Chuck Fairbanks, a successful but volatile coach who led the Patriots for six seasons in the 1970s, has died.
The Patriots announced on Tuesday that Fairbanks died of brain cancer.
In January of 1973, Fairbanks quit as head coach at Oklahoma — where he had just led the Sooners to a win in the Sugar Bowl — to become the head coach of the Patriots. Fairbanks left behind him at Oklahoma a scandal related to altering players’ transcripts, and the Sooners went on NCAA probation for two years. That would not be the last time Fairbanks left a job in a controversial manner.
With the Patriots, he built a lousy team into a winner, but in December of 1978, with the Patriots 11-4 and in first place in the AFC East, Fairbanks abruptly decided to leave to become the head coach at Colorado. A messy battle with then-Patriots owner Billy Sullivan ensued, and Colorado boosters ended up buying Fairbanks out of his Patriots contract.
Fairbanks was unsuccessful at Colorado, going just 7-26, and he quit after three seasons to become head coach of the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League. After one season there, Fairbanks was done as a coach.
Although he’s mostly remembered in the NFL for the circumstances of his departure from the Patriots, there was a time when Fairbanks was considered one of the smartest and most innovative coaches in football. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in September that Fairbanks had been a friend and a mentor.
“Chuck has been a good friend for a long time and he’s meant a lot to this organization,” Belichick said. “Really, at the time he came here, he did a great job in turning the Patriots around, making them into one of the top teams in the AFC. Also, some of the things he brought to the Patriots and the league in the ‘70s were things that stood the test of time and have been a big principle of this league for many, many years and the disciples and the people that were with him, such as the 3-4 defense, the way he organized the draft, personnel meetings, things like that and some of the great coaches that were here under Chuck.”
Chuck Fairbanks was 79.