Colts’ John Teerlinck Remembered as ‘Best Defensive Line Coach in NFL History’

Phillip B. Wilson

Howard Mudd and John Teerlinck were chatting on the phone last week when Teerlinck brought up a memorable conversation from when they started coaching together with the Indianapolis Colts in 2002.

Mudd, the Colts offensive line coach from 1998 to 2009, invited new head coach Tony Dungy and assistants to his Indianapolis home for dinner.

“They all came to my house because I liked to cook,” Mudd said Monday. “We had sauerkraut, brats, and beer.”

After the party broke up, Mudd and Teerlinck spent some time re-connecting. Quite a few years had passed from when Teerlinck entered the NFL as a rookie defensive lineman with the San Diego Chargers and Mudd was in his first season there as the offensive line coach.

“My feeling with him was, ‘We’re going to win here because of you and I. We’ve got a quarterback (Peyton Manning), but we’re going to have to get this thing done,’” Mudd said. “We were referring to how we had to work together."

Eighteen years later, Teerlinck recalled that meaningful moment.

“He told me this last week, ‘This all started in your living room when I first got there,’” Mudd said.

Last week's call was the last time Mudd would speak with Teerlinck, who died Sunday night at the age of 69. Although Teerlinck was having some health problems, Mudd was stunned when Teerlinck’s son, Bill, texted with the sad news.

“It was quite a shock,” said the 78-year-old Mudd, who is retired in Phoenix. “Part of my soul got cut out.”

Mudd reflected on how he and his friend made themselves better coaches through collaboration, although they were working with linemen on opposite sides. Both were old-school, which meant they would often raise their voices with players.

“He coached very loud, and so did I,” Mudd said. “But I wasn’t coaching to compete against John. I was coaching to get my guys better. John did the same thing. I don’t think John Teerlinck and I had cross words for each other more than twice in all the years we worked together.

Seven pass rushers coached by defensive line coach John Teerlinck accumulated 100 career NFL sacks. Teerlinck, who was with the Indianapolis Colts from 2002 to 2012, passed away Sunday night.
Defensive line coach John Teerlinck, a Colts assistant from 2002 to 2012, was instrumental in the success of seven pass rushers with 100 career NFL sacks, including Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.Indianapolis Colts

Teerlinck testimonials streamed out in social media. Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted, “Rest In Peace, John Teerlinck. One of our sport's all-time greatest assistant coaches. And a Horseshoe guy, through-and-through.”

Teerlinck, who was with the Colts until 2012, is remembered for coaching some of the NFL’s greatest pass rushers, including Minnesota Vikings Hall of Famers Chris Doleman and John Randle, as well as Colts Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Mathis, the Colts’ all-time sack leader with 123, shared fond memories in two tweets.

The Twitter picture is of Teerlinck and Randle from when the pass rusher asked his coach to introduce him at Randle’s 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction.

Mudd recalls the impact Teerlinck had on Randle’s career.

“John Randle had been a defensive end and came up to John (Teerlinck) in the offseason, this is what I know happened, and he asked, ‘Can you make me a good player?’” Mudd said. “And John (Teerlinck) said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to move you inside.’ John took exceptional athletes and made them great. There’s many players there.”

Seven of Teerlinck’s pass rushers had at least 100 sacks. That included Freeney, who finished with 125.5.

“JT was a man of true legend,” Freeney said. “He was an innovator and his teachings were way ahead of his time. He taught me so much and I definitely would not have had the career I had if it wasn’t for him. I will miss him. Rest in peace, my friend. The greatest d-line coach of all time!”

Teerlinck won three Super Bowl rings, two with Denver and one with the Colts. The Friday before the Colts’ Super Bowl XLIV loss to New Orleans in 2010, Teerlinck gave a rare interview in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He explained creatively what mattered most in coaching pass rushers: “$ack$.”

“It’s dollar sign, a-c-k, and dollar sign,” Teerlinck said. “Somebody is going to get paid. It might as well be us.”

Mudd recalled how their bond started with the Chargers. Teerlinck was willing to emulate great players such as Merlin Olsen or Bob Lilly to better prepare offensive linemen. Whatever Mudd asked, Teerlinck was willing.

They lost touch for years after Teerlinck’s playing career ended in 1975. He coached at three colleges before returning to the NFL as Cleveland’s defensive line coach in 1989. After stops with the L.A. Rams, Minnesota, Detroit, and Denver, he came to Indianapolis with Dungy. They had worked together on the Vikings defense.

“That’s when the real bond started,” Mudd said of Teerlinck.

They were always thinking about how to make players better and in the process become better coaches. One night during training camp, they were having some beers and came up with the idea to put both lines in the same room for film study. Players heard how Teerlinck coached the defensive line and how Mudd coached the offensive line. Teammates developed the same mutual respect for each other that their coaches shared, and better understood what was expected on each side.

On the Friday before the Colts’ Super Bowl XLI victory over the Chicago Bears in Miami in 2007, the linemen had about 20 minutes down time during practice. The two coaches shared a few words that Mudd will never forget.

“John had his golf cart and I had mine. We were sitting next to one another,” Mudd said. “I felt really good about our game plan against the Bears.”

Mudd looked over at Teerlinck and said, “John, we’re going to win.”

Remembering how their Colts bond began with that 2002 chat in Mudd’s living room, Teerlinck turned and said, “No Howard, we have to win.”

Indianapolis Colts defensive line coach John Teerlinck (left) and offensive line coach Howard Mudd celebrate after a 2005 home playoff win at the RCA Dome. Teerlinck passed away Sunday night.
Colts defensive line coach John Teerlinck (left) and offensive line coach Howard Mudd celebrate after a 2005 home playoff win at the RCA Dome.Matt Kryger/USA TODAY Sports

(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is phillipbwilson24@yahoo.com.)

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