Assistants thrust in front of Hall spotlight

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John Randle (93) puts the hurt on Brett Favre in a 1996 game. Randle had 137.5 sacks in 14 seasons

CANTON, Ohio – As Russ Grimm removed his helmet and headed back to the sideline that day in 1981, Joe Bugel knew his torrent of profanities had struck a nerve somewhere deep in the guard's massive body.

Bugel just wondered if the next thing that was going to get struck was him.

"Russ just has this look," said Bugel, recalling a moment in their first year with the Washington Redskins. Bugel was the offensive line coach and Grimm was the left guard on a young line that would later become one of the most famous in NFL history.

However, this wasn't one of Grimm's better moments. He had just been beaten for a sack by Dallas' Randy White, a future Hall of Famer himself. Bugel exploded and Grimm headed back to the sideline to face him.

"Russ takes off his helmet and I'm thinking, 'Oh no, he's gonna knock me in the stands,' " Bugel said. Not exactly, but Grimm did have a point to make. When he got to Bugel, he stuck his helmet in Bugel's chest and said, "If you think you can block Randy White any better, go ahead."

"I let him get to the bench and then I said, 'You have a point there, stud,' " Bugel said, declining the invitation to take on White and giving thanks that Grimm left him in one piece.

Almost 30 years later, Grimm and Bugel will be together again on a football field. On Saturday, Bugel will present Grimm for enshrinement to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Grimm, now an assistant with the Arizona Cardinals, is one of seven former players in this class, joining Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Rickey Jackson, John Randle, Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little.

As much as this year's ceremony will be dominated by the presence of the record-setting Rice and Smith, a much less heralded part of the NFL will get its due respect: Assistant coaches.

Of the 268 members of the Hall of Fame (including this year's inductees) – a collection of players, coaches and other contributors – none of them are here solely on their work as assistants. Some of the greatest minds in the history of the game, such as Clark Shaughnessy and Bill Arnsparger, have faded quietly into its history. The men who toil countless hours scheming and teaching each week rarely see this stage.

Maybe LeBeau will open the door for others. For all his greatness as a player, he is far better known as the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive coordinator who devised the zone blitz, the defensive equivalent of the West Coast offense.

Even as presenters, assistant coaches are rare. In the 48 years the Hall of Fame has held the induction ceremony, only 14 men who were exclusively assistant coaches have ever presented someone for enshrinement. On Saturday though, Bugel and Indianapolis Colts defensive line coach John Teerlinck, who will speak for Randle, are among the presenters.

"I can't imagine there being a higher honor as assistant coach than to present someone," said Cincinnati offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, who is the son of Zeke Bratkowski, a man who played 14 seasons and spent a quarter-century as an NFL assistant.

"It's an incredible profession," the elder Bratkowski said. "If you've ever been around a group of assistant coaches, you know the passion for teaching, for strategy, the love of the game."

There's also a passion for nurturing and prodding in ways that are sometimes emotionally charged by competition the way Bugel and Grimm interacted in 1981.

While it can be argued that some players such as Rice and Smith were so overwhelmingly great that they would have arrived at Hall of Fame no matter what (there are 68 men in the hall who were elected on the first ballot), many more got here with endless help.

"I know that without Joe Bugel, without him taking a chance on me and a bunch of other young guys on the offensive line, I don't get to the Hall of Fame," said Grimm, who was part of Washington's famous "Hogs" line. "I know without Joe Bugel as coach and without Joe Jacoby on one side and Jeff Bostic on the other, I don't get there. That's how it is."

Randle was more succinct about Teerlinck.

"John taught me how to succeed in the NFL," Randle said.

"That's the magic we work so hard to create in this business," said Colts president Bill Polian. "You have the right player meet the right coach in the right system and it all comes together to create something truly special. It's everything you put together."

Teerlinck, a giant, gruff and profane man who played briefly in the NFL as a defensive lineman, is a prime example. He has lived in the shadows of the game, constantly thinking of ways to improve players. He did a master's thesis for Eastern Illinois on pass rushing. He invented some of the drills that are now standard in the NFL, such as the use of a large plastic ring (an oversized Hula hoop) that defensive linemen practice running around to perfect the art of running on an angle.

Teerlinck has taught his players that pass rushing is the only concern of a defensive lineman. If a lineman just happens to run into the running back on the way to the quarterback, fine, but the goal is and always will be to get the quarterback first.

"I always wanted to play and have a long career, but that didn't happen," said Teerlinck, who hurt his knee and played only two seasons with San Diego in the mid-70s. "Coaching was my way of giving back to a game I love and teaching the pass rush is what I love to do."

Teerlinck's lessons go beyond physical. He has developed one saying after another, such as telling his players that they are hunters and that the quarterback is their food.

"You can't play this game without emotion, without incentive," said Teerlinck, who was with Minnesota when Randle arrived as an undrafted free agent in 1990.

It was like a lit match meeting gasoline. Randle lets out his emotions the way most people blink.

"Those two were made for each other," said Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio, a linebacker with the Vikings during part of the time Teerlinck and Randle were together. "We'd all be in our rooms the night before a game and [Randle] would be out in the hallway practicing his moves, all the things [Teerlinck] taught him. Randle was this ball of energy, bouncing off the walls waiting for the game and [Teerlinck] knew just what to do with him."

Randle possessed unreal quickness. Teerlinck swears to this day that Randle once made a move in practice so quick that his own shorts came off.

"I'm telling you, he made the move, his shorts come off and he standing there bare-assed in nothing but his jock," Teerlinck said, selling what seems apocryphal.

Randle's physical skills and emotional exuberance were augmented by odd accessories. He applied eye-black to his face to give himself a demonic look. He wouldn't brush his teeth on the day of games, thinking that bad breath would give him another advantage against opponents.

All the while, he had Teerlinck pushing and prodding.

"The more he got, the more he wanted," Teerlinck said, referring to Randle's 137½ career sacks, an amazing total for a guy who primarily played defensive tackle. "Those sacks got him the cars, the house, the offseason trips, the good-looking girl. I'd tell him, 'You spell sacks with two dollar signs.'

"If you want the nice stuff, you have to do this."

Bugel, now out of football, was a little different when he took over the Washington offensive line under coach Joe Gibbs(notes), helping the Redskins to three titles. Bugel took Grimm, fellow rookies Jacoby and Mark May and second-year man Bostic and played them right away. He was unafraid of putting four youngsters on the field so soon. That's because, like Teerlinck, Bugel was a master of knowing how to meld individual talents into a unit.

"Joe was a master technician," said Dallas offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who has taught many of the same techniques and worked in the same offensive system for most of his career. "He could analyze quickly what guys could or couldn't do and worked them together."

Together, they helped create Hall of Fame careers. On Saturday, they get to front and center for the celebration.