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Queens Chronicle

Former Jets coach Michaels dead at 89

Quarterback Matt Robinson recalls leader who turned the team around

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Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2019 10:30 am

Walt Michaels, who led the Jets to two playoff appearances in six seasons as head coach, died last Wednesday at the age of 89.

Michaels was also the defensive coordinator for the 1968 team that upset the Baltimore Colts — including his brother, Lou — in Super Bowl III.

“It just saddened me because Walt was so good to me when I was in New York,” said former quarterback Matt Robinson. “I really loved the fact that he was very to the point but yet very fair in everything that he did. He was that kind of coach.”

The Jets were a beleaguered franchise when Michaels took over, coming off consecutive 3-11 seasons. By the time he left the organization, the Jets were one win away from the Super Bowl.

“I think he made a mark on New York and made a mark with the Jets that I think those involved with him will never forget,” Robinson said.

Michaels was a standout at linebacker for the Cleveland Browns of the 1950s, making five Pro Bowls and helping the team win a pair of NFL championships.

He was on the Jets coaching staff from 1963 to 1972 and again in 1976 before being named head coach for the 1977 season.

“When you have an old school guy like that as a head coach, a guy that played and been around for so long and was as tough as he is, I think a guy like that brings the best part of football out,” said Robinson, who was with the team from 1977 to 1979.

Robinson added, “He was about winning and putting the best players on the field to win. And I think everybody respected that about him.”

The quarterback didn’t mind playing for a defensive-minded coach.

“To know how a defensive mind is thinking under certain circumstances, it really makes you a better quarterback,” he said.

Michaels was named 1978 NFL Coach of the Year by UPI and Pro Football Weekly for leading the team to a five-game improvement and an 8-8 record.

Robinson was traded following the 1979 season after hiding an injury he suffered and then throwing an interception in overtime in the opening game of the season. Robinson said he later called to apologize to the head coach.

“We just continued on as buddies,” he said.

On Dec. 20, 1981, the Jets beat the Packers 28-3 at Shea Stadium to earn the team’s first playoff berth in 12 years.

The following season, the team upset the Bengals and Raiders in the playoffs before losing to Miami in the AFC title game.

Michaels resigned weeks later in a move that is still debated over how much of the decision was actually his.

In 1984, he went to coach for the Donald Trump-owned New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League.

The team played a game in Jacksonville against the Bulls, led by Robinson. In the game’s final moments it looked as if the Bulls had kicked a field goal but the referee fell down and called it no good.

Robinson recalled, “Walt and I kind of nudged each other after the game and I said, ‘You got away with one.’ And he winked at me.”

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