Former Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks dies

Ex-Pats coach Chuck Fairbank has passed away at 79. (Patriot Media Relations)

Former New England Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks, who helped pioneer the Wishbone offense at Oklahoma before moving onto the NFL, passed away on Tuesday in Scottsdale, Ariz. after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.

Fairbanks, 79, served as the Patriots head coach and general manager for six seasons from 1973 to 1978. In 1976, Fairbanks’ fourth season, he led the Patriots to a berth in the AFC Playoffs and to an 11-win season for the first time in franchise history. Two seasons later, Fairbanks led the Patriots to an AFC East title with an 11-5 record. The Patriots hosted a playoff game for the first time in franchise history that season, but were eliminated in a 31-14 loss to the Houston Oilers.

“Coach Fairbanks gave the Patriots instant credibility,” Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said in a statement. “For Patriots fans of that era, Fairbanks was the Bill Parcells before Bill Parcells. It is a sad day for a generation of Patriots fans who enjoyed his era of coaching. My thoughts and prayers are with the Fairbanks family and all who mourn his loss.”

Fairbanks was credited for introducing the 3-4 defensive scheme to the NFL during his Patriots’ tenure. In each of Fairbanks’ last three seasons in New England, the Patriots allowed 18.0 points per game or fewer. The Patriots also ranked in the Top 15 in the NFL in fewest points allowed all three years.

“He did a great job in turning the Patriots around (and) making them into one of the top teams in the AFC,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick in September before Fairbanks underwent surgery. “Some of the things he brought to the Patriots and the league in the ‘70s were things that stood the test of time and have been a big principle of this league for many, many years.”

As Patriots’ general manager, Fairbanks drafted Hall of Fame offensive guard John Hannah, running back Sam Cunningham and wide receiver Darryl Stingley in his first season with the organization. The Patriots also selected quarterback Steve Grogan, defensive back Mike Haynes and wide receiver Stanley Morgan during Fairbanks’ six-year stint.

Late in 1978, a report surfaced that a booster from the University of Colorado offered Fairbanks a deal to coach the Buffaloes for the 1979 season. When Fairbanks informed then- New England owner Billy Sullivan that he wanted to coach the Patriots for the remainder of the season while he started recruiting for Colorado, Sullivan suspended him for the regular season finale against the Dolphins. Before the game, the Patriots owner ordered Fairbanks out of the team’s locker room at the Orange Bowl, according to Sports Illustrated.

Fairbanks was reinstated by Sullivan for the playoff game against the Oilers, but left the team at the end of the season. Fairbanks eventually joined Colorado in April of 1979, following a messy legal battle in which the Patriots filed an injunction to prevent the university from hiring the coach. Fairbanks agreed to pay the Patriots $105,000 in deferred compensation, Sports Illustrated reported.

In three seasons with Colorado, Fairbanks went 5-16 in Big Eight conference play and 7-26 overall. Before coming to the Patriots, Fairbanks served as the head coach at Oklahoma for six seasons (1967-1972). The Sooners went 11-1 in each of Fairbanks’ last two seasons and made back-to-back trips to the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma defeated Auburn, 40-22, on Jan. 1, 1972, before defeating Penn State, 14-0, a season later.

In 1983, Fairbanks spent one season as head coach and general manager of the New Jersey Generals of the USFL in his final year of coaching. After leaving coaching, Fairbanks spent his later years in real estate and golf course development.

Keep your eye on everything NFL by following Matt Rybaltowski on Twitter @mattrybaltowski.

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