arrived for his second stint as head coach in 2004, and he remained Washington’s offensive line coach through 2009, including two seasons under Jim Zorn.
“I am absolutely devastated by the news of Joe’s passing. Joe was a larger than life figure and a true legend of his profession,” Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said in a statement. “He exemplified what it meant to be a Redskin with his character and ability to connect with his players along with a work ethic that was unmatched. We shared a special bond and he was a great friend. He was a man who not only gave me a better understanding of the game of football, but who also gave me perspective on what is truly important in life. I absolutely adored him and will miss him terribly. Tanya and I would like to extend our deepest condolences to Brenda and the entire Bugel family during this time.”
Bugel was known for molding players such as Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Mark May, Jeff Bostic and George Starke into “The Hogs,” who plowed the field for Gibbs’s offenses. It was a term of affection from Bugel, who one day barked at his players, “Okay, you hogs, let’s go down in the bullpen and hit those sleds.”
As that colorful quote indicates, Bugel was always a go-to guy for reporters and was never at a loss for words or energy. “Buges is tough to wear out,” Gibbs told The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga in January 2010 upon Bugel’s retirement.
Jacoby recalls his first encounter with Bugel’s intensity in the lead-up to the 1981 draft, after Jacoby finished his college career at Louisville.
“I just remember coming in after working out for him for 2½ hours,” Jacoby said Sunday in a telephone interview. “This is just one-on-one. There’s nobody else. I sit down at the locker, and I’m just, ‘If this is the NFL, I don’t know if I want to play.’ ”
Jacoby went undrafted, but he signed with the Redskins and under Bugel’s tutelage earned four Pro Bowl appearances and twice was named a first-team all-pro.
“I love the man passionately. He made me the player that I was,” Jacoby said. “He was a coach, [but] he was more than that. He cared about you. He cared about what you did on the field and how you carried yourself off the field. I owe everything to him — him and Coach Gibbs. They made me what I am, what I turned out to be.”
Bugel’s conversation was peppered with four-letter words, and he was “never politically correct. Never,” center Casey Rabach told Svrluga. But he was respected and even loved in the way gruff football coaches so often are by their players.
“He’s just a really likable guy,” Starke said Sunday. “Not to say that he wasn’t a tough guy, but he managed to be tough and likable at the same time.”
Bugel and his wife, Brenda, had three daughters: Angie, Jennifer and Holly, who died of bone cancer in 2008. Despite Holly’s illness, Bugel kept coaching his guys.
“We obviously had some heart-to-hearts,” Rabach told Svrluga. “Tears were shared between us all. But he kept persevering. He was a lot stronger than I think I would be in that situation. He coached right through it.”