Former Detroit Lions head coach dies, launched a legend

Detroit Lions. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Detroit Lions. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

This past week, we said goodbye to a former Detroit Lions coach who left a lasting legacy in his time here in the Motor City.

The team announced that former Detroit Lions head coach Rick Forzano had passed away this past Wednesday. He was 90-years old. Forzano coached the Lions from 1974-1976 and went 15-17 as the head coach before he was replaced four games into the 1976 season by Tommy Hudspeth.

While Forzano did coach for a decent amount of time in Detroit, he is more famously known for giving New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick his start in the league. Forzano briefly lived with Belichick’s family in 1959 after joining Navy as an assistant coach, where he worked with Bill’s father, Steve, and eventually asked him to break down film.

Forzano began his coaching career at the high school and college level in the 1950s, where he worked alongside Belichick’s father as an assistant at Navy in 1959. He worked his way up to become head coach of the academy in 1969-72.

After the 1972 season, Forzano joined the Lions as an assistant under Don McCafferty in 1973 and took over as head coach a year later after McCafferty tragically passed away from a heart attack right before the 1974 season. After giving Belichick his start at Navy, he hired the son of his former colleague as an assistant special teams coach in 1976.

Here’s what Lions’ owner Martha Firestone Ford said in a statement released by the team following Forzano’s death via the Detroit Free Press.

"“Rick was a wonderful man and we are truly saddened by the news of his passing. On behalf of me, my family and the Lions organization, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the entire Forzano family. Our thoughts are with his wife Betty, daughters Stacey and Kristie and his son, Rick Jr.”"

After getting his start with the Lions under Forzano, Belichick went on to coach all around the league, eventually coaching for the Cleveland Browns from 1991-1995, before becoming the head coach of the New England in 2000. He’s won five Super Bowls as a head coach and two as a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants.

After coaching, Forzano became a color analyst for football games on ABC and NBC, along with starting Rick Forzano Associates, which helps to connect domestic and international companies to the United States military, as well as government and automotive industries.

Forzano, originally from Akron, Ohio, graduated from Kent State in 1951. He coached in college at a variety of places, including Wooster, Kent State, UConn, and Navy. He was also an NFL assistant in St. Louis and Cincinnati.

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Rick Forzano, the last Detroit Lions head coach whose team played at Tiger Stadium and the first at the Pontiac Silverdome, is survived by his wife, Betty, daughters Stacey and Kristie, and his son, Rick Jr.