Much like with quarterbacks, the Cincinnati Bengals have a lesser-known, yet storied history when it comes to offensive linemen. Obviously Anthony Munoz is revered far and wide beyond the city limits of Cincinnati, but what of the key figures up front that led to two Super Bowl appearances in eight years?
Jim McNally was the integral piece to their development.
McNally’s football life was a unique one, and it was recently featured in The Athletic’s “Who Coached Your Coach” series. He was never destined to make it big as a player, and only because he had to take a fifth-year in college at Buffalo University, he got into coaching per Buddy Ryan’s request, who was the defensive line coach for the school at the time.
But even though he absorbed a lot of what Ryan did, his coaching intellect came from his own mind.
“I learned football skills that he taught me, but he didn’t teach me how to coach,” McNally said.
That seemed to be a common theme with McNally’s upbringing as a teacher of players.
“I was self-taught but by other people,” McNally said. “I took others’ ideas and expanded on them, but I was the one who was always searching for better ways, newer ways, the best ways.”
And that’s how evolution occurs, no? Taking what works and figuring out what to do once that methodology is obsolete. McNally had that way of thinking, and it clicked for his players.
“He could teach you not only the techniques he expected you to use,” former Bengals offensive lineman Bruce Kozerski said, “but also how to block the particular player you were going against that week. Jimmy could break them down into their best moves and how to take them away.
“Then he could bring back expertise about the defensive coordinator and use that video to teach you about situations. I don’t know a lot of coaches have that depth and ability to literally show you the video to back it up.”
Just like how the origin of the west coast offense being Cincinnati isn’t universally known, zone blocking was something McNally brought to light before it became a practice adopted by the rest of the league.
“Everything these days is made legitimate by winning championships,” Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz said. “When people talk about the zone-blocking scheme, who do they talk about? Alex Gibbs because they won two Super Bowls in the late ’90s. Well, zone blocking is something we were doing in the early ’80s.”
On the note of winning championships, former Patriots offensive line coach Dante Dcarnecchia won six of them with New England. He also had praise for one of the pioneers of his industry.
“Jim is a guy that, when he came in the league, started doing things a lot different than people were doing them in the past,” Scarnecchia said. “I would tell you that Jim has taught a lot of people, whether he told you how to do it or you watched his tapes and thought, ‘Damn, what is that? How’s he doing that? Why’s he doing that?’ Jim had a reason for everything.”
Forrest Gregg and Sam Wyche both had McNally as a top assistant when they took the Bengals to their Super Bowl appearances. When looking back on the prominent minds in the franchise’s history, McNally belongs in that company.