Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The NFL Loses a Special Teams Demon and Great Special Teams Coach—Rusty Tillman

 By John Turney 
Word passed over the Internet transom today that Rusty Tillman passed away on March 14 at age 75.

"The Seahawks website issued the following statement, “The Seahawks family is saddened to hear about the sudden passing of Rusty Tillman. We send our condolences and warm thoughts to Rusty’s family and friends during this time. Following an eight-year NFL playing career, Rusty joined Seattle’s coaching staff in 1979 and helped Seattle form its football identity for 16 years through the 1994 season, serving on the staffs of Jack Patera, Chuck Knox, and Tom Flores."

Tillman played linebacker for Washington from 1970-77 and was named as one of the top 70 Washington players of all-time and according to WashingtonFootball.com he was "nicknamed “The King” for his special teams mastery. He played seven different special teams positions and served as special teams captain from 1974 to 1977. He was a member of Washington’s 1972 NFC Championship squad."

Tillman was named by Dan Daley as the 1970s Special Teamer on his All-Decade team in his book Pro Football Chronicle. In 1974 Tillman had 15 tackles and 42 successful blocks on potential tackles and scored an 88.8 grade by George Allen. In 1975 he graded even higher with a 90.6 with 10 tackles and 55 blocks.

In 2018 we named Tillman our retroactive NFL Special Teams Player of the Year in 1974 and the NFC Special Teams Player of the Year in 1973 and 1974 (and we considered him for Second-team All-NFC for 1975). 

In 1974 Tillman had 15 tackles and 42 successful blocks on potential tackles and scored an 88.8 grade by George Allen. In 1975 he graded even higher with a 90.6 with 10 tackles and 55 blocks.

After retiring from football, Tillman was a special teams coach for the Seattle Seahawks from 1979 to 1991 and then a defensive coordinator. Under Tillman, the Seahawks were among the best, often THE best special teams units in the NFL. His teams featured Pro Bowl players like Fredd Young and Rufus Porter who went to two Pro Bowls each as core special teams players. 

Tillman's special team units led the league in punt coverage three times (1981, 1983, and 1985) and led in kickoff coverage twice (in 1982 and 1983) and once in punt return average (1985).

Tillman moved on to be the Seahawks defensive coordinator from 1992-94. He also was a defensive coordinator for Tampa Bay in 1995 and as special teams coordinator for the Raiders in 1997 and again he was a defensive coordinator for the Colts in 1998 and then from 2003 to 2005 he was a special teams coordinator once again from 2003-05. 

He also spent time as a head coach for the New Jersey Hitman of the XFL. 

Timman was a Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff, Arizona) Lumberjack and is a member of that school Hall of Fame in 1984. Tillman was a collegiate walk-on twice from 1966-69. He began in Tucson with the University of Arizona, where he played for two seasons. He transferred to NAU where he played defensive end, linebacker, tight end, and also punted—setting an Axer record for punting average (44.5 yards a punt). Students who went to school with him remember him as an outgoing student-athlete, the proverbial "Big Man on Campus" if you will.

Tillman, a native of Beloit, Wisconsin, but attended  Agua Fria High school in Avondale, Arizona. He 

He is survived by his ex-wife Lorri, daughters Rachael and Emily, and sons Joshua, Jason  Jacob.

1 comment:

  1. This man was as tough as they come and took pride in his work. Rip Rusty.

    ReplyDelete