Former New York Jets coach Walt Michaels died Wednesday, his daughter told the Wilkes Barre Times-Leader on Thursday. He was 89. He died at a nursing home in Plains, Pennsylvania, according to The New York Times.
Michaels was the Jets' head coach for six seasons starting in 1977, taking the team 39-47-1. In 1982, he led the Jets to the AFC Championship game, and was the defensive coordinator for the team that won Super Bowl III over the Baltimore Colts in 1969.
Taking over from Lou Holtz in 1977, as a head coach Michaels guided the Jets to a 3-11 record in his first of six seasons, not seeing much success until the 1982 season when the Jets were 10-5-1. His on-the-field success that season was overshadowed after he received a harassing phone call in the locker room at halftime of the divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Raiders, causing him to scream in anger, sure that the call was orchestrated by the Raiders' managing general partner Al Davis. Davis denied it, with a Queens partners later admitting to making the call on his own. The Jets went on to defeat the Raiders, 17-14.
His time with the team ended abruptly a week later when he resigned after the 14-0 loss against the Miami Dolphins in that 1982 AFC title game. Michaels had become furious at Dolphins head coach Don Shula because the field was not covered, despite days of rain. Michaels said that Shula had deliberately let the field get muddy to slow the Jets' speedy offense.
Seventeen days after the playoff loss, Michaels retired, saying he needed a break. His mother had been dying of cancer late in the season and he said he was emotionally spent. The Times reported that during his last meeting with Jets owner Leon Hess and team president Jim Kensil, he was given a $400,000 financial package, told to resign, and encouraged to seek treatment for alcohol abuse.
Michaels was also a defensive coordinator for the Eagles and an assistant coach for the Raiders. Drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1951, he was a linebacker for Cleveland, then traded to the Green Bay Packers for one season, then returned to the Browns through 1961, going to five Pro Bowls and winning two championships titles (1954, 1955) during that span. He did not play again until one game for the Jets in 1963 under head coach Weeb Ewbank.
Michaels also coached in the USFL for the New Jersey Generals in 1984 and 1985.
In addition to his daughter Mary Ann Youngblood, Michaels is survived by his sons Walt Jr., Mark and Paul, and eight grandchildren. His wife Betty (Yuhas) Michaels died in 2013.