So it goes on Hard Knocks, and in the NFL, that we must say goodbye to some of our favorite characters at the end of training camp. Carl Nassib, the defensive lineman who moonlights as an amateur financial advisor; Devon Cajuste, tight end, devoted son and crystal enthusiast; and reserve QB Brogan Roback, who enlightened America on the correct pronunciation of TUH-rod Taylor, were all let go by the Browns this weekend as they trimmed their roster for the regular season.
But another breakout star will, thankfully, continue to be a fixture in Cleveland: Bob Wylie, the Browns offensive line coach who loathes stretching, uses film of rhinoceroses and gorillas to teach proper offensive lineman posture and went viral for a clip of his stomach moving up and down in harmony with the snap count. Set hut! (wiggle) Set hut! (wiggle). “I’m just trying to get them to move,” Wylie says. (You can now buy T-shirts, celebrating this marvelous scene.)
Offensive line coaches often do their work in anonymity, much like the players they coach (except, of course, when they mess up). Doing so is a source of pride, which is why when the Hard Knocks cameras set up shop in Cleveland, so too did a kangaroo court doling out fines to offensive linemen who sought out air time. Despite his newfound fame, Wylie says he hasn’t had to pay up so far. “They haven’t decided what to do with me yet,” he explains. “I didn’t go out of my way [to get on the show], they just videoed me.”
The cameras definitely found Wylie, and we are glad for it. But there’s plenty more about the 67-year-old coach from West Warwick, R.I., that’s been left on the cutting room floor.
“For one part of my life, I was coaching football, teaching high school economics, playing drums in a band and flying a jet,” Wylie said in a phone interview before tonight’s Hard Knocks finale. “For whatever reason, football just took over. I don’t know why. People say, How did you get into the NFL? Well, I made a pest of myself.”
There’s a lot to parse there. Let’s go one by one.
Bob Wylie became a drummer in junior high, when his dad bought him a three-piece drum set. “The next thing I know,” he says, “I was playing drums in an eight-piece brass band.” The band was called the Royal Coachmen; they played at clubs in Providence, Boston, Hartford. “One time,” Wylie adds, “we got to NYC.”
Bob Wylie became a pilot during his senior year in high school. His family used to go to an ice cream shop near an airport and watch planes take off and land. On one trip, he mentioned to his dad, “That looks like a lot of fun.” His dad had a friend who was a flight instructor and suggested Bob take lessons. Wylie saved up money from his paper route and other jobs to get an hour of flight time a week. This afforded him a certain status enviable to high school boys.
“I always got dates with the prettiest girls in the senior class. My buddies said, How did you get a date with her?” Wylie recounts. “I told them, ‘No. 1, I’m better looking. No. 2, I’m a better athlete. No. 3, I’m getting on airplane, taking her to Martha’s Vineyard for dinner, and then flying back. You are taking Susie Q to Joe’s Bar and Grill for a cheeseburger.’ ”
Today, Wylie owns a private jet, which is parked in Scottsdale, Ariz. This past summer he used it to pick up his daughter, Jennifer, and two grandkids (one of whom is named Wylie) in Nashville, and they vacationed in Rhode Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and the Hamptons.
Bob Wylie is also an amateur magician, aficionado of disappearing card tricks, one of which he learned from the legendary David Copperfield. Wylie remembers when he had his appendix taken out as a kid and a group of Patriots players came to visit children in the hospital. So in many of the cities he’s worked in, he’s found a local children’s hospital to visit on Friday afternoons during the season, cheering up the kids with magic tricks. Last week he performed the Copperfield trick in front of the Hard Knocks cameras in the Browns cafeteria. It begins, “This is the story about the twin brothers that married twin sisters back in medieval times … ” and involves a complicated sleight of hand with only four playing cards on the table. (He’s worried this might be the infraction that finally gets him fined by his players, because he did put on a show).
Bob Wylie is a man of many talents, but he prefers to talk about his job as an offensive line coach. He never technically played OL—he was a tight end and linebacker at Colorado, but he emphasizes that he was a blocking tight end. When he returned to his hometown to teach, he started coaching Pop Warner and junior high football and worked his way up through the ranks: high school, college and the pros, in both the U.S. and Canada.
At West Warwick High, Wylie both played and coached under Frank Maznicki, who’d been a halfback and kicker for George Halas’s Bears. As a young coach, Wylie traveled to clinics across the Northeast, taping the presentations on his cassette recorder. At one, he met Jim McNally, then Boston College’s offensive line coach, and asked him to help him develop blocking rules for the plays in Maznicki’s offense.
In 1980, Wylie was coaching at Brown when he received a call from McNally. “You have to come to Cincinnati,” McNally said. Wylie’s coaching buddy was then on Forest Gregg’s Bengals staff, and discovered that their playbook was nearly identical to what Wylie brought to him several years earlier. Maznicki had borrowed from Halas, whose offense shared many of the principles and terminology that Gregg mastered in Green Bay under Vince Lombardi. Wylie told McNally everything he knew, and soon was a regular guest at Bengals headquarters.
Those trips to Cincinnati opened the door to Wylie’s coaching career in the NFL and, equally as important in his mind, the C.O.O.L. Clinic (Coaches of Offensive Linemen). For the first few years, the clinic consisted of six coaches gathered in McNally’s office; when team owner Mike Brown grew nervous that the Bengals’ secrets were getting out, they relocated to the nearby Clarion hotel. Wylie began running the clinic in 1995; this year, 450 coaches attended, together consuming 400 pizzas for lunch, about one pizza per coach. There’s really nothing else like it in football, with about two-thirds of the NFL and more than 100 colleges in the same room, a camaraderie among rivals who simply want to improve the profession of coaching offensive line.
The logo for the C.O.O.L. Clinic, which appears on polos, mugs, paperweights and Slinkies, is a mushroom. “Offensive line coaches are always left in the dark and they always feed us s---,” Wylie explains. “Well, that’s how mushrooms grow.”
Wylie previously worked for head coach Hue Jackson in Oakland. He’s proud of turning a Raiders line that had given up the fourth-most sacks in the league the season before into a unit that gave up the fourth-fewest sacks the season he coached them. This year in Cleveland he faces one of the biggest challenges an offensive line coach can have, filling the void longtime left tackle Joe Thomas left when he retired. In the mix is an undrafted rookie, Desmond Harrison, who Jackson said on Monday is a possibility to slide in at left tackle so Joel Bitonio can move back to his natural guard position. “You don't just replace the future Hall of Famer,” Wylie says. “We are working on it. We know we can put Joel out there, but if we can keep those three inside guys together, we might feel stronger doing that."
No wonder he hates loud music on the practice field. There’s lots of work to get done. And Wylie’s teaching methods, just like his opinions on stretching, are sometimes unconventional.
The gorilla teaching tape showcased on Hard Knocks has been part of Wylie’s offensive line curriculum for a quarter century, about as long as he has coached in the NFL. The tape has traveled with him. “When I look at gorillas, the way they move is what I want linemen to look like,” he says. “Knees bent, natural arch in your back, really long arms and a nasty disposition.”
Wylie has even populated the Browns offensive line meeting room with giant stuffed gorillas (and artificial trees, to create a habitat for the primates). It’s not the only interior decorating he’s done. On one wall he has players post pictures of the people most important in their lives; on another photographs of them playing football when they didn’t get paid for it. He’s set up the space like a conference room, rather than a classroom, so the players can all see each other. Offensive linemen have to work together.
Wylie is the epitome of an offensive line coach, with one glaring exception: His choice of vehicle. You know, the snazzy white Maserati he dropped off at the valet in Episode 3, with express instructions: “No Ferris Bueller s--- with this thing, OK?” Before Wylie reverts to the relative anonymity that typically shrouds OL coaches, we need an answer to this important question: Why a white Maserati?
“I didn’t want to go black, or blue,” Wylie says. Bob Wylie, Hard Knocks star, has done it again.
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