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Jets react to passing of former coach Walt Michaels

FLORHAM PARK, NJ - AUGUST 07: A New York Jets helmet at NY Jets Practice Facility on August 7, 2011 in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
FLORHAM PARK, NJ - AUGUST 07: A New York Jets helmet at NY Jets Practice Facility on August 7, 2011 in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
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The New York Jets have lost a key member of their historic Super Bowl III team, as longtime defensive coordinator and head coach Walt Michaels has passed away.

It’s impossible to tell the story of the New York Jets franchise without a lengthy chapter on Walt Michaels, who spent six seasons as the team’s head coach and many more as an assistant.

The team announced Michaels’ passing Thursday, at the age of 89.

In six seasons as the Jets’ head coach, Michaels had a record of 39-47-1, making a pair of playoff appearances, including a trip to the AFC title game in 1982. He also served as the team’s defensive coordinator for 11 seasons, holding that position from 1963 through 1972, and returning to the same post for the 1976 season before taking the head coaching job the following year.

Jets chairman/CEO Christopher Johnson issued a statement on behalf of the team, praising Michaels for the many contributions he made to the historic franchise:

We are very sad to hear about the passing of Walt Michaels. Walt was a great leader who inspired players to take their games to another level. A defensive mastermind, he had one of his finest moments when he coordinated our unit in the Super Bowl III victory over the Colts. Later as a head coach, Walt led us to back-to-back playoff berths in 1981-82. Walt had a tireless work ethic and took an honest approach with his players. He will have a lasting impact on our organization and our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends.

Marty Lyons, who played for Michaels for four seasons, fondly remembers how his former coach maximized the abilities of his players, as well as his passion for making the Jets a successful franchise (via team senior reporter Eric Allen):

I think what I’ll remember most about him is the way he coached the game, and the way he got the most out of the players. He was hard-nosed, but he was what everybody needed at that time. We didn’t have free agency, so he believed in the players and he believed in hard work. And he wanted to win — not just for the organization, but he wanted to win for the fans.

Legendary pass rusher Joe Klecko, who racked up an incredible 20.5 sacks in a single season while playing for Michaels, said his former coach reminded him of his own father (via Allen):

Walt was different to me than anybody else. The reason being is Walt reminded me of my father. My father was a very tough guy. Never took any nonsense, and excuses weren’t in his bag just like Walt. If you did your job and did it good, Walt basically acknowledged it. If you didn’t do your job, he gave you hell. So if you were really off his bad list, you were doing pretty doggone good. I think the one thing that a lot of people really missed with Walt was he wasn’t too much for praise, and I liked that because that’s how I grew up.

Michaels spent 12 seasons as a player in the NFL, splitting his time between the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns before finishing his career with one season with the Jets in 1963. He made five Pro Bowls, and after joining the Jets’ staff, even filled in a linebacker for one game as an emergency player.

Also an assistant for both the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles during his NFL coaching career, Michaels’ last whistle stop was with the USFL’s New Jersey Generals.

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Michaels was a seventh-round pick in the 1951 NFL draft after playing his college football for Washington and Lee.

What’s your favorite Walt Michaels memory? Share your story in the comment section!

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