George Young, coach, NFL executive, dies at 71

Legend's career led from preps to pros

December 09, 2001|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue called George Young the "Renaissance man of football." Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who played for Mr. Young at City College, called him "the Buddha of high school football." And City athletic director and football coach George Petrides said, "Mr. Young was a true perfectionist who left nothing to chance."

George Bernard Young Jr., 71, died last night at a Baltimore area hospice of a rare neurological disease. He was surrounded by his close relatives and his wife of 36 years, Kathryn Mary Love Reddington Young, who is known as "Lovey." Mr. Young had returned to Baltimore for care after taking a medical leave in October from his position as vice president of football operations of the NFL in New York.

Mr. Tagliabue, who visited his colleague at his bedside Friday, said, "George was a plain-talking, unvarnished football guy who connected with everybody within the [NFL]. He respected integrity, decency and directness. He had a great mind and great patience except for people with big egos or slackers who didn't work as hard as him."

Mr. Young advanced to the league office after 19 years with the New York Giants. As general manager, he led the Giants to two NFL championships. In 1971, he helped coach the Baltimore Colts to their only Super Bowl victory.

In similar fashion, he made Baltimore's City College a powerhouse in the mid-'60s. Former City players still picture their old coach on the sideline: a cherub-faced fellow with tiny glasses, a tide's-out hairline and Yoda-like ears, brow furrowed, body rocking side to side as he shifted his considerable weight from one foot to the other.

Mr. Young's long career in football took him far from the playing fields of Baltimore. But he never strayed from the principles that he practiced here and that brought him success in the NFL: devotion to detail, methodical preparation, a game plan modeled on military strategy.

Mr. Petrides, who played on City's undefeated teams of 1965-66, recalls his first practice under Mr. Young: "He told us, `I'll teach you everything you need to know about football except the way the ball bounces, and if I had time, I would teach that, too.'"

Said C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a former City center and now Baltimore County executive, "If you played for George Young, you gave more than 100 percent. As an attorney, I'd rather have tried a case against a Harvard Law School grad than against someone who'd played for George Young, because [the latter] would have been well-prepared, tenacious and impossible to intimidate."

Mr. Young was born Sept. 22, 1930, in Baltimore. His father owned the Stag Bar, a tavern at Preston and Aisquith streets; the family lived atop a bakery, across the road. As a youth, Mr. Young attended parochial schools and helped out in the bar, though friends said he never drank or smoked.

At Calvert Hall College, he played football and baseball and excelled academically, graduating in 1948. At Bucknell College in Pennsylvania, Mr. Young tackled history and tailbacks, earning small college All-America honors as a 260-pound defensive lineman. His strength was legend. Friends said Mr. Young could bend a horseshoe five inches with his bare hands.

Extremely nearsighted, Mr. Young refused to wear glasses on the field, a stubbornness that left him barely able to see the action. He learned to sense the flow of a play from the angle of pressure being exerted by rival linemen - a concept he would later teach as coach.

During one game, Mr. Young, Bucknell's co-captain, fell on what he thought was a fumbled ball. The object was actually a helmet - still attached to its wearer.

But Mr. Young's foibles, such as his refusal to acknowledge poor vision, were overshadowed by his mental abilities.

"George had great judgment, not only about football talent but about people," said Nick Schloeder, his college roommate and close friend. "He read you well. He knew what you were, what you weren't and what you were trying to be."

Upon graduation, he gave pro football a try. Drafted in the 26th (and final) round in 1952 by the Dallas Texans, Mr. Young was the last player cut in that NFL team's training camp.

"What I remember about George was his brains," said Art Donovan, a teammate on that Dallas club, which would later become the Baltimore Colts. "He reminded me of [Colts coach] Weeb Ewbank, a schoolteacher type."

A teacher is what Mr. Young became. In 1953, he began a 16-year career as a history instructor at City College. His coaching career began the following year, at Calvert Hall. In five seasons, the Cardinals went 16-22-5 and won the Maryland Scholastic Association title in 1957, for the first time in 22 years.

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