Mike Maser, the offensive line coaching guru who grew up in Clayton and earned a respected NFL reputation working for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers, died on July 14. He was 72.
The Panthers announced his death but no cause was given. A funeral mass is scheduled for Friday at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Charlotte, N.C.
Maser, who was born in Plattsburgh but went to school and participated in football and wrestling at Clayton High School, worked as the offensive line coach for the Jaguars, Panthers and Miami Dolphins between 1994-2008. Maser formed part of the first coaching staff for the Jaguars, who made their NFL debut in 1995.
“I think Mike is a consummate offensive line coach,” said Dave Widell, a former NFL lineman, in 2000. “To describe him ... he’s cantankerous. If I were to take a hunk of clay and mold it and sculpt it into what an offensive line coach acts, looks and talks like, what Mike Maser looks like right now would be the product of that clay.”
Maser coached for Jacksonville between 1995-2002, helping the Jaguars to their first four playoff appearances, including AFC championship berths in 1996 and 1999. Jacksonville went 45-19 between 1996-99 and set a standard for expansion success in the NFL.
In 2003, Maser moved on to Carolina, the team that joined the NFL with Jacksonville in 1995. During Maser’s tenure with the Panthers offensive line from 2003-06, Carolina went 37-27 and reached Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2003 as Maser’s line blocked for prolific running back Stephen Davis. It was another case of unexpected success for a Maser-coached team.
“You look at those (web sites), and hell, they never mention us,” Maser said in a Times story in 2004. “They’re all the time talking about somebody else. And hey, if that’s the way they want it, that’s fine. We kind of like flying underneath the radar. And it’s served us well, and hopefully it will serve us again.”
Maser also helped the Panthers advance to the NFC Championship game in 2005.
After a year away from the NFL, Maser joined the Dolphins to coach the offensive line as the first assistant hired by new coach Tony Sparano, who worked with Maser in Jacksonville. Maser spent just the 2008 season with Miami, which dismissed him after an 11-5 season and a wild-card game appearance. He retired from the game in 2009.
Maser developed his national reputation as a coach through the college ranks, particularly during a 13-year run as offensive line coach at Boston College, mainly under head coaches Jack Bicknell and Tom Coughlin. Boston College reached six bowl games during Maser’s stay after enduring a 40-year bowl drought.
Maser’s line blocked for Doug Flutie, including the “Hail Flutie” game on Nov. 23, 1984 in which the quarterback launched a last-second “Hail Mary” pass that was caught by Gerard Phelan for a 48-yard touchdown to give BC the 47-45 victory over Miami.
Another memorable BC game during Maser’s tenure came on Nov. 20, 1993 when the Eagles upset No. 1-ranked Notre Dame, 41-39, on a last-second field goal.
Maser coached several future NFL offensive linemen with BC, including Tom Nalen, Ron Stone and Doug and Dave Widell. With the Jaguars, he helped develop Pro Bowl tackle Tony Boselli.
Maser graduated from Clayton in 1965. He started at guard for three seasons for Buffalo and graduated with a degree in health, physical education and recreation. He received a master’s degree in physical education at Marshall. His coaching career began as a student assistant at Buffalo.
Maser then began his 40-year coaching journey, starting as an assistant at Marshall, Bluefield State University and the University of Maine before joining Bicknell’s coaching staff at BC in 1981. He jumped to the NFL after BC’s 1994 season, working again with Coughlin, who was Jacksonville’s first head coach.
“I’ve never had a coach before who was as educated, polished and as intelligent about the entire offense, from receivers to running backs, as coach Maser is,” Dave Widell said in a Times story in 2000.
Maser, known as “Coach Maze,” often deflected credit for his team’s powerful offensive line or Pro Bowl linemen. He called linemen “regular guys” who wanted to work and his job was to teach them the best way.
“Most of them are willing to listen to you if you can make them better,” Maser told the Times in 2004. “That’s the big thing. You’ve got to make them believe that you can make them better.”
Maser is survived by his wife Barbara and children Brigitte, Greg and Brian and six grandchildren. He is also survived by a sister, Maureen Littlefield, of Clayton.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Northern New York Community Foundation in Watertown marked for the Margaret Maser Scholarship Fund. Margaret is Mike Maser’s mother, who died in 2010.