Carney Column: Mike Munchak is a major get for the Broncos’ coaching staff
Last season, the Denver Broncos had a clear disadvantage in the coaching department as soon as they stepped onto the field.
General Manager John Elway has gone to great lengths this offseason to correct one of the biggest weaknesses in the organization, pulling all the right strings when it comes to coaching hires. One week after choosing Vic Fangio to be the 17th head coach in Broncos history, Elway and Fangio snagged Ed Donatell from the Bears to be Denver’s new defensive coordinator, lured Rich Scangarello away from San Francisco to be the new offensive coordinator, and perhaps the biggest move of all: snagged Mike Munchak from Pittsburgh to be the new offensive line coach.
How many times in NFL history can you recall an organization having two head coaching finalists, and then landing both on the same staff? I did some research, and I can’t seem to find any situation in the last 30 years where this happened. Surprisingly, Elway pulled off an absolute heist for his coaching staff.
It’s important to note that Fangio was able to bring Donatell with him due to the history between the two, and that Munchak largely picked Denver over Pittsburgh because his daughter and granddaughter live in Denver and he wanted to be closer to home. That shouldn’t take anything away from the job Elway and Fangio have done so far putting together a coaching staff.
The biggest get by the Broncos, aside from Fangio, is Munchak. The Hall of Fame offensive linemen helped develop one of the best offensive lines in football in Pittsburgh over the last four seasons.
While in Pittsburgh, Munchak helped mold former undrafted tight end Alejandro Villanueva into a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle, while also dramatically reducing the number of sacks Ben Roethlisberger took. In his first year with the Steelers, Munchak’s offensive line unit gave up a sack on 5.1 percent of Roethlisberger’s drop backs. Last season, that number dropped to 3.4 percent, keeping Roethlisberger upright and healthy.
That doesn’t even touch on the run game effectiveness that Munchak helped foster in Pittsburgh. Sure, the Steelers finished near the bottom of the league in rushing offense, but Le’Veon Bell and James Conner both had big years on the ground in recent seasons. Now, Munchak heads to Denver and gets to mold another young offensive line in hopes of turning Denver’s group into one of the league’s best.
On paper, it doesn’t look like much to work with right now, with Ronald Leary and Matt Paradis (current free agent but expected back in Denver) both recovering from injuries, and Billy Turner and Jared Velheer currently on the open market as free agents. But if Elway has shown anything in recent years in free agency and in the NFL Draft, he’ll continue to add talent to the offensive line in hopes of protecting Case Keenum or whomever he brings in via free agency or the draft (Joe Flacco? Drew Lock?) at quarterback this offseason.
If Munchak can continue to be the offensive line whisperer in Denver, the Broncos could really take off in the 2019 season. Dating back to the Super Bowl 50 win over the Carolina Panthers, the offensive line has been a problem for the Broncos, largely because its been neglected. That’s started to change in recent years with the signing of Leary in free agency and the drafting of Garret Bolles in the first round in 2017.
Denver must continue to do that, not only to improve the team, but to give Munchak talent to work with, much like the Steelers did from 2014 through 2018. Up front on offense is the only glaring weakness with the current makeup with the Broncos.
Elway did the best thing possible from a coaching standpoint up front by hiring Munchak. Now it’s on him to continue adding talent to the most overlooked, but important unit in football.