Most St. Louis football fans probably remember Jim Hanifan from his assistant coaching days with Don Coryell and the Cardiac Cards or when he was the Big Red head coach from 1980-1985. Younger fans may remember his time with the St. Louis Rams or later as the straight-shooting beloved analyst in the Rams radio booth with Steve Savard.
But some forget that Jim Hanifan was one of the few assistant coaches who stuck around for a year after Don Coryell left the Cardinals in 1978. Owner Bill Bidwill shocked the football world when he hired college coaching legend Bud Wilkinson, who led Oklahoma to three national championships and 14 conference titles. At the time, Hanifan had a year left on his contract, but he also had several offers to leave St. Louis.
“I had options,” Hanny wrote in his book Beyond Xs & Os, My Thirty Years in the NFL. “At least six teams were vying for my services. I thought I was back in high school, being recruited all over again.”
Hanifan decided to stay in St. Louis and work under Wilkinson, a man who he once said “probably has more charisma than anybody I have ever met in my life.”
St. Louis has lost yet another institution with the passing of the beloved Jim Hanifan who coached with both the Big Red and St. Louis Rams.
Hanifan was the offensive line coach for the Football Cardinals from 1973-1978 and then head coach from 1980-1985. He later won Super Bowl rings while coaching with Washington and the St. Louis Rams. Many younger St. Louis NFL fans will remember Hanifan in the Rams radio booth from 2004-2008.
Hanifan was known as one of the top offensive line coach’s in the history of the NFL. His 1975 Big Red offensive line of Dan Dierdorf, Conrad Dobler, Tom Banks, Bob Young and Roger Finnie allowed only 8 sacks the entire season, an NFL record at the time. His first season in Washington, his offensive line gave up only 9 sacks as the Redskins went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl. And Hanifan coached a St. Louis Rams offensive line that protected Kurt Warner during the Greatest Show on Turf years which included two Super Bowl appearances and a Championship.
Coach Hanifan loved St. Louis, his former players, and the thousands of friends that he made over his 60+ years in football. He will be greatly missed.
Tributes started pouring in on social media just a couple of hours after the learning of Coach Hanifan’s passing.
“Coryell was an innovator, but he was more than that. He was a coach who turned around the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Diego Chargers and made both into offensive juggernauts—not just good, but record-setting offensive teams.”– John Turney
NFL Historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal writes about how the chances of former Big Red head coach Don Coryell making the Pro Football Hall of Fame appear to be slipping.
The late Chuck Drulis was known for his defensive talents. Some said that he was a generation ahead of his time. “He was a defensive genius,” linebacker Jamie Rivers told the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1972.
The Pennsylvania native was a star offensive lineman at Temple before playing seven seasons in the NFL for the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. He arrived in Chicago in 1956 as a defensive assistant under Cardinals head coach Ray Richards and would serve under five different head coaches until his sudden death in 1972. Drulis was also credited with two victories when he shared head coaching duties after Frank “Pop” Ivy resigned with two games left in the 1961 season.
Drulis made his mark by devising the “safety blitz.” It involved a defensive back bursting through the offensive line just as the ball was snapped in a frantic attempt to sack the quarterback. Drulis called it the “Wildcat” and he had been tinkering with it for a couple of years, but needed a player who had the toughness and nerves of steel to successfully carry it out. That player arrived in 1960. Larry Wilson was drafted as a running back out of Utah in the eighth round of the draft, but was converted to safety by Drulis in training camp. After struggling early, Wilson showed just enough to make the team. He ended up starting 11 of 12 games his rookie season intercepting two passes.
Don Coryell was the best coaching hire in St. Louis Cardinals football history.
On Jan. 18, 1973, the football Cardinals, responding to an unsolicited letter, hired Coryell to be their head coach.
An innovator known for producing winning college teams and high-powered offenses, Coryell overcame his lack of NFL experience and transformed the Cardinals into a championship-caliber club.
In five seasons (1973-77) under Coryell, the Cardinals posted a 42-27-1 record and twice qualified for the playoffs. Those were the Cardinals’ first playoff berths since 1948 and their first division titles since moving from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960.
Few predicted such success in January 1973. The Cardinals had finished the 1972 season with their second consecutive 4-9-1 record under head coach Bob Hollway. They ranked 23rd in scoring in the 26-team NFL.
Coryell, 48, had a 104-19-2 record in 12 years at San Diego State. He had developed future NFL players such…
As everyone may have guessed, Coach Hanifan was the star of the luncheon telling the packed house how he fell in love with the St. Louis community and the fans after arriving in 1973. “When I first arrived here with Coach Coryell, it took a little while to get used to the area and the people. At the conclusion of that first season, we went 4-9-1. Even with a poor record, there was something special taking place at that time. When I looked into the locker room, I could see the players getting involved in the game and getting involved in the community. And, I myself, had that same experience. Being around the people in the community and truly enjoying being in St. Louis. I used to say, ‘What in the hell do I see here that makes me feel this way?’ You know… there are no mountains, no oceans here… forget about that. So, it has to be the people. The people are what makes St. Louis so great. And that’s why I continue to live here after I retired.”
Former Big Red head coach Jim Hanifan
Former Big Red Pro Bowl center Bob DeMarco recounted playing at old Busch Stadium (Sportsman’s Park) and how fans in the temporary bleachers would offer the players some bourbon on cold Sundays in the mid-60s.