Steelers new o-line coach earns rave reviews
His shaved head, neatly trimmed goatee and thick upper body give him the look of an offensive line coach.
And having grown up in Buffalo as the son of a fireman and factory worker, Sean Kugler can identify with the blue-collar ethos of Pittsburgh and, by extension, the Steelers.
"Just a solid, no-nonsense line coach," team president Art Rooney II said of Kugler, who started his new job Monday with the Steelers. "I think he's our kind of guy."
Results will ultimately determine whether that's the case.
This much, however, is certain: the man known as "Koogs" will be a key figure in fulfilling the mandate Rooney II recently issued when he said the Steelers need to do a better job of running the ball and keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright.
Kugler, who spent the previous three seasons coaching the offensive line in Buffalo, might seem like a curious choice when it comes to addressing the Roethlisberger issue.
Buffalo gave up 46 sacks last season, though there were mitigating circumstances to the protection problems. Injuries decimated their line, and at one point, Buffalo started four rookies up front.
Kugler still cobbled together a group that helped third-year running back Fred Jackson, an undrafted free agent out of tiny Coe College in Iowa, rush for more than 1,000 yards.
"Of course, as a line coach, I love to run the football, and I know the Steelers have a history of putting a physical line up front that runs the football," said Kugler, who takes over for Larry Zierlein as the Steelers' offensive line coach. "I'd love to be a part of that."
This isn't the first time Kugler has been a part of the Steelers.
After starting for three seasons at guard for Texas El Paso — his position coach at UTEP was current Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid — Kugler signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 1989. He never made it to training camp, as a car accident left him with a fractured hip — though not exactly shattered dreams.
"I didn't have a career as a player," Kugler said. "I guess I was what you called a roster filler."
He has been much more than that since embarking on the career he wanted to pursue in high school and began prepping for when he played for Reid.
Those who have worked with Kugler offer rave reviews.
Chris Petersen, who recently led Boise State to a 14-0 record and No. 4 ranking in The Associated Press poll, said Kugler is the best coach he has ever been around. And Kugler was only at Boise State for one season (2006) before leaving for Buffalo.
"He is an unbelievable teacher," Petersen said. "He brings tremendous passion to the game. (The Steelers) got, in my opinion, as good as they come without question."
UTEP associate athletic director for football operations Nate Poss agreed.
"(Players will) run through walls for him," Poss said.
Poss coached with Kugler at UTEP, and he remembers seeing offensive linemen push cars across the parking lot at Sun Bowl Stadium during the summer, their sweat and grunts a testament to the influence of their position coach.
If he demands the kind of work ethic that his father and role model instilled in him, Kugler also knows how to make things fun.
Consider this anecdote from his time coaching at UTEP.
One day Poss called the weight room looking for the videographer about tape he needed for a speaking engagement.
Kugler answered the phone, and after a minute, he got back on it and pretended to be the videographer, who's from Germany.
In a spot-on German accent, Kugler told Poss that he didn't make the tape and that if Poss had a problem with it to "bring it on, big boy. I am not afraid of you."
Poss immediately headed to the weight room to do just that.
As Poss gave Juergen Karp "a few choice words," Kugler, who was sitting beside the flabbergasted videographer, broke out his impersonation.
"We still laugh about that, the video guy and I," Poss said. "(Kugler) could probably make a living as an impersonator."
The Steelers simply want Kugler to play the part for which he looks and seems so suited.
There will be a transition period as Kugler is getting to know his players by watching tape.
But Kugler said of change: "Sometimes, that's good, too, that a guy can get a clean slate. I'm going to give everybody a fair shot. I want to do the best job I can and not let anybody down."
Meet Sean Kugler
Job: Steelers offensive line coach
Family: Wife Patsy, sons Robert and Patrick and daughter Kali
Hometown: Lockport, N.Y.
Coaching experience: Coached eight seasons for the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, spent one season at Boise State in between NFL coaching gigs
College: Texas El Paso (1984-88); three-year starter at guard, and his position coach was current Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid.
Favorite meal: Spaghetti and meatballs
Favorite movie(s): "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Godfather I" and "Godfather II"
Favorite book: "I like reading about successful coaches and what they did and their journey to be successful."
On his new job: "Probably the biggest transition for me is learning the system and identifying what these guys do best because ultimately on Sunday I want them to be out there in a position where they can succeed. If they're put into a position where they're not out there to succeed, then I'm not doing my job as a coach."