Steelers' Widenhofer named USFL coach

Jan. 4, 1984
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TULSA, Okla. -- Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach Woody Widenhofer today was named head coach for the Oklahoma Outlaws of the United States Football League.

Outlaws President and General Manager Bill Tatham Jr. made the announcement during a morning news conference.

Widenhofer met with Tatham Monday and Tuesday after Washington Redskins assistant coach Jerry Rhome withdrew from consideration for the Outlaws job.

Widenhofer has spent 11 years with the Steelers. As defensive coordinator, he is credited with helping build the Pittsburgh team into one of the best defensive teams in pro football.

The past season marked Widenhofer's third as defensive coordinator and his second as assistant head coach.

In July, 1982, he replaced assistant head coach George Perles, who left to coach the USFL's Philadelphia Stars, but then jumped to a head coaching position at his alma mater, Michigan State.

Widenhofer is credited with the Steelers' switch to a 3-4 defense from the traditional 4-3 scheme that helped them win four Super Bowls.

Following the switch in 1982, the Pittsburgh defense finished second in the league in sacks (34) and tied for fourth with 17 interceptions, two behind league-leading Miami.

Before coming to the Steelers, Widenhofer served as linebacker coach at Minnesota and defensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan in 1971, when the program was 11-0 and ranked third nationally.

Widenhofer played linebacker for coach Dan Devine at Missouri, but his career as a player was cut short by a broken leg. He received a masters degree in physical education from Michigan State.

Widenhofer becomes the third assistant head coach to defect since June 1982 to the USFL. After Perles left, Rollie Deutsch accepted a head coaching post with the Birmingham Stallions.

'Leaving Pittsburgh after 11 years was a big decision for me,' Widenhofer said today. 'I felt it would take a super situation for me to think about moving. (Pittsburgh) Coach Chuck Noll and (Steelers owner) Art Rooney are super people to work with.

'The Outlaws present the situation I was looking for,' he said. 'The Tatham family is just like the Rooney family because they are professional in their operation. There are no ego problems like there are in other clubs.'

'Our defense will be very similar to the 3-4 defense we used in Pittsburgh the past few years,' Widenhofer said of the Outlaws. 'The offense will be balanced but there will be enough passing to keep things honest.

'Opponents can't key on our quarterback (Doug Williams) because they will get burned by other people,' he said.

Widenhofer said he told Noll Tuesday night he was leaving the Steelers.

'He was a little upset but wished me the best in my new job,' he said.

Tatham said Widenhofer 'exceeded our goals and expectations' for an Outlaw coach.

'When we evaluated our overall picture, we decided to go for an NFL assistant coach who had many years of experience and worked in a championship environment,' Tatham said.

'He (Widenhofer) is one of the best assistant coaches to be found anywhere and will be a pleasant surprise when he puts together the offense he's talked about,' Tatham said. 'We will score a lot of points and our defense will make situations for our offense to score.'

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