Former Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks, who guided the team from 1973 to 1978, passed away Tuesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., after battling brain cancer. He was 79.
The sixth coach in franchise history, Fairbanks spent six seasons leading the Patriots, and finished with a 46-40 mark, as well as two trips to the postseason.
Through shrewd drafting and advanced thinking — Patriots coach Bill Belichick has acknowledged him as one of the pioneers of the game, particularly when it comes to the 3-4 defense as it’s played in the pro game today — Fairbanks helped establish the Patriots as one of best young teams in the game. He drafted Steve Grogan, Mike Haynes, John Hannah, Sam Cunningham, Mosi Tatupu, Ray Hamilton and Darryl Stingley, and helped turn around the franchise, taking them from 3-11 in 1975 to 11-3 in 1976.
That 1976 team was one of the best in the game, and many believe it was robbed of a possible Super Bowl berth in a playoff game against the Raiders when a questionable roughing-the-passer call on defensive lineman Ray Hamilton kept a late Oakland drive alive, and eventually led to a Raiders touchdown.
His legacy in New England was a complicated one — he left in acrimonious fashion to take the head coaching job at Colorado, and later admitted to recruiting for the Buffaloes while he was still coaching in New England. But his influence on the game, as well as the Patriots franchise, cannot be overstated. In a press conference in 2007, Belichick said Fairbanks has a “tremendous influence” on the game, as well as how the Patriots operate.
“I think Chuck has had a tremendous influence on the league as well as this organization in terms of nomenclature and terminology and those kinds of things,” Belichick said. “I’m sure Chuck could walk in and look at our playbook and probably 80 percent of the plays are the same terminology that he used — whether it be formations or coverages or pass protections. We were sitting there talking yesterday and he was saying, ‘How much 60 protection are you guys using? How much 80 are you using?’ All of the stuff that was really the fundamentals of his system are still in place here.”
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