I was running a quick errand to the grocery store yesterday when I heard the news that Hank Stram had passed away at age 82. Talk about being bummed-out for the rest of the day; it was as if a family member had died. In a way, however, Stram was family. Certainly, most of his players felt that way about him. I know that the ball boys did. The fans, who packed into old Municipal Stadium, and later Arrowhead, must have felt the same way. That little bantam rooster, simply put, was one of the most unique individuals to ever grace the sidelines of a football field.
Stram deserved his reputation as an innovator. He ran a "West Coast" offense long before it had a name. He ignored the unwritten guidelines about how many black players a team was supposed to carry. He played zone defenses in an era where other teams stubbornly refused to play anything other than man-to-man. He started experimenting with the 3-4 defense and the Wishbone offense as early as 1962. The moving pocket, the triple-stack defense, and the two-tight end formations he developed are still being used by all NFL teams today. He was also one of the very first coaches to emphasize weight training and special teams. Not bad for a little-known college assistant who had never been a head coach before Lamar Hunt took a chance and hired him.
Stram also deserved his reputation as a motivator. The Texans/Chiefs always came prepared to play even under adverse conditions. Stram did not care what the player's skin color was. He just expected every player to give his best every game and every down and would not accept anything less than that. That attitude could have led to a very short career in a era where racial prejudice was still prevalent, especially in the deep South (and Dallas is in the deep South). It is to Stram's credit that race never became an issue. On the sidelines, Stram was like a caged tiger. He constantly paced back-and-forth. He talked all the time. He encouraged the players; he chewed out players; he bantered with his assistants, the refs, players on the sidelines, and the ball boys. What NFL Films captured during Super Bowl IV was the real Stram.
During the 15 years that Stram prowled the sidelines for the Texans/Chiefs, there was never a doubt that Stram was the Chiefs. It's unfortunate that the relationship ended acrimoniously. The power struggle between Jack Steadman and Stram ended with Lamar Hunt siding with Steadman. Whether the struggle was touched off by Stram wanting more power or whether is was jealousy due to Stram's popularity is immaterial The end result was that Stram went off to a two-year stint-in-hell in New Orleans before heading over to a very successful second career on CBS and the Chiefs went into the toilet. I'm glad that the Chiefs organization and Stram made up a few years ago, but it's a shame that the split ever happened.
It's also a shame that Stram never got an opportunity to coach again after the dreadful stop in New Orleans. But on the other hand, I'm not sure I really wanted to hear Hank telling another team to "keep matriculating that ball down field, boys" especially against the Chiefs.