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Marty Schottenheimer, Pitt alum and NFL great, dies at 77

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Buffalo Bills v San Diego Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Pitt alum and longtime NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer died on Monday at the age of 77 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. The Canonsburg native achieved such success as a coach that his roots in the Pittsburgh area were sometimes obscured by his exploits in the NFL, but he was remembered fondly by those whose lives he touched.

“Marty was a tough, no-nonsense coach,” said former Pitt basketball star Sam Clancy, who played for him as a defensive end in Cleveland. “He brought out the best in me as a player and as a man. I’ll always love and respect the way he treated us, looked out for us, but held us accountable to the team. Marty was a great motivator. When we won, he gave the credit to us. When we lost, he always put it on himself.”

As a coach, Schottenheimer was often called upon to change the fortunes of downtrodden franchises, and he spent his 21-year NFL career leading Cleveland, Kansas City, Washington and San Diego to better days. The first time he was handed the reins to an NFL team was in 1984, after Sam Rutigliano dug the Browns a deep 1-7 hole. It was Schottenheimer’s job to right the ship, and he did just that, guiding the team to a 4-4 record to close the season.

The Browns went 8-8 in a rebuilding year in 1985 and were then led to a 12-4 record by Schottenheimer in 1986. It was the first time the team had won 12 or more games in a season since 1948, and the feat has yet to be repeated. The Browns would go 10-5 and 10-6 over the next two years, but Schottenheimer’s progress in Cleveland was halted by two fateful plays, “The Drive” and “The Fumble." And after the 1988 season, he left the team.

The coach would go onto achieve similar success in Kansas City, where he spent the bulk of his career. There, he once again inherited a loser, as the team was coming off a 4-11-1 season in 1987. But again, he had the golden touch and transformed the team into a contender that posted four straight seasons with 10-plus wins. It was the longest period of sustained success the team had seen at the time. Only Andy Reid has matched it since.

Later in his career, Schottenheimer would have a brief stint in Washington that saw him go 8-8 before an unceremonious firing by team owner Dan Snyder. But he would get the last laugh, as he got another shot in San Diego and went out with three straight winning seasons. That included a 12-4 campaign in 2004 that earned him Coach of the Year honors as well as his NFL swan song in 2006. The Chargers would go 14-2 that year. However, to the dismay of fans in San Diego, he was fired, bringing an end to his tenure as a coach in the league.

With all that said, the foundation of the NFL great’s career was laid in the Pittsburgh area, where Schottenheimer earned all-state honors at Fort Cherry High School before joining Pitt in 1961. During his time with the Panthers, Schottenheimer was a standout linebacker under Pitt head coach John Michelosen, and he helped the team to a 9-1 record and No. 3 ranking in 1963. However, that was the lone bright spot in a dismal stretch for the program that saw Michelosen’s coaching career end in 1965, after two straight three-win seasons.

After graduating, Schottenheimer was able to forge a pro career for himself, as he was drafted into the AFL by the Buffalo Bills. He would win a championship with the team in 1965 and enjoy a six-year career in which he played in 79 games and had six picks.

And even after enduring some dark days at Pitt, Schottenheimer remained connected to the school over the years. The coach would even talk about Pitt basketball and the heights it was reaching with Charles Smith and Jerome Lane with Sam Clancy during his time in Cleveland.

“Because we both went to Pitt, he would always talk about my basketball skills,” Clancy said. “We always kept up with what Pitt was doing. He’d see me and say, ‘Sam, did you see Pitt had a great game yesterday?’ I was blessed to have him in my life.”

Even now that Schottenheimer is gone, his legacy lives on through his achievements and the lessons he passed down to his players and coaches. He finished his NFL career with a 200-126-1 record, becoming one of just eight head coaches in the league's history to reach 200 wins. And he helped launch the careers of Bruce Arians, Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Herm Edwards and Mike McCarthy.