JERSEY CITY, N.J. – It took 41 years and 13 stops, but Golden Ruel has made the Super Bowl.
Ruel, who goes by Pat, is the Seahawks’ assistant offensive line coach. And he has finally reached the ultimate game after more than four decades in the profession.
“I’ve known so many guys in this business who’ve been coaching 20, 30 years and they’ve never had a chance to be in a national championship game or a Super Bowl,” Ruel said Thursday. “This is the pinnacle of a coaching career.”
Ruel’s long football journey began in Coral Gables, Florida, as an offensive lineman on a high school team that won the mythical national championship. He earned a scholarship to the University of Miami. And when Miami changed coaches and hired Pete Elliott in 1973, Elliott offered Ruel a job as a graduate assistant.
Ruel spent four years at Miami, and the next 20 at five other schools: Arkansas (1977), Washington State (1978-81), Texas A&M (1982-84), Northern Illinois (1985-87) and Kansas (1988-96). He started as an assistant O-line coach, eventually rising to offensive coordinator and assistant head coach.
The stint at Kansas, where he worked under Glen Mason, was his longest stop. It was also his most heartbreaking. When Mason left for Minnesota in 1996, Ruel thought he was in line for his big break -- a head coaching job. But Ruel was passed over as Kansas instead hired Terry Allen from Northern Iowa.
“It kind of crushed me at the time, ‘cause I thought I was ready, and I thought I was the guy that should have got it,” Ruel said. “But after that I said, you know what, I just want to be the best offensive line coach I can be.”
Ruel took a year off from coaching, and then Nick Saban hired him at Michigan State in 1998. He spent two years in East Lansing, before taking his first NFL job, with the Detroit Lions. Ruel worked for the Green Bay Packers in 2001 and 2002, the Buffalo Bills in 2003, and the New York Giants in 2004 -- Tom Coughlin’s first season at the helm.
Coughlin had already hired an offensive line coach, Pat Flaherty. But when Flaherty was diagnosed with colon cancer, Ruel was brought in to help while Flaherty underwent treatment.
“It was a great experience for me with Tom Coughlin,” Ruel said. “He’s one of the most pure football coaches I’ve ever been around.”
Ruel has been with Pete Carroll ever since. Carroll hired him to be his offensive line coach when he took over at USC in 2005, and brought him along when he joined the Seahawks in 2010. The two go way back -- to 1977, when Ruel was the O-line coach at Arkansas and Carroll was a graduate assistant, under Lou Holtz.
Ruel can’t imagine working for anyone else now. “I’ve been fortunate to be around some really good coaches. Pete I consider to be one of the very, very best in the business,” Ruel said. “He’s so well balanced, and he respects all facets of not only the game, but your family, too.”
Ruel appreciates that more than most. His wife, Marti, and daughter, Sabra, have endured so many moves over the years. In fact, when Ruel joined the Packers’ staff in 2001, he actually left his family in Detroit -- he didn’t want Sabra to have to change schools again.
“That’s the hard part about this business sometimes, it’s not very fair to families,” Ruel said. “But working for a guy like Coach Carroll, he really respects family, and he gives us extra time.”
It’s been a storybook season for the Seahawks -- tied for the best record in the NFL, and only the second Super Bowl in franchise history.
An underappreciated group is Seattle’s offensive line. The Seahawks finished fourth in the NFL in rushing, and Lynch was sixth individually (1,257 yards) -- despite the fact that both left tackle Russell Okung and right tackle Breno Giacomini missed several games due to injury.
“We had two rookie tackles that had to go in and play,” Ruel said. “So my job was to try to get some of those guys ready, to get them mentally ready and physically ready to play, so that if that happens during a season, that we don’t have such a big drop-off.”
When Ruel’s name was brought up to a few fellow coaches and players Thursday, every person broke into a smile.
“It’s wonderful to have a guy work with you who’s done so much in his career,” said O-line coach and assistant head coach Tom Cable. “He’s a really, really good man.”
“He always loads up the pass rush tape for me, and just puts some extra time in, to make sure that I’m comfortable,” said Giacomini. “I guess the extra time that he puts in, that really separates himself from some other coaches.”
Ruel’s time as a football coach is running out. The 64-year-old sees himself doing this another year or two, then retiring, maybe even dabbling in politics.
He’s never been the boss. But Golden Ruel sounds like a happy man, with few regrets.
“I’ve always been about adventure anyway,” Ruel said. “I think life is nothing but a bunch of adventures, if you’ll let it be.
“There are guys in my neighborhood back home that never left the neighborhood. That’s an OK way to live. But in the end, I look back at my life and I’ve been all over the country, I’ve done a lot of different things.”
On Sunday, he gets to do one more. Coach in the ultimate game.