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Hank Stram, at 82; Kansas City coach redefined the game of football

LOS ANGELES --Hank Stram, the most successful coach in American Football League history and one of the leading innovators of the game, died yesterday in a suburban New Orleans hospital. He was 82.

Mr. Stram had been in declining health for several years, and a family member attributed the death to complications from diabetes.

Mr. Stram, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was credited with developing the 3-4 defense, the two-tight-end formation, and the moving pocket for the quarterback. When his coaching career was over, he worked as an analyst for CBS, first on television and then in the radio booth, where he called ''Monday Night Football" alongside Jack Buck.

Mr. Stram did radio commentary for four Super Bowls, becoming the first person to participate in the NFL championship game both as a winning coach, with the Kansas City Chiefs, and a broadcaster.

''I've lived a charmed life," he once said. ''I married the only girl I ever loved, and being able to do a job I truly loved with the Chiefs. I'm a lucky fellow."

Mr. Stram was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003. Too weak to stand, he watched his prerecorded induction speech from a wheelchair.

''Look at all the red eyes," former Kansas City running back Ed Podolak said at the time. ''I cried like a baby, and so did everyone else."

During the AFL's 10-year history, Mr. Stram set league records by winning three championships and more games than any other AFL coach. He was coach of the Dallas Texans -- staying with them when they became the Kansas City Chiefs -- and later coached the New Orleans Saints.

''When it came to football, Hank knew everything about everything," said kicker Jan Stenerud, one of several Hall of Fame players coached by Mr. Stram.

Three years after losing the inaugural Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers, 35-10, Mr. Stram's Kansas City team upset the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in Super Bowl IV in January 1970. It was the second consecutive Super Bowl victory by an AFL team and was further proof the NFL had met its match.

''That got the attention of everybody," said former Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson, who presented Mr. Stram at the Hall of Fame. ''People said, 'Hey, wait a minute, who are those people playing out there? And how did they dominate that Minnesota team?' "

''He was responsible for doing a lot of the things in the '60s that teams are still using now," said Dawson.

Mr. Stram designed the moving pocket and the two-tight-end formation to buy extra time for Dawson, and he devised the 3-4 defense -- referring to three down linemen and four linebackers -- in an era when other coaches were using a 4-3.

Against the advice of other coaches who said a zone defense wouldn't work in pro football, Mr. Stram used the strategy throughout the 1962 AFL championship game, and his Texans intercepted five George Blanda passes on their way to a 20-17 double-overtime victory over the Houston Oilers.

In his 1970 book, ''Illustrated History of Pro Football," author Ron Smith compared Mr. Stram to the legendary Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown and said Mr. Stram brought football ''to a higher intellectual plane, or at least developed it in the direction of an academic discipline."

''If you look at the man's contributions to the game, as an innovator, as a pioneer, as a character, the players who played for him, his record . . . if you look at the entire picture, Hank Stram is like one of the founding fathers," one of his former players, Mike Adamle, said in 2000.

But Mr. Stram was also known for his quirky sense of humor in an era when most high-profile coaches took themselves very seriously. He gave everyone nicknames.

''Hank had his own vocabulary," said Steve Sabol, president of NFL Films. ''Hank was the Mentor. His players were called the Rats. The Chiefs didn't drive the ball, they matriculated the ball. Team priests were called blackbirds. The refs were called sausage stuffers."

Dawson said Mr. Stram was always able to keep the game in perspective, even though he was very serious about his coaching. Losses didn't haunt him.

''Hank had the ability to let it go," he said. ''Some coaches would get hot and angry and be steamed up for three or four games. Hank was very disappointed when we lost, but he was so connected to football and coaching that his mind clicked on to next week. Disappointed that they lost, but looking forward to the next challenge."

Henry Louis Stram was born in Chicago but spent much of his youth in Gary, Ind., where he was an all-state halfback in football and also starred in baseball. After serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, Mr. Stram returned to Purdue University, graduating with a degree in physical education. He also played football and baseball for the Boilermakers.

After graduation, he stayed at Purdue for seven years as a backfield coach in football and coached the baseball team. He later coached at Southern Methodist University and Notre Dame. He was an assistant coach at the University of Miami when he was selected by Lamar Hunt to coach the AFL's Dallas Texans. Mr. Stram, who had never been a head football coach, was hired after Oklahoma's Bud Wilkinson and then-New York Giants assistant Tom Landry turned down the team.

Mr. Stram leaves his wife, Phyllis; four sons, Henry, Dale, Stu, and Gary; two daughters, Julia and Mary Nell; and a sister, Dolly.

His sons said a private memorial service was being planned for later this week.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this obituary.

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