I’ve done a couple of editions of Forgotten Football Teams, but today, we’re moving on to a new segment called Forgotten Coaches. This will be about, you guessed it, head coaches. There have been a lot of successful head coaches in the NFL. However, for every Chuck Noll, there’s at least 10 or 20 that are…not Chuck Noll. This is something new I’d like to try and hopefully everyone will enjoy.
For today’s edition, our feature will be on Charley Winter. Now naturally, a search in Google will pop up with a different Charlie. I’m of course talking about Charlie Sheen and his catchphrase of “winning.” Sadly, we’re not talking about Charlie Sheen today. But who knows, maybe he’ll become a NFL head coach some day.
Winner was a head coach in the NFL for seven seasons, five with the St. Louis Cardinals and two with the New York Jets. Winner started his NFL head coaching career in 1966 with the Cardinals. Prior to that, he had spent the previous 12 seasons as an assistant in Baltimore, working under both Weeb Ewbank and Don Shula. In fact, Winner is the son-in-law of Ewbank.
Winner had taken over for Wally Lemm, who had left to coach in the AFL for the Houston Oilers. The Cardinals during ’66 were led by QB Charley Johnson, who was a couple years removed from one of his best seasons.
Winner was able to take a team that went 5-9 the previous season and get them to an 8-5-1 record and fourth place in the NFL Eastern Division. With their fourth place finish, the Cardinals missed out on the playoffs. Winner’s efforts did not go unnoticed. He was runner-up to Dallas’ Tom Landry in the Coach of the Year Voting. Landry had 19 votes, while Winner had nine. Another fun fact: The 1966 season was the Cardinals first playing at Busch Stadium (the old one).
The next season wasn’t quite as successful for the Cardinals as they finished with a record of 6-7-1. However, the Cardinals would have their best season in 1968 with Winner as Coach. St. Louis went 9-4-1, finishing second in the Century Division behind the Cleveland Browns. Interestingly enough, the Cardinals won both games against the Browns that season. The Cardinals missed out on the playoffs once again.
The 1969 season was the Cardinals worst with Winner at the helm. St. Louis went 4-9-1 . St. Louis would have their third winning season with Winner as coach in 1970. The Cardinals once again went 8-5-1, as the first year of the NFL-AFL merger went into effect. However, they finished third in the division behind the Giants and the NFC East winning Dallas Cowboys.
St. Louis started the season hot, winning seven of their first nine games, including a regular season sweep of the Cowboys. However, they would win just one game during that stretch and miss out on the playoffs.
Winner was fired by the Cardinals after the 1970 season. According to the AP article then, the Cardinals had almost fired Winner the previous season. However, the Bidwell’s opted to bring him back for the ’70 season.
Winner would head to Washington, to join the new staff led by George Allen.
A few seasons later, Winner would get another opportunity to be the head coach. This time, he would take over for his father-in-law and be the New York Jets Head Coach. Winner had spent the ’73 season working as an assistant on Ewbank’s staff.
The Jets were much different from their ’68 Super Bowl team. Joe Namath was in his final few seasons of playing football.
New York had a very rough start to their ’74 season. They went 1-7 with loses to Kansas City, New England and Baltimore. The Jets recovered Nov. 10 by winning in overtime over the Giants. From there, they won another five games to finish the season 7-7, third in the AFC East.
The 1975 season didn’t go much better for the Jets. New York had an opportunity to trade Namath for several younger players, however Winner opted not to make the trade.
The Jets were able to win two of their first three games, but they lost eight straight from there. His final game as Head Coach was a 52-19 loss to the Baltimore Colts on Nov. 16. Winner was fired by the Jets several days later. Ken Shipp took over for the final few games. The Jets went through several more coaches, including former Notre Dame Head Coach and current ESPN College Football analyst Lou Holtz, before settling on Joe Walton for a few seasons.
For Winner, he was not out of a job for very long as he moved to Cincinnati to be an assistant for the Bengals. Winner stayed in Cincy for several seasons, working under Homer Rice. However, the Rice, as well as the rest of the staff were fired after the ’79 season.
Winner was done as coach, but was reunited in Miami with Don Shula. Winner started working for the Dolphins as a player personnel director in 1981. Winner would stay with the Dolphins for 11 seasons. He retired in June of 1992.
Winner was able to be in the NFL for a long time, even though he was only a coach for a certain part of that time. His name will forever be in the history books for being a NFL head coach. And hopefully, just hopefully, when people do a Google Search for Winner, there won’t be any Charlie Sheen references that pop up.
Stats via Pro Football Reference, news articles via Google News