INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – So much of the time, the NFL’s coaching universe is about who you know. It’s about networking. It’s about being in the right place at the right time.
Occasionally, you’re Chris Strausser and you’re answering a call from a complete stranger.
Chris, this is Frank Reich.
OK, Strausser certainly had cursory knowledge of whom was on the other end of his cell. Frank Reich, after all, had made a name for himself during an eventful two-plus decades in the NFL as a player and coach.
Strausser, meanwhile, also possessed a deep resume as a coach: the past two years as an assistant offensive line coach with the Denver Broncos preceded by 28 years at the collegiate level.
Yet their career arcs never crossed. Until that day in mid-January when Reich, in need of an offensive line coach following the firing of Dave DeGuglielmo, dialed up Strausser.
“Actually, I had not met Frank before,’’ Strausser said.
So, you were more than a little surprised when Reich reached out?
“Yeah, a little bit because I had no connection to him,’’ he said. “So yes, a little bit.’’
In this instance, it wasn’t a personal connection that convinced Reich to contact a possible addition to his staff. This wasn’t in the same vein as bringing in Nick Sirianni as offensive coordinator last offseason or hiring Jason Michael in late January as his new tight ends coach. Each had worked with Reich in San Diego.
This was Reich doing his due diligence and determining the best option at overseeing an area that last season emerged as one of the NFL’s premier offensive lines. Considering the gravity of the position and the decision, connections weren’t a factor.
It marked the second consecutive career move for Strausser – each in the NFL – that had nothing to do with knowing this guy or that guy. When he left the University of Washington from the Broncos in 2017, he had zero connections within the Denver organization.
“Really, both jobs that I have gotten in the NFL have not been related to knowing someone in advance, which I really think that speaks to Frank in terms of what it was he wanted,’’ Strausser said. “He didn’t necessarily just go off a friend’s recommendation, but instead he knew what he wanted.
“He looked on film and took his time and researched it.’’
Strausser’s 28-year collegiate journey included stops of Washington, Boise State, Colorado, Portland State, Foothill College, San Jose State, Sonoma State, Oregon State and Menlo College.
Reich apparently required Strausser to draw on and share every bit of the expertise he had accumulated along the way. The interview with Reich and his offensive staff was a “grueling process.’’
“It was a meat grinder,’’ Strausser said. “It’s as tough as I have ever been through.
“I was in there for six hours and we did not take a break. I left that thing exhausted.’’
He also exited the meeting encouraged.
“I was hoping I was in the mix,’’ he said. “I felt the interview went well in terms of me being a good fit. Whether they felt that, I didn’t know.
“But I certainly left here thinking, OK, in terms of us having the right chemistry as a group, I felt pretty good about that.’’
The interview was critical, but just a part of Reich’s study into Strausser’s candidacy. Shortly thereafter, he sought counsel from former Colts’ long-time offensive line coach Howard Mudd. Mudd and Strausser had struck up a relationship while Strausser was at Washington and Mudd a few minutes away at his Seattle residence. Reich and Mudd were Colts assistants from 2006-09 under Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell.
“He asked me about him, and Chris Ballard had,’’ Mudd said. “I told him what I thought. In fact, I had been pumping for a couple of years with Chris Ballard.
“After Chris was interviewed, Frank calls me back and says, ‘He’s way better than you said he was.’’’
Sometimes connections matter
While connections had nothing to do with Strausser’s arrival in Indy, they were instrumental in Mudd and Klayton Adams being added to the Reich’s staff.
No sooner had Reich settled on Strausser as his new offensive line coach than he again reached out to Mudd.
“He said, ‘Would you consider coming here and helping,’’’ Mudd said. “Basically that was it.
“I said, ‘Yes, I’d like that. In fact, I’ll walk from Seattle but it’ll take me a while.’’
Mudd and Strausser had grown close over the past four years.
“We hit it off right away,’’ Strausser said. “His mission in life is just to help guys get better as football players. There was no ego involved from the start.
“We’ve talked on a regular basis for the last three years, almost probably daily.’’
It didn’t hurt that Reich and Mudd shared a history.
“I don’t even know how Howard got in the mix, to be honest with you,’’ Strausser said. “It wasn’t my deal at all.
“But with that being said, I’m extremely blessed to have Howard Mudd here helping me out on this deal.’’
Adams was the third piece to fall into place, and there’s no overstating his relationship with Strausser. When Strausser was at Boise State, Adams was a walk-on who developed into a second-team all-conference center.
“Really only having one person in the whole building that believed in me and that was him,’’ Adams said. “He kept giving me reps. He kept helping me get better.’’
Adams worked as an assistant with Strausser one year at Boise State (2005) before branching out on his own. He was at Colorado from 2013-18 and had been named offensive line coach at Wyoming earlier this year before the dominoes began falling in Indy.
His eyes lit up when he heard Strausser had relocated to Indy. Perhaps, he thought, Strausser would bring him along.
“I think initially it was probably something in the back of my mind that I was going, ‘I’d really hope that that happens,’’’ he said. “It is what you hope for and then eventually the phone lights up and then you go, ‘Maybe that’s what I think it is.’
“So I am just incredibly fortunate to be here for a million different reasons.’’