Walt Michaels was the head coach of the New York Jets for six seasons after serving as the defensive coordinator for their Super Bowl squad.
Michaels’ passing was confirmed by his daughter Mary Ann to the Times Leader.
“My father understood what hard work was. He never missed work,” said told Bill O’Boyle. “No sick days and no personal days. He never forgot his roots.”
Michaels was a native of Swoyersville, PA. He was chosen in the seventh round of the 1951 NFL Draft as a fullback out of Washington and Lee by the Cleveland Browns. The Browns traded him to Green Bay shortly after, but he returned to Cleveland in 1952. He would partake in five NFL Championship Games, winning two (1954-55). His career would end in 1961 with five Pro Bowl invitations (1955-59).
The Jets brought in Michaels as a defensive coach in 1963. Michaels spent the prior season as a defensive backs coach for the Oakland Raiders. In his first season, Michaels wound playing a single game with the Jets as an emergency substitute linebacker in an opening week game against Boston. He would take lover full-time defensive coordinator duties in 1967.
Michaels was at the defensive helm during the Jets’ lone Super Bowl title at the end of the 1968-69 season. His defense forced five Baltimore Colts turnovers and held their offense to a single touchdown rendered meaningless by its lateness. The Jets won the third edition of the game by a 16-7 final.
Viewed by many as the successor to Weeb Ewbank, Michaels resigned in February 1973 when Ewbank handpicked his son-in-law Charley Winner as his heir. Michaels took the defensive coordinator job with the Philadelphia Eagles. He would work under former Cleveland teammate and new Eagles head coach Mike McCormack. After three fruitless seasons, Michaels returned to New York in his traditional defensive coordinator spot under new head coach Lou Holtz.
Holtz’s firing after a single season allowed Michaels to finally take over the head coach’s role. The Jets went 3-11 in his debut season in 1977 but rebounded to an even 8-8 one year later. Michaels was named the AFC’s Coach of the Year for the turnaround.
Michaels’ first four years failed to yield postseason success and his interactions with players and reporters were seen as controversial by some. But in 1981, he guided the Jets to a 10-5-1 mark to earn both their first 10-win season and playoff berth since the 1969-70 season. They fell to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card Round.
The Jets went 6-3 in the ensuing strike-shortened 1982 season. Michaels and his squad would crush the Cincinnati Bengals in the expanded first round of the postseason by a 44-17 tally before upsetting the top-seeded Los Angeles Raiders 17-14 on the road. Those playoff victories were the Jets’ first since the Super Bowl trek. A return was not to be, as they fell to the Dolphins 14-0 in a game since dubbed the “Mud Bowl” thanks to poor field conditions at Miami’s Orange Bowl.
Michaels would resign from the Jets just over two weeks later. He compiled a 39-47-1 record over six seasons. He returned to head coaching in 1984, where oversaw the final two seasons of the United States Football League’s New Jersey Generals. Despite amassing a 25-13 record, Michaels was fired by Generals owner and current US President Donald Trump after the team acquired the assets of the defunct Houston Gamblers. The league folded soon afterward.
Michaels passed away exactly six years after his wife Betty. He is survived by Mary Ann and three sons, Walt. Jr, Mark, and Paul.