Winningest coach in AFL was innovator

Hall of Famer devised 3-4, two-tight end formation

Hank Stram : 1923-2005

July 05, 2005|By Sam Farmer | Sam Farmer,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - Hank Stram, the most successful coach in American Football League history and a TV and radio broadcaster for nearly two decades, died yesterday in a suburban New Orleans hospital. He was 82.

Stram had been in declining health for several years, and his family attributed the death to complications from diabetes.

"Hank was the most important coach in the history of the American Football League," said Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who hired Stram as the club's original coach when it began play as the Dallas Texans of the AFL in 1960 before the team moved to Missouri in 1963.

Stram, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was credited with developing the 3-4 defense, the two-tight end formation and the moving pocket. When his coaching career was over, he worked as an analyst for CBS, first on television and then in the radio booth, where he called Monday Night Football alongside Jack Buck.

Stram did radio commentary for four Super Bowls, becoming the first person to participate in the NFL championship game both as a winning coach, with the Chiefs, and broadcaster.

"I've lived a charmed life," he once said. "I married the only girl I ever loved, and being able to do a job I truly loved with the Chiefs. I'm a lucky fellow."

Stram, who had suffered from diabetes for several years, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003. Too weak to stand or walk on his own, he watched his prerecorded induction speech from a wheelchair.

During the AFL's 10-year history, Stram set league records by winning three championships and more games than any other AFL coach. He later coached the New Orleans Saints.

"When it came to football, Hank knew everything about everything," said kicker Jan Stenerud, one of several Hall of Fame players coached by Stram.

Three years after losing the inaugural Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers, 35-10, Stram's Kansas City team upset the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in the fourth Super Bowl in January 1970. It was the second consecutive Super Bowl victory by an AFL team and was further proof the NFL had met its match.

"That got the attention of everybody," said former Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson, who presented Stram at the Hall of Fame. "People said, `Hey, wait a minute, who are those people playing out there? And how did they dominate that Minnesota team?' "

Stram designed the moving pocket and the two-tight-end formation to buy extra time for Dawson, and devised the 3-4 defense - three down linemen and four linebackers - in an era when other coaches were using a 4-3.

Against the advice of other coaches who said a zone defense wouldn't work in pro football, Stram used the strategy throughout the 1962 AFL championship game, and his Texans intercepted George Blanda five times on their way to a 20-17 double-overtime victory over the Houston Oilers.

Henry Louis Stram was an all-state halfback and also starred in baseball in Gary, Ind. After serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, Stram returned to Purdue, graduating with a degree in physical education. He played football and baseball for the Boilermakers.

Stram is survived by his wife of 52 years, the former Phyllis Marie Pesha, four sons, two daughters and a sister. His sons said a private memorial service is being planned for later this week.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Kansas City Star and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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