CHARLOTTE, NC. — After a seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, longtime NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer has died at the age of 77.
He served as head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1984 to 1988, the Kansas City Chiefs from 1989 to 1998, the Washington football team in 2001, and the San Diego Chargers from 2002 to 2006.
Family friend and former Chiefs publicist Bob Moore told The Associated Press that Schottenheimer died late Monday night in North Carolina.
Schottenheimer was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014. He was moved to a hospice facility near his home in Charlotte on January 30.
Schottenheimer is survived by his wife of 54 years, Pat, his children, Kristen and Brian, and grandchildren, Brandon, Sutton, Savannah and Catherine.
A life of football
Born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1943, Schottenheimer lived and breathed football, playing linebacker through high school and into college, at the University of Pittsburgh. He was selected in the fourth round of the 1965 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts and in the seventh round of the AFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills, opting to play for Buffalo.
After spending four years on the Bills and earning an AFL Championship, Schottenheimer played two seasons with the Boston Patriots before bouncing from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Baltimore Colts and then retiring in 1971.
While he enjoyed several years as a professional football player, Schottenheimer made a name for himself several years later as a coach.
Unforgettable coaching legacy
Schottenhemier started his coaching career before his time as the Browns head coach, serving as the linebackers coach for the New York Giants in 1975 and 1976, the defensive coordinator for the Giants in 1977 and the linebackers coach for the Detroit Lions in 1978 and 1979. He was hired as the Browns' defensive coordinator in 1980.
His break as a head coach came with the Browns in 1984, when he replaced Sam Rutigliano, and he got his first full season as a head coach in 1985. That year, Schottenheimer and quarterback Bernie Kosar, who had just been selected in the 1985 supplemental draft, began an era of success in Cleveland that surpassed even the Kardiac Kids-era that fans had rallied around.
While Schottenheimer and his Browns never reached the Super Bowl, he helped make the team a perennial playoff contender during his tenure. In that time, Schottenheimer held a 44-27 record, a .620 winning percentage, and made four playoff appearances. The Browns, under Schottenehimer, won three AFC Central Division titles. After the 1988 season, Art Modell meddled with the successful coach (not for the first time), causing a rift that could not be reconciled, and Schottenheimer walked away from the Browns.
Schottenhemier went on the following season to become the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, where he would spend the next 10 years amassing a 101-58-1 regular season record and making seven playoff appearances with three divisional titles. Despite the regular season success, Schottenheimer and the Chiefs never made it to the Super Bowl, and he resigned as their head coach after the 1998 season.
After spending time as an analyst for ESPN, Schottenheimer re-sparked his head coaching career, taking the position with Washington for a season before being fired by owner Daniel Snyder in an unpopular move.
Schottenheimer wrapped up his NFL coaching days with the Chargers, spending five years with the team before being fired in 2007 after discord erupted within the organization.
In his years as an NFL head coach, Schottenheimer developed the coaching strategy referred to as “Marty ball” or run, run, pass, punt. It worked well for him throughout his coaching years during the regular season, but it never paid off in the playoffs. Schottenheimer’s 205 wins are the most of any head coach to not reach or win an NFL championship.
But despite never winning it all, Schottenheimer’s legacy is truly unforgettable, and his coaching tree continues to have an impact in the league to this day, with names such as Bruce Arians, Mike McCarthy, Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Hue Jackson, Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell, Doug Marrone, Todd Bowles and Leslie Frazier all tracing back to him.
Former Browns Quarterback Bernie Kosar knew for some time this news was coming, but learning of the death of Schottenheimer still came as a blow.
“Remembering Marty as somebody you absolutely love and cherish, and I can’t thank him enough for the structure, the discipline and the belief he had in me,” Kosar said.
Schottenheimer's first full year as head coach in 1985 was Kosar's first as starting quarterback. Together they would turn around a team that started 1-7 the year before and turn it into a franchise that would go to two straight conference championships. Kosar said Schottenheimer, a former player himself, brought toughness, grittiness and discipline to the job, and also an attention to detail that made players look forward to Sunday.
“Practices were actually harder than the games, the two-a-days, the three-a-day practices, the amount of contact that you went through for practice actually made Sunday not as tough going against other teams,” he said. “Probably shortened a lot of players careers, but in the short run of playing our teams were tough, disciplined, and every Sunday we knew we were ready to play.”
Then he did it again with the Chiefs.
"For him to put the structure, organization together for two organizations that weren't winning football games and winning playoff games before he got there, to put those two teams and those two organizations together within a decade to get to multiple AFC Conference Championship games is absolutely not an easy feat to do," Kosar said.
Schottenheimer was in the early stages of Alzheimer's in 2016 when he returned to Cleveland to be honored with his 1986 team. It's a disease that in his final days robbed him, Kosar says, of truly appreciating this year’s playoff showdown between two of his most successful franchises.
"It's really a shame that a man who’s had such a massive influence on so many of us isn't really able to understand, really know the magnitude of a Browns-Chiefs game where he had such a major influence," Kosar said.
In life, fate kept Schottenheimer from the game’s biggest stage, but Kosar is hoping in death he can still achieve the game's biggest honor. A football journey that started in Cleveland ending just down the road in Canton.
"When you talk about the history and tradition of the Cleveland Browns and going back to the great Paul Brown and Otto Graham, and to have Marty Schottenheimer mentioned in the same breath in that type of organization is absolutely confirming to our previous statement of his earning the right to have a house in Canton, the Hall of Fame,” Kosar said.
Coach Marty Thank U For All You’ve Done & Ment In Mine & So Many of Our Lives U Will Be Greatly Missed 🏈For The Luv Of The Game 🙏🏼U Matter pic.twitter.com/7eHLbDq0Pp— Bernie Kosar (@BernieKosarQB) February 9, 2021
Statement from the Browns
“The Cleveland Browns are saddened to learn of the passing of Marty Schottenheimer. As a head coach, he led the organization to four playoff appearances and three divisional titles, but it was his tough, hard-nosed, never give up the fight attitude the team embodied that endeared him to Browns fans and often led to thrilling victories. His impact on the game of football was not only felt in Northeast Ohio but across the entire NFL. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Pat, and his entire family.”
This story was originally published by Camryn Justice and John Kosich at WEWS.