Sean Kugler has been around the Cardinals before, and he’s got players that remember.
The Cardinals’ new offensive line coach was a guest of then-head coach Bruce Arians for a few weeks during the season in 2017. Kugler had just stepped down from his head coaching gig at UTEP in midseason, and Arians – who had been the offensive coordinator with the Steelers when Kugler was the offensive line coach in Pittsburgh – brought Kugler out to observe and consult.
“He’d quietly say, ‘Here, let me tell you something,’ ” tackle D.J. Humphries said. “And it was so helpful because it’d be simple stuff. ‘Hey, pick your hands up.’ He wasn’t flooding my brain with stuff, but it was things that worked. He knew how to speak to me.”
Those three weeks or so that season benefitted Kugler previously. He was the offensive line coach with the Broncos last season, and one of the reasons Denver made a trade with the Cardinals for tackle Jared Veldheer was Kugler’s knowledge of the player, having spent some time with Veldheer in 2017 while in Arizona.
Now that Kugler is with the Cardinals on a permanent basis, his history comes into play.
“I had an opportunity to sit in the O-Line room and observe those guys,” said Kugler, who not only worked with Humphries but also center A.Q. Shipley. “Just being around the building, where’s the locker room, meeting rooms -- when you go to a new place, you’re lost, where’s the equipment room, so having that experience is good. But seeing those guys and their work habits in person, seeing a guy like A.Q., that was a benefit.”
Shipley already knew of Kugler a little, given all their mutual friends from when Shipley played in Pittsburgh prior to Kugler’s arrival there. They bonded more with the Cards, when line coaches Harold Goodwin and Larry Zierlein took the guards and tackles, respectively, allowing Kugler and Shipley some one-on-one work.
“He’s a really detailed notetaker,” Shipley said. “I’d come in after film and he’d have taken a bunch of detailed notes for practice. It was awesome.”
The Cardinals’ stint isn’t the only connection to his new players for Kugler. Center Mason Cole played in college at Michigan with Kugler’s son, Patrick, the two both starting on the offensive line. Kugler also coached Cole in the Senior Bowl and was part of the Broncos’ braintrust that planned to select Cole in the third round of last year’s draft – until the Cardinals grabbed him two picks prior.
In Cole, Sean Kugler said, “I think he’ll be a 10- or 12-year player.”
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t have a previous relationship with Kugler, other than his Texas Tech teams played UTEP twice in back-to-back years, with Kingsbury’s Red Raiders winning both.
“Case Keenum spoke the world of him,” Kingsbury said, the Broncos’ quarterback who once played for Kingsbury when Kingsbury was an assistant at the University of Houston.
Kugler reportedly had interest from four other teams with coaching changes this offseason – Cleveland, Miami, the New York Jets and Tampa Bay, where Arians now is head coach. One report out of Tampa actually had Kugler taking the Bucs’ post.
“We felt very fortunate to get him,” Kingsbury said.
Kugler stayed general in his assessment of his players and what they will do, praising Kingsbury’s scheme and noting of the offensive line depth “we’ll definitely need to add to that room.”
But he’s got a head start with some of his players, and that should help in the transition process to a third offensive line coach in three years.
“I’m one of those guys, I like to be comfortable, I like to be around people that I know,” Humphries said. “When he was here, we clicked pretty well. The things he was teaching me, I could tell he knew his stuff. I know the type of technician he is, I know that’s my game. If I can find someone to fine-tune myself day in and day out, that’s what I need.”
Images of Cardinals cheerleader Melody from the 2018 season