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Walt Michaels, old-school coach of New York Jets, dies at 89

Head coach Walt Michaels of the New York Jets talks with his quarterback Richard Todd on the sidelines during game circa 1978.
Head coach Walt Michaels of the New York Jets talks with his quarterback Richard Todd on the sidelines during game circa 1978. (Focus On Sport/Getty Images)

Walt Michaels, a former New York Jets coach who retired following the 1982 season after leading the team to the AFC championship game, died July 10 at a nursing home in Plains, Pa. He was 89.

The Jets announced the death but did not cite a cause.

Mr. Michaels, a former linebacker with the Cleveland Browns, was the defensive coordinator of the Jets’ Super Bowl-winning team in the 1968 season. He succeeded Lou Holtz as the Jets’ head coach in 1977 and led the team for six seasons, compiling a record of 39-47-1 and making the playoffs in the 1981 and 1982 seasons. The Jets reached the AFC championship game after the 1982 season before losing to the Miami Dolphins in a rain-soaked Orange Bowl.

A tough, old-school coach, Mr. Michaels complained that the Dolphins’ coach, Don Shula, deliberately left the field uncovered to hinder the Jets’ offense.

“A defensive mastermind, he had one of his finest moments when he coordinated our unit in the Super Bowl III victory over the Colts,” Jets chief executive Christopher Johnson said in a statement.

Mr. Michaels later coached the New Jersey Generals of the USFL for two years before he was fired by the team’s owner, Donald Trump.

Walter Edward Michaels was born Oct. 16, 1929, in Swoyersville, Pa. A younger brother, Lou Michaels, had a long career in the NFL as a defensive end and place-kicker. He died in 2016.

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Mr. Michaels starred as a fullback and linebacker at Washington and Lee University in Virginia and was a seventh-round draft pick of the Browns in 1951.

He was traded to the Green Bay Packers before the season started, then was traded back to Cleveland a year later. During his 10 seasons with the Browns, he was a five-time Pro Bowl player and helped the Browns reach five NFL title games, winning championships in 1954 and 1955. He became an assistant coach with the Oakland Raiders in 1962 before joining the Jets a year later as defensive line coach.

His wife, the former Betty Yuhas, died in 2013. Survivors include four children and eight grandchildren.

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