Woody Widenhofer, a former head coach of Missouri and Vanderbilt as credited as one of the architects of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Steel Curtain defense, passed away on Sunday, March 22. He was 77.
Widenhofer was a native of Pennsylvania and played linebacker for Missouri from 1961 through 1964. He jumped into coaching in 1969 as a defensive line coach at Michigan State. Following two seasons with the Spartans, Widenhofer was named the linebackers coach at Eastern Michigan in 1971 and continued in that role for Minnesota in 1972. After one season with Minnesota, Widenhofer made the jump to the NFL as a linebacker coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1973, where he was part of a coaching staff that helped forge one of the all-time great defenses in NFL history that led to four Super Bowl titles. Widenhofer was later promoted to defensive coordinator of the Steelers after the 1978 season.
Widenhofer was the head coach of the USFL’s Oklahoma Outlaws in 1984 before returning to his alma mater to be the head coach of Missouri in 1985. Unfortunately, a return to Missouri was not so kind as a head coach. Widenhofer’s Tigers went 12-33-1 in four seasons, resulting in a head coaching change and Widenhofer returning to the NFL to coach as a defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions.
Widenhifer later returned to college football, first as a defensive coordinator for Vanderbilt in 1995 and two years later as the head coach of the program. Widenhofer resigned as head coach of the Commodores in 2001 with a 15-40 record with the program, but some notable defensive performances by the overmatched program in the SEC.
Widenhofer coached two seasons as a defensive coordinator for Southeastern Louisiana in 2003 and 2004, and three more for New Mexico State from 2005 through 2007.