Marty Schottenheimer was greatest Browns coach of our generation

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Marty Schottenheimer

CLEVELAND, OH – CIRCA 1987: Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer of the Cleveland Browns looks on from the sidelines during an NFL football game circa 1987 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Schottenheimer was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1984-88. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Thank you, Marty Schottenheimer, your contributions were immense and your loss is keenly felt.

Too soon, former Cleveland Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer passed away on Monday, February 8, with his family at his side, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN.

Marty Schottenheimer was loved by the Dawg Pound, both as a great football coach as well as a very special man whose influence will be felt far away from the football field. Marty has been married since 1968 to his wife Pat. They live in North Carolina now. They have one son Brian, who is an offensive football coach, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and a daughter, Kristen.

Marty had been moved to a hospice facility near his home in Charlotte, NC, on Saturday, January 30. Pat Schottenheimer, speaking on behalf of the entire Schottenheimer family, had released the following statement at that time:

“As a family we are surrounding him with love, and are soaking up the prayers and support from all those he impacted through his incredible life. In the way he taught us all, we are putting one foot in front of the other…one play at a time.”

Schottenheimer has been battling Alzheimer’s disease for the past few years. Both Brian and Kristen have Youtube videos encouraging families with loved ones facing Alzheimer’s and dementia. They find that some of the lessons they learned from their football coach father can be directly applied to coping with this disease.

Even though Marty is gone, the game plan remains, for how to have better days while living with Alzheimer’s. Kristen’s video is especially poignant and allows us to be introduced to Marty the Dad, the husband, and the man. The disease robbed him of his memories, but not of the love that his family had for him.

Kristen says that working together we have a game plan to win every day, to lead the best life possible coping with this disease as best we can. Or as she put it in football terms, our plan is to kick Alzheimer’s rear end (edited that one a bit) every day. We are not waiting for a cure, or for somebody to do something, right now today each of us who are affected by this disease is going to take control of this thing and live the best life we can each day. That is a great legacy, and Marty is immensely proud of where he is now, for sure.

This writer understands all too well, having lost his mother to this disease a few years ago.

On the surface, Schottenheimer was a taskmaster who never had a losing season with the Browns, and who took the Browns to the playoff four years in a row, but he was much more than that to the people he came into contact with, not just his players.

Schottenheimer was born on September 23, 1943, in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, an industrial town known for mining and metalworking. Schottenheimer and his younger brother Kurt, six years his junior, spent their entire childhood in McDonald, located five miles north of Canonsburg and attended Fort Cherry High School.

Marty played football at the University of Pittsburgh as a middle linebacker, and then on to the pros. He was drafted by the Buffalo Bills and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 1965 and coming away with an AFL Championship ring. He played there four years, and then played for the Boston Patriots for two years.

In 1974, he came out of retirement to be a player-coach for Portland in the World Football League, an ill-fated experiment that lasted two seasons. He continued to coach, catching on with the New York Giants and becoming their defensive coordinator in 1977.

He went to Detroit for two years and then became the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in 1980 under Sam Rutigliano, leader of the Kardiac Kids.

Sam’s regime fell apart after Brian Sipe was spirited away to play for Donald Trump and the New Jersey Generals. Paul McDonald was not really an adequate replacement for the former NFL MVP.  Nevertheless, Browns owner Art Modell saw fit to fire coach Sam Rutigliano after a 1-7 start and named Schottenheimer as the interim for the last eight games of 1984. Schottenheimer got the team to straighten up and play disciplined football and they went 4-4 down the stretch. That was enough to result in hiring him as the coach of the Browns.

The Browns went 8-8 with Gary Danielson as the quarterback of the present and a gangly kid named Bernie Kosar as the quarterback of the future. When Danielson went down with an injury, Kosar went in and almost beat the Dolphins in a playoff game, which the Browns lost 24-21. Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack led the Browns ground game, which rolled up 251 yards, but the Dolphins got lucky at the end of the game and came away with a three-point victory.

Schottenheimer’s career would be punctuated by regular-season dominance and post-season heartbreak. His Browns teams made the playoffs four straight years, but they never won the Super Bowl. Two losses to John Elway and the Denver Broncos, known as “The Drive” in 1986 and “The Fumble” in 1987, were particularly disheartening. But you know what? If you can’t stand tough losses, playoff football is not the right game for you, because only one team wins the Super Bowl every year. It’s not an easy game, and there are many more heartbreaking losses than glorious victories in the post-season.

Schottenheimer was joined by his younger brother Kurt as special teams coach in 1987. Kurt had been a quarterback at the junior college level and then switched to defense at the University of Miami, where he played defensive back. He coached linebackers and defensive backs at Michigan State, Tulane, LSU, and Notre Dame before joining brother Marty in Cleveland.

Nevertheless, Art Modell fired Schottenheimer, not for the playoff losses to Denver but because Schottenheimer could not win with a fourth-string quarterback. In 1988  Kosar, Danielson, and third-string Mike Pagel were all injured, so the Browns signed Don Strock, the longtime backup for Dan Marino of the Dolphins, who was a free agent.

He came in and got the Browns into the playoffs but could not beat Houston in the playoff game. Genius owner Art Modell blamed Schottenheimer and specifically his failure to hire an offensive coordinator to call the plays. But Mr. Modell, how many coaches make the playoffs with a fourth-string quarterback? This fan, along with many others, never forgave Modell for that stupid move.

Marty would not stay unemployed long. The Kansas City Chiefs would be his home for the next ten years.

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