Howard Mudd coached Walter Jones for only one season, and his rookie season at that.
But that single-season association with the Hall of Fame left tackle was enough to leave a lasting impression on the veteran NFL line coach.
“I only had him as a rookie, but he turned out to be a phenomenal player,” Mudd said during a telephone interview from a restaurant in Wyoming, as he was riding his motorcycle from Arizona to Jones’ induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday.
And Jones was that exceptional from the get-go.
“When he showed up as a rookie, we put him right in the lineup,” Mudd said. “We didn’t care who else was there, Walt was going to play. He had a remarkable capability to figure out who he was supposed to block with sophisticated things happening around him – blitzes and stuff like that.
“And he shouldn’t have. As a rookie, he should not have done that. He should have stumbled and been confused and looked amateurish – where you panic, don’t know what to do and the guy runs right by you. That happens a lot to a young player. It didn’t to him. Maybe it’s because he had so much talent.”
The man most people call Big Walt or just Walt is about to become the third career-long Seahawk to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – joining wide receiver Steve Largent and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy. To commemorate his latest – and greatest – football achievement, Seahawks.com is asking those who played with him and against him, coached him and knew him best for their thoughts on Jones. Today, it’s Mudd.
The connection – Mudd actually had two stints as the Seahawks’ line coach. The first was from 1978-82 on Jack Patera’s staff. The second came from 1993-97 on the staffs of Tom Flores and Dennis Erickson. Before, after and in between, Mudd also coached for the San Diego Chargers (1974-76), San Francisco 49ers (1977), Cleveland Browns (1983-88), Kansas City Chiefs (1989-92), Indianapolis Colts (1998-2009) and Philadelphia Eagles (2011-12).
A three-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro guard for the 49ers during his playing career, Mudd always has looked at the game as a lineman – even, and especially, when he turned to coaching. But he admits he never saw a better lineman than Jones.
“I was sent on a mission just before the (1997) draft to study Walter because we knew we were going to take a tackle,” Mudd said. “What I said in the report I filed was, ‘I believe in the long run that Walter Jones is going to be better than Orlando Pace.’ ”
Pace was the first pick overall in the draft by the St. Louis Rams, while the Seahawks got Jones after trading into the No. 6 spot.
“I said that,” Mudd repeated, “and I’ll stand on that one.”
Pace was voted to the Pro Bowl seven times, while Jones was honored a club-record nine time. Pace was All-Pro five times, one fewer than Jones. Both were selected to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 2000s. But Jones was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, while Pace will be eligible next year.
In closing – “Hall of Fame to me means you made a difference when you played,” Mudd said. “When you played, the game was different because you played so well. Warren Moon, he was that way. Steve Largent, he was that way. And when you think about those kinds of players, that’s Walter Jones. That’s the quality he brought to the game, every game.”