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Hank Stram; Innovative Coach of Kansas City Chiefs

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Hank Stram, 82, the most successful coach in the history of the American Football League, and one of the most innovative and colorful personalities in his sport, died July 4 of complications of diabetes at a suburban New Orleans hospital near his home in Covington, La.

As coach of the Dallas Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs -- the franchise moved in 1963 -- Mr. Stram led teams to three AFL championships and coached in two Super Bowls. In 1970, his Chiefs won the Super Bowl in the final game before the AFL merged with the older National Football League.

After his coaching career, Mr. Stram's noted gift of gab served him well as a football analyst on CBS radio and television. He teamed with announcer Jack Buck for 18 years, the longest tenure of any broadcast team covering "Monday Night Football." Mr. Stram was known for his uncanny ability to predict plays before they occurred.

Short and stocky, with a rapid-fire, wisecracking manner on the sidelines, Mr. Stram was known for his dazzling wardrobe of blazers and ties, often accented by a bright red vest matching the color of the Chiefs' uniforms.

Mr. Stram, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003, pioneered several football formations and tactics. He is credited with developing the two-tight-end alignment; the 3-4 defense, with three linemen and four linebackers; the "stack" defense, in which linebackers are positioned directly behind defensive linemen; the zone defense in pass coverage; and the moving pocket, in which the quarterback rolls out to his right or left, surrounded by a protective cordon of blockers.

"He was ahead of his time, offensively and defensively," his star quarterback, Len Dawson, once said.

In his authoritative "Illustrated History of Pro Football," author Ron Smith said Mr. Stram, like legendary coach Paul Brown, raised football "to a higher intellectual plane, or at least developed it in the direction of an academic discipline."

In 1967, Mr. Stram coached in the first-ever Super Bowl, which his Chiefs lost to the Green Bay Packers, 35-10. In Super Bowl IV, he led his team to an upset of the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7.

In that game, Mr. Stram became the first Super Bowl coach to wear a microphone for NFL Films. He agreed to do so only after being paid $1,000.

The subsequent documentary about the game, often shown on sports programs in the years since, captured his gamesmanship and nonstop sideline banter and helped give fans an unprecedented view of the inner workings of the sport. Even in a championship game, Mr. Stram was unflappable and funny, as he goaded officials -- "How in the world can all six of you miss a play like that?" -- and exhorted his players to victory with an easygoing confidence.

"I don't ever recall any game I ever played I didn't think we were going to win," Dawson told a writer for "NFL.com." "And that was Hank.

"Coaches today have, what, about 18 assistants? Hank had four. . . . He knew all the techniques and fundamentals of every position on the football team."

Mr. Stram was born in Chicago and grew up in Gary, Ind., where he starred as a high school baseball player and football halfback. After serving in the Army Air Forces in World War II, he graduated from Purdue University, where he played football and baseball.

He was an assistant coach at Purdue, Southern Methodist University, Notre Dame and the University of Miami, but he never had a head coaching job until team owner Lamar Hunt tabbed him to lead the Texans in 1960. Mr. Stram compiled a record of 124-76-10 with the Texans and Chiefs, then had two losing seasons as coach of the New Orleans Saints before retiring in 1976.

Mr. Stram was considered colorblind as a coach, and he helped promote the careers of the Chiefs' many African American stars.

Five of his players -- Dawson, Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier and Jan Stenerud -- have entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In failing health at his Hall of Fame induction two years ago, Mr. Stram attended the ceremony in a wheelchair.

Survivors include his wife and six children.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company