Monday, October 22, 2007
The Packer Coaches — 45 Years Ago
Today’s blog entry features a photo of the Green Bay Packers’ coaching staff from May 1962 — 45 years ago. In this photo, head coach Vince Lombardi runs the projector as he and his coaches review films in the offseason. From left are assistants Bill Austin, Red Cochran, Norb Hecker, Phil Bengtson and Tom Fears. Much in the same manner as today, the assistants on pro football’s successful teams often became head coaches in their own right. Many of Lombardi’s coaches had opportunities with other teams because other clubs wanted to hopefully have some of Lombardi’s success rub off on their teams.
Bill Austin later became head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1966 through 1968, compiling a 11-28-3 record. He also served as interim coach of the Washington Redskins after Lombardi’s death in the 1970 season, accomplishing a 6-8-0 record. He retired from football after that season.
Red Cochran, originally brought to Green Bay in 1959 by Vince Lombardi, served the organization 42 years in all, 12 as an assistant coach and the last 30 as a college scout. He was still working for the Packers as a scout at age 82 when he died in 2004. Cochran also served as an assistant coach for the St. Louis Cardinals (1968-69) and San Diego Chargers (1970). Dan Devine brought him back to Green Bay as offensive backfield coach (1971-74), a role in which Cochran tutored John Brockington, currently the team's third all-time leading rusher. All told, Cochran was an NFL coach for 18 years, including three seasons with the Detroit Lions (1956-58).
Norb Hecker played for the Los Angeles Rams from 1951-1953, and the Washington Redskins from 1955-1957. Hecker was one of 12 players who founded the National Football League Players Association in 1956, briefly serving as the Redskins’ representative. He coached in Green Bay from 1959 through 1965. He was hired as head coach by the expansion Atlanta Falcons in 1966. With Atlanta, he endured season records of 3-11-0 and 1-12-1 before being fired mid-way through the 1968 season. He served as assistant coach later with the New York Giants, Stanford University, and the San Francisco Forty-Niners. With San Francisco, he won four Super Bowl rings, eventually moving into a front office position until his retirement in 1991. Hecker closed out his career in 1995 with the Amsterdam Admirals of the World League of American Football, handling both coaching and front office duties. He died of cancer in 2004.
Phil Bengston was one of the first four assistants hired in Lombardi's first week with the Packers in early February 1959. He would be the only assistant coach to stay during the entire nine-year tenure of Lombardi (1959-1967). Bengtson replaced Lombardi following the 1967 season.His Packers were 20-21-1 in his three seasons as head coach. After a 6-8 record in 1970, he was relieved of his duties, replaced by Missouri head coach Dan Devine for the 1971 season. Bengtson resurfaced with the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, becoming the interim head coach of the Patriots in late 1972. Later, he was named the team's Director of Pro Scouting, staying through the 1974 season. He died at age 81 after a long illness at his home in San Diego on December 18, 1994.
Tom Fears was named as the head coach of the expansion New Orleans Saints in 1967, and spent nearly four years at the helm of what became a perennial losing franchise — an exercise in frustration. His record with the Saints was 13-34-2, and he was 1-5-1 in 1970 when he was fired on November 3rd. Fears’ last head coaching job was with the fledgling World Football League's Southern California Sun in 1974. He spent the last four years of his life with Alzheimer's disease, dying in 2000.
Photo Source: Green Bay Press-Gazette archives