When I’m informed by Jim Egan, Sports Information director at Concordia University Chicago, that I’ll be interviewing recently hired offensive line coach Joe Jacoby in the Cougars’ “coaches’ house” on campus, I envision meeting the 13-year National Football League All-Pro offensive lineman and three-time Super Bowl champion in a crammed room with game footage rolling in perpetuity, depth charts plastered on the walls and perhaps even some Chinese takeout food strewn around the diagrammed plays. Think of a setting comparable to ESPN’s Jon Gruden’s QB camp show sans gridiron lingo: “flip right, double-X, Jet, 36 counter, spider 3 Y banana.”
I follow Egan underneath the Concordia Stadium bleachers, through an athletic equipment room and then up a walkway leading into the coaches’ domain. One kitchen and front room later, I finally meet Jacoby in a back room. Adorned in Concordia coaching gear, he’s bent over and tying his left shoelace before leaning back to shake my hand. At 6feet, 7 inches and 295 pounds, his body unfurls like stadium seating. Most of all, I’m immediately struck by Jacoby’s folksy nature. Keep in mind, this is a man who once shredded the defensive lines of the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants for a living.
Our Q&A session volleys back and forth as seamlessly as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal exchanging ground strokes on a hard court. We talk about his upbringing in Louisville, his college experience at the University of Louisville, and, of course, his time holding down left tackle for those iconic Washington Redskins teams featuring NFL legends Joe Theisman, John Riggins and Art Monk.
Jacoby reminisces fondly about his days donning the burgundy and gold uniforms of the Redskins — not all that different from Concordia’s for that matter. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 1981 by Washington, Jacoby joined offensive linemen Jeff Bostic, Mark May, George Starke and Russ Grimm to form “The Hogs,” one of the greatest offensive lines in the history of the NFL.
“Our offensive line coach, Joe Bugel, came up with that nickname,” Jacoby said. “We always said it was because Russ and Jeff looked more like hogs than the rest of us. My first year with the Redskins was also Joe Gibbs’ first year as the head coach. Joe was good at picking the right people. He could identify character, and character will always outperform or outlast ability.
“[He] had faith in our offensive line and what we were doing. Of course, winning creates a lot of things. The Hogs nickname wouldn’t have meant anything if we were 2-14.”
With Jacoby, the Redskins won Super Bowl XVII, XXII, and XXVI. He vividly remembers the first one in 1983 when the Redskins rushed for a then-record 276 yards en route to a 27-17 win over the Miami Dolphins.
“Our first Super Bowl win was in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl,” Jacoby said. “It was a huge deal. I went into the game thinking, ‘This is the Super Bowl, so we’ll probably have a really nice, spacious locker room.’ I went into the locker room and there were two nails on the wall with my name taped above it.
“After we won, I was a 23-year-old kid flying around in a helicopter over Los Angeles to one of those early morning TV shows. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, two years ago I didn’t even know if I would be in the league.'”
Finally, I ask Jacoby the question you are probably wondering, “How does a three-time Super Bowl champion wind up coaching at Concordia?”
By no means was the question intended in a disparaging manner toward Cougar football, a solid Division III program. It’s simply natural curiosity, especially considering Jacoby has no history or ties with the Chicago area other than flying into town for games against the Bears during his stellar career.
“I believe it’s God’s plan for me,” Jacoby replied. “I prayed about it and God opened this door. My wife [Irene] and I came to visit Concordia in February. There was a ton of snow on the ground; it was like 20 degrees below. I thought, ‘Why am I here?’ God sure has a funny sense of humor.
“I don’t know how to pinpoint it, but coming to Concordia just felt right. The visit resonated with me. After talking with [Concordia head coach] Randy [Awrey], some of the other coaches, and getting to meet the players, I was very impressed with this program. I’m pretty pumped about this opportunity.”
Currently, Jacoby is staying in a Concordia dorm room, “like one of the coeds,” he says with a laugh. He’s putting in 12- to 14-hour work days to get up to speed on the Cougars’ system, personnel, and the upcoming season. His wife is back in Virginia along with two grown daughters, Lauren and Jenna, who swam collegiately at the University of Miami and Florida State, respectively.
“I can relate talking to these young guys on our football team who are away from home,” Jacoby said. “I’m 54 and I’m a bit homesick as well. Whether its high-school or college-level players, though, I really enjoy helping these young guys. In college, these guys are kind of feeling their way around and figuring out where they might be in the world, and I can play a part in that. When I was a young player, somebody played that role in my life which was so helpful.”
Personal tragedy has also played a major part in not only strengthening Jacoby’s faith but his decision to pursue coaching. Over a span of six years, Jacoby’s father, younger brother and mother died.
“My father passed away when I was 15, and I lost my mother during my [NFL] rookie year in camp,” Jacoby said. “A while ago, my wife went through cancer. I was working in the business world and I guess had enough of it. Life is precious. So I sold everything and figured I might as well do something I love.”
After running a Chrysler Jeep and Dodge dealership for 15 years, Jacoby sold his business and took a position at Shenandoah College in Winchester, Va., as a volunteer assistant coach in 2008. The following year, he was promoted to offensive line coach. During Jacoby’s successful tenure at Shenandoah, the Hornets set records in eight different offensive categories.
He’s optimistic about having a similar impact at Concordia.
“Honestly, I don’t even know what teams are in our conference but that doesn’t matter to me at this point,” Jacoby said. “It will when we get to the season. I’m getting used to the guys and this offense as well as living by myself and being away from my family, which is unusual. It’s all a new experience, but I’m more impressed with the Concordia coaching staff and overall feeling around the campus each day I’m here.”
The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete Feature, The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete of the Week and weekly sports calendar/scoreboard are sponsored by Midtown Athletic Club in Oak Park.