Mike Munchak who started his football career as a full back at Scranton Central made the transition to guard when he played for Penn State. After a Hall of Fame career at his new position he became a coach for the Tenessee Titans where he remains today.Photo courtesy of Tennessee Titans
Mike Munchak left Scranton as a football player without a position.
Tom Coughlin’s hint, Joe Paterno’s decision and Dick Anderson’s instruction all helped Munchak not only find a position, but become of the game’s foremost authorities on how to play it.
Munchak, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his play as a guard, is a fixture as one of the National Football League’s most respected offensive line coaches.
“Tom Coughlin at the time was at Syracuse, which was recruiting me heavily,” said Munchak, a fullback who played linebacker and end on the defensive side during his time at Scranton Central. “He was the first one who told me that when I moved on to the next level I was going to be an offensive lineman.”
The future Super Bowl winning coach with the New York Giants was on to something, but it took Paterno and his staff at Penn State a while to settle on it for certain.
Munchak developed into an All-American guard at Penn State, helping him become a first-round draft pick and an all-Pro with the Houston Oilers. The Oilers franchise moved to Tennessee where it became the Titans and Munchak never left.
Now he’s the one teaching the game’s best how to make adjustments to their play in the offensive line. It is different from when Dick Anderson first showed him all three positions – center, guard and tackle – as he worked his way into the Penn State lineup.
“He taught me the position,” Munchak said. “He’s still the guy teaching the position there.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Munchak knows his career as an elite offensive guard and Titans line coach was shaped at Central even though he lined up in the backfield for coach Moe DeCantis. He often served as a 230-pound pulling guard disguised as a fullback.
“I was a tweener in high school,” said Munchak, pointing out his status as too big for the backfield and too fast for the line. “Moe DeCantis had the idea of putting me in the backfield.
“Fullback, to me, was basically like being a guard. Joe McCarthy, our tailback, had the speed. He was the great athlete. I led him to the point of attack. When I got there, I started playing like an offensive lineman; it was just that I had started from the fullback position.”
Once he was done trying other positions at Penn State, Munchak was equipped with the ability to pull and lead plays around the end. He added the intricacies of interior line play under the guidance of Anderson.
As Munchak has learned, there are still adjustments that can be made in technique after 16 years as a player and 15 more as a coach.
“What the offseason is for is to find ways to make your scheme and your players better,” Munchak said. “You see what you’re teaching and try to determine if there are better ways to teach it.
“Every year, it’s more of a challenge to come up with a better way to do things.”
After an offseason of viewing last year’s film of Titans games and all the games of this year’s opponents, Munchak is in camp preparing the offensive line for the start of the season.
“I hope I’ve found a way to explain all the stuff that looked complicated,” he said.
While the job remains interesting by continually adapting a coaching style, Munchak knows he is fortunate to have made those adjustments in one organization.
Jeff Fisher took over as head coach in Houston during the 1994 season, Munchak’s first as an offensive quality control assistant, which he became immediately after his 12-year playing career ended.
Fisher has beaten the odds by staying on the job since then and has kept Munchak the entire time. Munchak moved to offensive line coach in 1997 when the franchise relocated to Tennessee and, since then, the team is 112-80 with six trips to the playoffs.
“Definitely the continuity of coach Fisher has been good for the whole team,” said Munchak, who has two adult daughters. “Nashville, with the family, has been great.
“Coaches don’t always get to live in one place for so long.”
Munchak talks freely about the good fortune he has with each of his homes.
Throughout his playing career at Penn State and Houston, Munchak’s exploits were well followed by people from Scranton. Large groups traveled to Houston for the retirement of his jersey and to Canton, Ohio for his Hall of Fame induction.
“I remember when I’d have an away game in Pittsburgh, my teammate would see all the Scranton people there, a whole busload,” said Munchak, who returns to the area each summer to run a United Way golf tournament. “It was a neat thing to be part of it.
“It’s kind of why I try to do anything I can to be supportive.”
During his playing days, Munchak would rent a home in the Poconos for a month or more each offseason so that his growing children could get to know his family in Scranton and his wife Marci’s family in Allentown. It also allowed him to remain “buddies” with Scranton Central classmates and with Penn State teammates who settled within driving distance of northeastern Pennsylvania.
“I still come up for at least three weeks every year, just to relax,” he said. “I love the area. People there always did a good job keeping tabs on me, just like they did (Pittston Area’s) Jimmy Cefalo when I was a young kid. It’s great when young kids hear about it. I know hearing about Jimmy helped me, I would think: ‘it could be me doing what he’s doing. Why can’t I?’
“I think that has helped other people too. A lot of areas don’t have that.”
That special attachment with his hometown is something Munchak does not want to ever give up.