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'The Hogs' Remember Coach Joe Bugel


It was a bittersweet moment for John Riggins on the Riggo The Diesel podcast in 2020. He was able to to talk with some of his former teammates, but the conversation centered around former offensive line coach Joe Bugel, who passed away earlier that week.

Players like Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, Donnie Warren and Rick "Doc" Walker -- members of the dominant offensive line known as "The Hogs" in the 1980s and 1990s -- remember the kind of coach Bugel was in Washington. He demanded excellence and was not shy about pointing out mistakes, often with what many referred to as "colorful language," when something like hand placement or footwork was even slightly off.

But that was only Bugel's tough exterior. He was also the man who was quick to sing praise and embrace his players while telling them he loved them. It's why they always returned the affection the "Boss Hog" gave them.

"He's tough on you, but he's also the first one to tell you how great you did, what you did right," Jacoby told Riggins on the latest "Riggo The Diesel" episode.

Of all the founding members of "The Hogs," Jacoby arguably had one of the most unique paths to greatness. He signed with Washington as an undrafted free agent in 1981 and went on to have a decorated and successful career. But before ending up in Washington, Jacoby remembers going through a brutal two-and-a-half hour workout with Bugel that made him question his future.

"I'm sitting in the locker room, and I'm going, 'If this is the NFL, count me out," Jacoby said. "He wore my butt out."

Jacoby stayed the course and experienced almost immediate success under Bugel. He made four straight Pro Bowls from 1983-86 and earned back-to-back first-team All-Pro selections in 1983 and 1984.

"He had the ability to get the best out of his players," Jacoby said when Bugel retired after the 2009 season. "He showed me how to be an individual that can teach somebody something and still be that person there to reward them. I owe a lot to him as far as what he did for me out there on the football field. I became a husband, a father and now a coach, helping young people like he helped me."

Bugel was known for being a stickler on his linemen using the proper technique. All five players had to take the right steps and use their hands the right way on every play; otherwise, they would be in for some intense film sessions. In what Jacoby claimed was the most famous of Bugel's tirades, the coach was "ripping the film through the projector" and throwing desks across the room.

There was one problem, though: they were watching film on the opponent's offensive line. Bugel was focused on the players' footwork that he didn't notice that it wasn't his players on the screen.

"He ran the play back 27 times, and he was yelling at me all those times, and it wasn't even me on the film," Jacoby said. "He didn't pay attention to the color of the jersey; he was watching the feet, and that's the type of coach he was."

Bugel's intensity was well known by everyone on the team. Only a partition separated the offensive line from the rest of the offense during meetings, meaning everyone on that side of the ball heard every word.

"We would sit outside, and I heard those projectors being tossed around," Walker said. "He was all about business."

While Walker and Warren were part of the original group of "Hogs," they didn't have as much interaction with Bugel since they were tight ends. Still, the two got to work with Bugel during practice, and they were always impressed with the way he taught the game. He was a great communicator, Walker said, and there was nothing he felt he couldn't talk about with Bugel.

"He's one of the rare breeds that technically, he was sound [by teaching] hands, feet, eyes. So he was a terrific teacher, and then he could throw the hot sauce on you...and get you to try and [take on] somebody that was bigger, stronger than you were."

Just like his film sessions, Bugel's practices were tough. Warren said they were taught to play the game at "full tilt" and not to let anyone on the offensive line down, rather than playing for themselves.

"He coached the game the way you're supposed to coach the game," Warren added. "And that's...all out [with] great technique."

To Bostic, the team's longtime starting center and a mainstay of the offensive line during the team's four Super Bowl runs, what always stood to him about Bugel was what he was able to accomplish with the players he had. Outside of himself, who was entering his second year when Bugel joined the coaching staff in 1981, most of the offensive line were rookies.

"He took all these young kids that were boys and he made them men," Bostic said. "He did something for me that I'll never be able to thank him for. He gave me a career, and it lasted 14 years."

While he had many memorable seasons, his undisputed best came in 1983 when he was voted to the Pro Bowl. With Bostic's help, Washington's offense was the best in the league, scoring a then NFL-record 541 points while averaging 33.8 points per contest. They rushed for at least 100 yards in 15 games, and that success helped bridge the way to another Super Bowl appearance against the Los Angeles Raiders.

Even though Washington failed to claim another Super Bowl victory, Bostic still credits Bugel for all the success the offensive line had during that season and the ones after it.

"If you look at the Redskins during that time frame, we went to four Super Bowls in 10 years," Bostic said. "The thing that really didn't change that much was our offensive line. That was a very good offensive line, and a lot of it had to do with Joe Bugel."

Bugel left the team after the 1989 season to be the head coach of the Phoenix Cardinals, but he was back with Washington in 2004 as head coach Joe Gibbs' offensive line coach once again. It had been 15 years since Bugel had coached in Washington, but it was apparent to his new players like center Casey Rabach, who had heard some of the old stories about Bugel, that he hadn't lost any of his passion.

"If he was mellowed by the time he got to me, I'd hate to see what those guys went through," Rabach said with a smile. "Joe didn't change for anybody. He was still the guy that demanded perfection, day in and day out."

The tirades happened often, Rabach said, but everyone in the room knew Bugel "loved the hell" out of them. He said Bugel's players meant "everything" to him, especially those who were able to suit up on game days. Rabach was one of those players; from the time that he joined Bugel's group in 2005, he only missed one game in the the five seasons Bugel was his coach.

"There's the other side of Joe that I was lucky enough to see, that soft side of Joe when he was around his girl or [his wife] Brenda. ...It's like, 'Golly, this is the guy that just chewed [me] out 30 minutes ago."

While the game changed in Bugel's decades of service, he was one of the people who managed to stay the same. His players will say that he was as intense as he was kind, or as Riggins put it, there was some sugar and cream to his hot sauce. That blend is what forever changed his players' lives for the better.

"He's the man that made me who I am, on and off the field," Jacoby said, "and I love him dearly."