The hidden, swollen-knuckle world of line play, where the dirtiest, nastiest shots are taken and given, is no place for softies. It’s a mean place where Tim Grunhard thrived for Notre Dame and then the Kansas City Chiefs, but he has seen much nastier places.
Grunhard’s father, after serving as an Army airborne Ranger, served the city of Chicago as a violent-crimes detective.
“For almost 30 years, he was CSI before CSI was cool,” Grunhard said. “We’d drive around the South Side of Chicago, and he’d say, ‘I had a murder there. I had a murder over there. I had a murder behind that thing over there. A person was shot over there.’ My brother and I would be like, ‘Whoa.’”
Grunhard’s father, killed by prostate cancer, didn’t get to see much of his son’s NFL career, but the square-jawed son made good use of the toughness gene passed down to him from the square-jawed detective.
“That six inches between your backbone and your breastbone, your heart, is so important in the offensive-line position,” said Grunhard, who left his job as head football coach at Bishop Miege to coach Kansas University’s offensive line for Charlie Weis. “We can talk about hand placement and head placement and how we’re going to take our steps, you know, little fundamentals and techniques, and I could tell you all kinds of great jargon, and I could make up all kinds of terms, and I can wow you with all kinds of different stories about how to do things, but offensive-line play comes down to one thing: You’ve got to be a tough (S.O.B.). Simple as that. Right? Isn’t it? You tell me?”
Who’s going to tell him otherwise?
“You’re not going to get your head in the right spot all the time,” Grunhard continued. “You’re not going to get your hands right all the time. You’re going to get beat. But you’ve got to be mentally and physically tough. We’re going to talk about all the little things that you have to do, and we’re going to work on the little things, and we’re going to do all the things you have to do to get yourself in position to be tough, but if they’re not tough and they don’t want to compete, then they’re not going to play for me, simple as that.”
By “tough” he doesn’t mean growling, not shaving, eating steaks with bare hands. He means completing their tasks when they’re so exhausted that lesser men would be too spent to stand.
“If they’re not going to run to the line of scrimmage when they break the huddle, if they’re not going to finish plays, if they’re not going to finish down-field, and they’re not going to lift that running back up off the ground, and they’re not going to get (ticked) off when somebody hits their quarterback late, I don’t want them,” Grunhard said. “You can go to these clinics, and guys are making millions of dollars with their drop-steps and their hand placements, but it all comes down to one thing: If you don’t got a guy who wants to kick that guy’s butt in front of him, then you don’t got nobody.”
The more unpopular an offensive lineman is with the defensive linemen during practice, the more likely he is to climb up Grunhard’s depth chart.
“I remember Dan Saleaumua and I, we didn’t like each other very much because I was going so hard in practice,” Grunhard said.
Before the start of spring football, Grunhard vowed: “These guys are going to go hard in practice, and they’re going to compete. We’re going to compete, first of all in the classroom. If you’re late for class, you’re going to pay. If you’re not going to class, you’re going to pay. If you’re in that weight room, you better compete in the weight room. When it comes to the coaches’ stations, you better compete in the coaches’ stations. You have to learn to compete and push yourself and get out of your comfort zone. Once that happens, then and only then, you’re going to grow.”
Grunhard pointed to the work done by strength and conditioning coach Scott Holsopple and to the head coach’s standards as important in instilling discipline in the program.
“(Holsopple) put cones around the Jayhawk in the weight room,” Grunhard said. “You don’t step on your seal. At the beginning, they were stepping on the seal, and they were making them do 200 pushups. Nobody steps on that seal anymore. Little things like that, just challenging them to be great, respect your school, respect yourself and know that there’s discipline and there are consequences for everything you do.”
He’s also a big fan of his boss’ quick addition by subtraction.
“He set the precedent right away,” Grunhard said. “There are guys who aren’t here anymore for one reason or another because they weren’t doing things the way he wanted them done. That’s a great signal to other people that, ‘Hey, you’re going to do it our way, not your way, because our way works. Your way obviously doesn’t work. Understand that.’”